High School Basketball

The Sweetest Century: Ten iconic Kentucky boys’ state tournament teams

Considered one of the best teams in Kentucky history, the 1979 Lafayette Generals celebrated in Rupp Arena after beating Christian County 62-52 in the Sweet Sixteen championship game.
Considered one of the best teams in Kentucky history, the 1979 Lafayette Generals celebrated in Rupp Arena after beating Christian County 62-52 in the Sweet Sixteen championship game. rgarrison@herald-leader.com

As Kentucky celebrates the 100th year of its boys’ basketball state tournament, here are 10 iconic teams that loom large in the event’s lore:

1. Ashland, 1928 state champions

Coach James Anderson’s undefeated Tomcats, led by future Kentucky Wildcats star and Morehead State and Marshall head coach Ellis Johnson, survived Cinderella Carr Creek in four overtimes in the state finals, then went to Chicago and won five games to claim the title in a national tournament and finish 36-0.

2. Brewers, 1948 state champions

Featuring guards Barney Thweatt and Coy Creason and forward Mason Cope, Coach McCoy Tarry’s Redmen, state runners-up to Maysville in 1947, returned the following season and turned the tables by besting Maysville 65-48 in the Sweet Sixteen finals to complete an undefeated state championship (36-0). To this day, the defunct Marshall County school — which had only some 70 boys in the school in 1948 — remains the last boys’ hoops undefeated state champ in Kentucky history.

3. Cuba, 1952 state champions

The Graves County school had fewer than 100 students, yet led by stars Charles “Doodles” Floyd and Howie Crittenden, Coach J.B. Story’s Cubs made it to back-to-back Sweet Sixteen title games. In 1951, Cuba got whacked 69-44 by Clark County in the finals. The following season, however, the charismatic Cubs (37-5) — who took the floor to “Sweet Georgia Brown” — defeated Louisville power Manual 58-52 for the right to cut down the nets.

4. Ashland, 1961 state champions

Some consider the ’61 Tomcats the best high school basketball team in Kentucky history. Only a one-point loss in the regular season to Lafayette — in which the Generals rallied from 11 points down to win on a layup with 49 seconds left — stood between Coach Bob Wright’s team (36-1) and an undefeated state championship. As it was, the Tomcats rolled through 11 postseason games, winning by an average of almost 30 points. All five of the team’s starters — Harold Sergent (Morehead State), Steve Cram (LSU), Gene Smith (Cincinnati), Bobby Hilton (Army) and Larry Conley (Kentucky) — played NCAA Division I basketball in college.

5. Seneca, 1963 and ’64 state champions

In Mike Redd and Wes Unseld, Coach Bob Mulcahy’s 1963 state championship team featured one of the great “one-two” punches in Kentucky basketball history. A 6-2 guard, Redd scored 106 points as a senior in the ’63 Sweet Sixteen. The following year, the burly 6-7 Unseld brought Seneca a second straight state crown by scoring 105 points and grabbing 88 boards in four state tournament games, the latter of which is still a state tourney record.

6. Central, 1969 state champions

Some consider the ’69 Yellowjackets (35-1) the best high school basketball team in Kentucky history. Led by explosive shooting guard Ron King and 5-7 point guard Otto Petty, Central’s 1969 boys’ basketball state championship was the first won by a historically black high school after the KHSAA integrated in 1956-57. Coach Robert Graves became the first black head coach to claim a Sweet Sixteen title. King’s 44 points in the 101-72 pasting of Ohio County in the state finals was, at the time, the title game record.

7. Male, 1970 and ’71 state champions

Bill Bunton had 16 points and 21 rebounds as Coach Jim Huter’s 1970 Bulldogs (31-1) withstood a furious last-minute rally by Madison High School to win the state title, 70-69. The following season, with starters Larry Haralson, Henry Huskey and Bill Gordon back, Male ended the state championship game on a 25-8 run to rally from 60-58 down to an 83-68 win over Jimmy Dan Conner and Anderson County.

8. Edmonson County, 1976 state champions

At a time when big schools from Louisville had won six of the prior seven Sweet Sixteens, the Cinderella run by Coach Bo Davenport’s unheralded team from rural, Western Kentucky to a totally unexpected state title is credited by many (and blamed by a few) with saving one-class basketball in Kentucky.

9. Lafayette, 1979 state champions

Some consider the ’79 Generals (36-1) led by guards Dirk Minniefield and Junior Johnson and forward Tony Wilson the best high school basketball team in Kentucky history. Only a loss to Tates Creek in the district finals kept Coach Jock Sutherland’s team from compiling the first undefeated boys’ state championship since Brewers in 1948.

10. Fairdale, 1990, ’91 state champions

Built around a trio of stars — Jermaine Brown, Maurice Morris and Carlos Turner — Coach Stan Hardin’s 1990 (33-4) and ’91 (37-4) state champs are the most recent back-to-back Sweet Sixteen winners.

About the Sweetest Century series

Kentucky will celebrate the 100th year of the boys’ state high school basketball tournament when the Sweet Sixteen plays out in Rupp Arena from Wednesday through Sunday this week.

Over the course of the 2016-17 high school basketball season, the Herald-Leader has published regularly appearing stories on Kentucky.com and in the newspaper highlighting memorable moments from the state tournament’s history.

Our coverage examines the significance of the tournament to our state’s history, revisits memorable games, champions and moments and looks at where the event goes from here. We’re exploring the joy, the heartbreak and the social impact of the event and recalling the teams and players every Kentuckian should know about.

We’re wrapping up the series this week as part of our annual Sweet Sixteen preview special section in Wednesday’s Herald-Leader and in posts you’ll be able to find all week on Kentucky.com and Kentucky.com/high-school.

And be sure to stay with our coverage throughout the week as new memories are made during the 100th state tournament.

Here are installments in the Sweetest Century series published to date:

March 15, 2017: Catching up with some of the Sweet Sixteen’s great folk heroes

March 15, 2017: Mike Fields: My most memorable moments at Kentucky’s state tournament

March 15, 2017: At 100, Sweet Sixteen remains authentically Kentucky

March 14, 2017: Hazard played surprising role in integrating the Sweet Sixteen

March 13, 2017: 30 years later, Clay County’s ‘Boxhead’ Rawlings relishes his Sweet Sixteen heroics

March 13, 2017: A year-by-year history of the boys’ Sweet Sixteen

Feb. 15, 2017: Clay County vs. Ballard: The rivalry that showed Sweet Sixteen’s best

Feb. 15: 2017: Mason County’s Chris Lofton was ‘one of a kind’

Jan. 15, 2017: The team that saved Kentucky’s Sweet Sixteen

Jan. 15, 2017: An oral history of one of Kentucky’s most revered state tournaments

Dec. 15, 2016: Ashland vs. Carr Creek: The game that made the Sweet Sixteen great

Dec. 15, 2016: Brewers’ unbeaten run to championship still stands test of time

Nov. 27, 2016: From chaos, the Kentucky boys’ Sweet Sixteen was born