The second half of the Kentucky-Indiana All-Star Classic has taken on an extra layer of significance this year.
Sunday’s girls’ and boys’ games will likely be the final basketball games played at the Frankfort Convention Center, which is scheduled to begin demolition in November. It will be the penultimate sporting event held at the 45-year-old venue; a national body-building qualifier is scheduled for Aug. 12.
“That was not the intent or even on the horizon when I looked into moving the game there,” said Paul Laurence Dunbar Coach Scott Chalk, the event’s game director. “We had no idea this was coming.”
It was announced in early April that the Kentucky half of the games would be held at Central Hardin High School. The decision was made to move the games to Frankfort about three weeks before news broke of the venue’s pending closure.
The move to Frankfort was about optics. Indiana holds its half of the series at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where the Indiana Pacers play; to juxtapose that with a return trip in a prep venue would not have been good for the game’s perception.
“We didn’t want to have it in a high school gym,” Chalk said. “That was not gonna be positive for the series and does not in any way lend itself to making the kids feel like ‘This is important and I should want to be an All-Star.’”
Chalk, who is the executive director of the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches, took over as Kentucky’s game director late but has worked quickly to build a week of events to help bring back some of the luster the series has lost in recent seasons. He also will assist head coach Rodney Woods of Wayne County on the sidelines this weekend.
A scrimmage was held against a team of the state’s best juniors on Thursday night and plans were for the seniors to practice at Franklin County High School and Kentucky State University throughout the week. The games remain the focal point, but having a good time in the lead-up to them is a must.
“The last couple of years it got to where kids just came in and practiced for a couple of days,” Chalk said. “… Kids are kids. If they’re not having fun they’re gonna be looking for something else to do. We’ve got to accept that. We can’t be expecting them to do something just for the good of the cause all the time. You gotta expect that they want to have fun. That’s part of the motivation to do it.”
Players arrived Wednesday in Frankfort, where they were set to stay in the Capital Plaza Hotel through Sunday. Organizers planned to take the boys and girls to Lexington to visit Keeneland, one of the state’s iconic sites that few of them have actually gotten to see. A cookout sponsored by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife was scheduled for Friday at the Salato Wildlife Education Center, where the kids would be able to fish, get up-close-and-personal with exotic wildlife and walk hiking trails. Governor Matt Bevin might even stop by, Chalk said.
H&W Sport Shop in Campbellsville is providing a breadth of goodies for the All-Stars. Uniforms, practice gear, shirts, shoes, socks, bags, travel suits — and it’s all theirs to keep.
The Herald-Leader spoke with Chalk before players arrived in Frankfort, but his early sense was that they were excited to partake. It helps that Taveion Hollingsworth, this year’s Mr. Basketball whom Chalk coached at Dunbar, is all-in on the event.
“He’s fired up about it. He likes the idea of, ‘Oh, we’re gonna beat Indiana,’” Chalk said. “He gets into that, he’s old school about that stuff. He’s in communication with the rest of the guys and I think the group we’ve got is a group of guys that really want to be there.”
Chalk described this year’s 12-man unit as a bunch of “scrappers” who like to challenge themselves and opponents. He thinks the group’s guard play will at least equal Indiana’s if not be a bit better. On paper Indiana’s size is “impressive,” but Kentucky’s bigs are capable of outplaying them, he said.
“We need some dogs out there and guys who are ready to fight about it,” Chalk said.
Kentucky’s girls haven’t won since 2013. Kentucky’s boys haven’t picked up a win in the series since 2008.
Winning would help reignite excitement among fans and coaches, Chalk said, but it wouldn’t immediately improve players’ willingness to engage with the event. Right now, they have a hard time caring because it’s been a one-and-done show for so long.
“We’re trying to change that,” he said. “Even losing and being the underdog helps the interest among kids if they can be like, ‘Oh, we’re gonna be the class that beats them.’
“Right now you can’t even generate that because they’re not paying attention.”
Kentucky-Indiana All-Star Classic
What: Annual All-Star basketball series pitting Kentucky’s best seniors against Indiana’s best seniors. Girls’ games played first followed by a boys’ game each day. Proceeds from the Kentucky games benefit the Kentucky Lion’s Eye Foundation.
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis; Frankfort Convention Center
When: 5 p.m. Saturday, June 10 (Indianapolis); 2 p.m. Sunday, June 11 (Frankfort)
Kentucky boys: James Baker, Meade County; DeAndre “Pedro” Bradshaw, Russellville; Peyton Broughton, North Laurel; Lukas Burkman, Trinity; Tim Dalton, Lawrence County; Taveion Hollingsworth, Paul Laurence Dunbar; Kel Livers, Bardstown; Sean McNeil, Cooper; Jake Ohmer, Scott; Clivonte Patterson, Ballard; Terry Taylor, Bowling Green; Chris Vogt, Graves County.
Kentucky girls: Jordan Brock, Harlan; Kaylee Clifford; Trimble County; Mackenzie Coleman; Metcalfe County; Rebeccca Cook, Franklin County; Tonysha Curry, Manual; Lindsey Duvall, Bullitt East; Tasia Jeffries, Butler; Kristen Mayo, East Carter; Jaelynn Penn, Butler; Princess Stewart, Franklin County; Jada Stinson, Elizabethtown; Bre Torrens, Butler.
Indiana boys: Jaylen Bultz, Fort Wayne North Side; Jermaine Couisnard, East Chicago Central; Michael Ertel, Mt. Vernon; Zach Gunn, Hamilton Southeastern; Kyle Mangas, Warsaw; Jaylen Minnett, Terre Haute South; Cooper Neese, Cloverdale; Jack Nunge, Castle; Grant Smith, Connersville; Mack Smith, Warren Central; Sasha Stefanovic, Crown Point; Kris Wilkes, North Central; Malik Williams, Fort Wayne Snider
Indiana girls: Chyna Anthony, New Albany; Riley Blackwell, Plainfield; Dana Evans, Gary West; Maliah Howard-Bass, Columbus North; Nicole Konieczny, South Bend St. Joseph; Karissa McLaughlin, Homestead; Rachel McLimore, Zionsville; Destiny Perkins, Lawrence North; Zion Sanders, Evansville Central; Ajanae’ Thomas, North Central; Macee Williams, Fountain Central; Madison Wise, Greenfield-Central