The 101st Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen state basketball tournament tips off Wednesday at Rupp Arena in Lexington.
Will a Mr. Basketball finalist cap his career with a Sweet Sixteen title and MVP honors? Will one of the prolific juniors in the field lead his team to the promised land? Or will a relatively unknown player leave his mark on high school basketball’s biggest stage?
Here’s a look at some of the top players in this week’s state tournament.
Michael Moreno, Scott County
Profile: A star for the Cardinals since he was a freshman, Moreno continues to be one of the state’s most consistent players. The 11th Region Player of the Year averaged 20.5 points and 11 rebounds as a junior, and is on track to become one of the few players in state history to record 3,000 points and 1,100 rebounds in a career. The 6-foot-6 junior has offers from Iowa, EKU and Bradley, and Ohio State, Tennessee and WKU have been involved in his recruitment. He could enter the 2018-19 season as the favorite for Mr. Basketball honors if he adds a state championship to his already-stacked résumé.
David Johnson, Trinity
Profile: Johnson was once committed to Louisville but retracted that in light of the program’s recent scandal. The 6-foot-4 junior is still considering the Cardinals along with offers from Cincinnati, Ohio State and Xavier. Kentucky has expressed interest in Johnson, who grew up a UK fan. He’s participated in training camps for Team USA and is averaging 13.9 points on 51.2 percent shooting for the Shamrocks. Johnson shoots 43.9 percent from three-point range.
KyKy Tandy, University Heights
Profile: Cincinnati, Florida, Oklahoma, Tennessee and WKU have all offered the 6-foot-1 junior shooting guard who’s recently been observed by UK Coach John Calipari. He’s averaging 30.5 points — tops among tournament players — on ridiculous shooting percentages for a guy his size (47.6 percent from three-point range, 61 percent overall). He also shoots 80 percent from the free-throw line. This is Tandy’s first appearance on the Sweet Sixteen stage while Moreno and Johnson have each been to Rupp Arena once before; it’s very possible that your 2019 Mr. Basketball winner will come from the trio.
CJ Fredrick, Covington Catholic
College: University of Iowa (signed)
Profile: The 6-foot-4 Mr. Basketball finalist only takes 14 shots a game, but he hits most of ’em: Fredrick has connected on 57.7 percent of his shots and 48.3 percent of his attempts from three-point territory. He’s averaging 22.5 points and 3.3 rebounds for a team that’s only lost two games this season to in-state foes, both of those losses coming in the King of the Bluegrass tournament back in December.
Andrew Taylor, Corbin
College: Furman (signed)
Profile: Taylor, a Mr. Basketball finalist, quietly moved up the all-time scoring list, where he ranks third behind only “King” Kelly Coleman (4,337) and Charlie Osborne (3,647) with 3,588 points. An extended run by his Redhounds in the tournament could put him in second place. He’s also 19th all-time in rebounding at 1,292, making him one of only seven boys in state history to amass 3,000 points and 1,110 rebounds for a career.
Justin Powell, Trinity
Profile: He’s only a sophomore but Powell has emerged as one of the state’s top prospects regardless of class. The 6-foot-5, 180-pound guard has offers from Auburn, Cincinnati, Vanderbilt and Xavier. Powell averages 11.3 points on 54.1 percent shooting — including a 50.8 percent mark from three — and 4.2 rebounds for the Shamrocks.
Mickey Pearson, John Hardin
College: St. Louis University (signed)
Profile: At 6-foot-8 with a wingspan that might be longer, Pearson is one of the most physically impressive players in the field. He can work around the basket but also has great touch from the perimeter, where he shoots 38 percent as the Bulldogs’ leading three-point marksman. Pearson, a Mr. Basketball finalist, averages 25.7 points and 11 rebounds.
Jake Walter, Covington Catholic
College: Xavier University (signed)
Profile: Pearson doesn’t have a monopoly on size — Walter is a 7-foot-1, 270-pound center whose game took a leap over the summer. He this season increased his shooting percentage to an absurd 72.9 percent — more than 10 percentage points better than his junior year — and averages 6.5 rebounds a game for the Colonels.
Skyelar Potter, Warren Central
College: Wright State University
Profile: Potter, the 4th Region Player of the Year, averages a double-double for the Dragons with 23 points and 12.1 rebounds. He shoots almost 40 percent from the three-point line and is a 55.5 percent shooter overall from the floor. Teammate Jordan Cousin, also a senior, averages 15.1 points and 7.6 rebounds and is another potential Division I prospect playing in the field.
Anthony Wales, Fern Creek
College: Samford University
Profile: Wales, a 6-foot guard, helped lead the Tigers to their first Sweet Sixteen appearance a year ago and has helped them do it again. He’s averaging 15 points and 2.8 rebounds a game. Fellow senior Ahmad Price, a 6-4 guard, averages team highs of 16.3 points and 6.1 rebounds and is another college prospect.
Cooper Robb, Scott County
College: UNC-Charlotte (signed)
Profile: This season’s Wah Wah Jones Award winner averages 13.9 points on 50.1-percent shooting for the Cardinals. He’s started at point guard the last three seasons and also is a starting infielder for the baseball team and starting cornerback for the football team.
Jay Scrubb, Trinity
Profile: Scrubb ascended into the Mr. Basketball conversation as a senior after not logging varsity minutes before his junior season due to academic hurdles. The two-time 7th Region Player of the Year cleared those and averages a team-best 17.9 points on 51.2 percent shooting. The 6-foot-5 forward has reported offers from Long Beach State and Youngstown State; UCLA, Indiana, Oklahoma and Louisville also have expressed interest.
Wyatt Battaile, Pikeville
Profile: The 6-foot-5 shooting guard quarterbacked the Panthers’ football team to the 2015 state title as a sophomore but has since shifted his focus to the basketball court, where he took home 15th Region Player of the Year honors this season. He’s averaged 24.3 points on 51.6 percent shooting for Pikeville, and also leads the Panthers with 8.8 rebounds a night.
Jackson Sivills, McCracken County
Profile: Sivills, a sophomore, averages 13 points and 7.9 rebounds for the Mustangs. He’s a 6-foot-6 forward whom Coach Burlin Brower believes is among the best sophomores in the state.
Caleb Bonny, Estill County
Profile: This season Bonny has averaged 19.4 points on his way to breaking the Engineers’ scoring record held for more than 60 years by Delmar McGee. The 6-foot-1 senior and Mr. Basketball finalist has more than 2,000 points in his career and shoots nearly 40 percent from long range.
Hunter Stevens, Southwestern
Profile: A few Division I schools — Alcorn State, Central Michigan and Youngstown State — have contacted the 5-10 senior. He’s averaging 24.9 points and 4.6 rebounds and shooting 49.1 percent from the three-point line for the Warriors.
More to watch
Nathan Boyle, Apollo (senior): 15.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg
Reid Jolly, Campbell County (senior): 18.9 ppg, 9.9 rpg
Taquan Hollowell, University Heights (junior): 11.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg
Travis Henderson, Oldham County (senior): 15.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg
Diablo Stewart, Scott County (junior): 12.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg
Tanner Clos, Campbell County (senior): 15.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg
Gunner Short, Boyd County (senior): 17.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg
Jachai Walker, John Hardin (junior): 7.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg
Jackson Gibson, Oldham County (senior): 15.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg
Hayden Shelton, Apollo (senior): 13.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg
Boys’ Sweet Sixteen
When: Wednesday through Sunday
Where: Rupp Arena
At stake: Boys’ state high school basketball championship