The 101st Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen basketball state tournament tips Wednesday at Rupp Arena in Lexington.
Below is the team profile for the Fern Creek Tigers, who will meet Boyd County in the first round at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
Enrollment: 1,683 (942 boys)
Robert Schooler is 177-46 in five seasons at Fern Creek. This is the Tigers’ second straight Sweet Sixteen appearance.
3) Jaylen Howard, 6-1, Sr., 2.8 ppg
4) A.J. Thomas, 6-1, Sr., 2.6 ppg
5) Anthony Wales, 6-0, Sr., 15 ppg
10) Ahmad Price, 6-4, Sr., 16.3 ppg
15) Clint Wickliffe, 6-5, Sr., 11.8 ppg
How they got here
Fern Creek reeled off seven straight wins, including two over 24th District rival Jeffersontown in the district and regional finals. The Tigers got clutch free throws in the regional finals from Thomas in the closing seconds to seal a 49-48 win.
Players to watch
Price gets the headlines, averaging 16.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, and Wickliffe averages 11.8 points and 6.3 rebounds, but Schooler points to Thomas as a player who symbolizes his very deep and experienced team. “He can win pretty or ugly. If it’s an ugly game, he can still find a way to win it,” Schooler said, a statement evidenced by his clutch free throws in the 6th Region finals despite not having the flashy numbers his teammates put up. “If it’s a pretty game, one of those easy, flowing games, he finds a way to pull those out for us. He’s just got a winner’s mentality.”
Leadership and experience
The Tigers carry 10 seniors on the roster, a massive number that gives Fern Creek the ability to run Schooler’s preferred up-tempo style and wear down opponents. “We’ve got a ton of depth. We wear people out and try to get you when you have to go to your subs, we’re subbing guys in that could be starters,” Schooler said. “Our second five could probably start for 80 percent of the other teams in our conference. So, we’ve been very blessed in the fact much like the U of K mentality, the guys even in high school will take a secondary role for the betterment of the team.” He’s also seen the group he came in with grow as leaders. “Four years ago we asked a group of kids to come in and help us rebuild and replenish the talent here at Fern Creek and they did. … After we won the regional championship, a lot of the comments were just how much we’ve grown in our leadership,” Schooler said.
Last season marked the Tigers’ first-ever trip to the Sweet Sixteen where they lost to eventual runner-up Cooper 51-44 in the semifinals. Much of that team has returned.