High School Basketball

Sweet Sixteen challenger ‘playing with house money’ after poor start to season

Apollo’s Hayden Shelton brought the ball down the court against Owensboro Catholic during the 3rd Region Tournament championship game at the Owensboro Sportscenter last week. Shelton averages 13.5 points per game.
Apollo’s Hayden Shelton brought the ball down the court against Owensboro Catholic during the 3rd Region Tournament championship game at the Owensboro Sportscenter last week. Shelton averages 13.5 points per game. Messenger-Inquirer

The 101st Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen basketball state tournament tips Wednesday at Rupp Arena in Lexington.

Below is a team profile for the Apollo Eagles, who will meet Covington Catholic in the first round at 8 p.m. Thursday.

APOLLO

Region: 3rd

Record: 16-15

Enrollment: 1,446 (758 boys)

Coach’s résumé

Steve Barker has coached 33 years overall, the last nine at Kentucky high schools (McLean County for five seasons and Apollo the last four). He’s 594-396 as a coach and 123-126 in the state.

Probable starters

1) Angel Saldana, 6-0, Sr., 8.6 ppg

10) Hayden Shelton, 6-1, Sr., 13.5 ppg

14) James Graham, 6-7, Sr., 8.5 ppg

25) Alex Gray, 6-3, Sr., 12.5 ppg

35) Nathan Boyle, 6-5, Sr., 15.3 ppg

How they got here

Apollo didn’t boast the profile of a Sweet Sixteen contender in December.

For most of the season the Eagles didn’t even boast a winning profile; their 3rd Region finals victory over Owensboro Catholic (which beat them four times earlier in the season) put them above .500 for the first time since Dec. 21.

The Eagles went 22-7 last season but didn’t get out of their district. They returned seven seniors but graduated leading scorer Zach Hopewell, who’s now at Murray State University.

“When he left we just didn’t have anybody to step up and fill that void, and none of the seniors have had to do that,” Barker said. “It has taken a long season. We’ve lost 15 games and had five of ’em go to overtime and seven decided on last-second shots. For these kids to finally come together as a group of seniors and win the region, it’s a credit to what they’ve been able to accomplish.”

NewApollo2
Nathan Boyle, a 6-foot-5 senior, leads Apollo in scoring at 15.3 points per game. Greg Eans Messenger-Inquirer

Player to watch

Apollo doesn’t really have a particular standout, just a senior-exclusive starting lineup that’s jelled together at the perfect moment. Boyle and Shelton, both guards, “can really shoot the ball,” Barker said. Boyle’s a 36.3-percent shooter from beyond the arc while Shelton’s even hotter at 44.3 percent.

Barker was part of Apollo teams as a player in 1976 and 1978 that came together to make an appearance at Rupp.

“I knew they didn’t have a clue what it felt like, and even though I had been through it 40 years ago it still feels like yesterday,” Barker said. “I told ’em a couple times in the last couple days, ‘It’ll be something you reemeber the rest of your life.’ Now they’re gonna be able to have that and be able to say they were Region 3 champs for the rest of their life.”

CovCath connection

Chuck Fredrick, the father of CovCath star CJ Fredrick, played college basketball at Samford University with Barker in the early 80’s.

Barker’s Mr. Basketball vote went to the younger Fredrick.

“It’s a small world,” Barker said. “It’s crazy.”

CovCath has been ranked as the first- or second-best team in the state by every poll at some point this season. Apollo will come into the Sweet Sixteen as the tournament’s biggest underdog.

“We’re excited because we’re one of 16 left, and we get a chance to play in Rupp, which none of these kids ever, ever imagined that they would get to do,” Barker said. “And we get to play a team that’s ranked and is 30 and something. We’re playing with house money and we’re gonna throw all the cards out there and see what happens.”

Sweet history

Apollo will play in its ninth Sweet Sixteen.

Barker was part of Apollo teams as a player in 1976 and 1978 that came together to make an appearance at Rupp.

“I knew they didn’t have a clue what it felt like, and even though I had been through it 40 years ago it still feels like yesterday,” Barker said. “I told ’em a couple times in the last couple days, ‘It’ll be something you remember the rest of your life.’ Now they’re gonna be able to have that and be able to say they were Region 3 champs for the rest of their life.”

Josh Moore: 859-231-1307, @HLpreps

Chris Ware | Herald-Leader staff
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