High School Basketball

One of Kentucky’s best basketball players is staying close to home for college

New EKU coach talks about his best recruiting job

A.W. Hamilton was introduced as the new men's basketball coach at Eastern Kentucky University on Wednesday afternoon.
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A.W. Hamilton was introduced as the new men's basketball coach at Eastern Kentucky University on Wednesday afternoon.

Hometown connections paid off for Eastern Kentucky University’s basketball program.

Scott County standout Michael Moreno, a three-time selection to the coaches’ All-State First Team, announced his commitment to EKU on Thursday. He picked the Colonels from a final three that also included Evansville University and Wofford College.

A.W. Hamilton, a Scott County alumnus who was previously an assistant coach at North Carolina State, was named head coach of the Colonels last March. His first call following that announcement was to Moreno, whom he’d kept up with while he was in Raleigh.

That meant a lot to Moreno, who at the time was more interested in opportunities outside the state, and Hamilton’s continued interest in his life on and off the court ultimately made staying close to home a no-brainer for the 6-foot-6 forward.

He actually notified Hamilton of his commitment on Sunday.

“When he walked into my house for his final in-home (visit), he didn’t even start with basketball,” Moreno said. “He just started talking about Keeneland and the weekend with the Derby, school and stuff like that. It shows me that he’s never really cared about me just as a basketball player. It’s about an individual and a person.”

Like Moreno, Hamilton played for Billy Hicks at Scott County. He helped lead the Cardinals to a state title in 1998, and picked up a lot from Hicks that he continues to employ in his coaching style.

“He knows what it’s like to be from Georgetown and make it out,” Moreno said. “It’s just great to know somebody that’s gonna understand me and not have to completely learn what they want.”

Moreno, considered a three-star prospect and a top-250 recruit by 247Sports, grew familiar with EKU’s Alumni Coliseum in his prep days. He played for Scott County since he was a freshman and led the Cardinals to four consecutive appearances in the 11th Region Tournament championship game in Richmond, winning the last three. Scott County made back-to-back Sweet Sixteen title appearances in his last two seasons.

His senior season was stunted by a foot fracture. He missed 18 straight games due to injury but was cleared to return in time for the postseason. After the season he was re-evaluated for a potential surgery but doctors thought his foot was healed. A couple weeks later in a pickup game, Moreno felt a pop while making a cut down the lane and knew immediately he was going to need the procedure after all.

The first break in December frightened him because he’d never broken anything before. He was much more at ease the second time, and expects to be ready to play come fall.

Moreno’s only reported offer from a power-five school was Iowa, which didn’t make his top three. The University of Kentucky was not involved in his recruitment, but he’ll possibly have an opportunity to show the Wildcats what they missed out on soon: UK reportedly will host EKU at Rupp Arena as part of its 2019-20 schedule.

He’s used to wearing the black hat.

“It seems like, going to Scott County, you’re the villain every day no matter where you go, except when you’re here,” Moreno said with a grin. “Getting in Rupp Arena, I’d forgotten about that when I made the call and then I looked into it. I wasn’t pleased with the way I walked out last time, and I know the odds are gonna be way more against me this time than they were last time, but it would be nice to get back in there and at least be able to be satisfied with having one more chance to get in there and play.”

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