High School Basketball

Gridiron star sets sights on hardwood title

Those back-to-back state football titles Ridge Wilson won at Central, don't get him wrong, they were great and all.

"A state championship in football and a state championship in basketball is totally different," Wilson said Friday. "Pretty much anybody who ain't here says that Kentucky is a basketball (state), you know what I'm saying."

We do, even if you're a 6-foot-4, 217-pound bruiser headed to the University of Kentucky on a football scholarship. Wilson is considered one of the better signees in what Rich Brooks thinks is the best grid class he has brought to Lexington.

One reason: Athletes. Wilson is exactly that, as he demonstrated Friday, not on the gridiron but on the hardwood at Rupp Arena, where the senior scored 16 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to help the Yellowjackets upset Eastern 71-65 in the National City Boys' Sweet Sixteen.

The surprise earned Central a semifinal spot opposite West Jessamine in Saturday's semifinals.

It was a surprise because Eastern beat Central by 23 points (78-55) when the teams played on Feb. 10.

"But I thought we could win," Wilson said. "I don't care if we're playing the Lakers, I feel like we're going to win."

He's whipped big odds before.

"Ridge, I know he's got a lot of things going on with him," said Central Coach Doug Bibby when talking about how he tries to act as a mentor to his team.

Wilson admits he's never seen his father, and that drugs were not always a stranger in his household growing up.

Yet, off the field he is a 3.8 student at Central who wants to major in business and finance at UK. On the field, as a hard-hitting defensive end, he led the Yellowjackets to consecutive Class 3A titles, along with fellow UK signee Mister Cobble.

The two wore blue sweater vests when they made their intentions official on National Signing Day, and insist they are working hard to persuade fellow teammate Tim Patterson, a coveted football recruit who will be a senior next year, to join them in Lexington.

In fact, because of the football playoffs, which ended in early December, Wilson and Patterson were slow to make the transition to basketball. That was one reason for Central's dreadful 0-8 start. The Yellowjackets didn't win their first game until Jan. 3. They were all of 16-14 heading into the state tournament. But as the year progressed, so did the Yellowjackets.

"Not to jinx myself," Wilson said, "but Coach Bibby has been telling us all year long, there's something special about this team."

Wilson is special. He averaged 14.7 points and 12.5 rebounds this season. He scored 27 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in Central's 6th Region final win over Shawnee.

He scored 16 points in Central's first-round win over Graves County. Friday, he made just six of 11 shots, but grabbed nine defensive rebounds to go with his four offensive boards.

"My focus wasn't even scoring," Wilson said. "I missed like five layups. I think that's why I missed five layups because I was so focused on getting the rebound."

But Wilson was also focused when he stepped to the foul line with 14.7 seconds left, the Yellowjackets up 69-65. After making just two of four free throws earlier, he sank the clutch two to seal the victory, and keep Central alive for a possible basketball title to go with those football trophies.

"To win it in basketball (would be) an amazing accomplishment," he said. "You're not competing in just 3A, 2A, it's everybody across the state."

That wouldn't be bad for Wilson to have on his resume when he returns to Lexington in June to start football conditioning.

"I don't want to rush nothing," he said. "I want to win a basketball championship. That would be something I can't even explain."