High School Basketball

WKU connection unites coaches

A few years ago, James Haire of Elizabethtown and Mike Clark of Shelby County were coaching their teams in the Sweet Sixteen.

Lately they've been cheering for their former players and Western Kentucky University in the NCAA Tournament.

Former E-town star Steffphon Pettigrew, Mr. Basketball in 2007, and former Shelby County all-stater A.J. Slaughter have helped WKU pull first-round upsets in the NCAA Tournament the last two years. Western plays Gonzaga Saturday for a chance to advance to the NCAA's Sweet Sixteen for the second straight year.

Pettigrew, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, had 17 points, and Slaughter, a 6-3 junior, had 14 points in the Hilltoppers' win over Illinois Thursday night.

Haire and Clark said they nervously watched the TV broadcast late Thursday as WKU almost blew a 17-point lead.

Haire is a Topper through and through. He graduated from WKU in the early 1980s, and his daughter Andrea is now a student worker in the basketball office there.

Does Haire always pick WKU in his NCAA pool?

"Even if I think the odds are against them, I have a hard time writing down anything else," he said.

Haire always pulls for Pettigrew, of course.

"I'm extremely proud of all my players," he said. "Steffphon always amazed me by how calm and mature he was.

"He really wanted to go to Kentucky, but when it didn't work out, there was no sulking. He wasn't mad or bitter. He weighed his options, went to Western, and it turned into a good situation for him."

Clark, an EKU grad, is Slaughter's biggest fan.

"He's not only a great basketball player, he's a great person," Clark said.

"And what's so great about Western's run is that they have Kentucky kids playing for them. That creates excitement not only for Western fans, but fans across the state."

Slaughter had offers from other schools, but he picked WKU partly because his family could watch him play.

"It's been a great place for him," Clark said, "and for everybody who's following him."

Does Clark automatically pick the Hilltoppers in his NCAA bracket?

"I fill out two," he said. "In one I pick teams with my brain.

"In the other one I pick teams with my heart. I picked Western, Louisville and Morehead State in that one."

Bibby and Rondo

Doug Bibby, who coached at Eastern before moving to Central, says he's in contact daily with the most well-known player he coached at Eastern — Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo.

Bibby said that when he mentioned Rondo, who starred for two seasons at the University of Kentucky, to Central guard Alex Morrison, the player replied: "Coach, but Rajon didn't get you to the Sweet Sixteen."

Rondo transferred to Oak Hill (Va.) Academy for his senior year of high school.

So was the Celtics guard pulling for Eastern or his old coach Friday?

"I'm pretty sure he's pulling for me," Bibby said.

Penny's picks

Anderson County star C.J. Penny, who led the Bearcats to their first state tournament appearance in 12 years, said he will make his college choice within the next two weeks.

Penny, a 6-foot-5 senior, will choose between North Carolina A&T and Georgetown College.

"Both have great programs and great coaches," Penny said.

North Carolina A&T is coached by Jerry Eaves, who starred at Ballard High School and was on Louisvllle's 1980 NCAA title team.

Georgetown is coached by Happy Osborne, one of the most successful coaches in NAIA hoops.

Future Cat, future home

Madisonville star Jon Hood, who has signed with Kentucky, was in Rupp Arena on Friday to collect his 2nd Region Player of the Year award.

Hood, who missed the region tournament with a stress fracture in his foot, said he'll get his walking boot off in two weeks, and he'll be ready to hoop it up again.

Hood said he expects UK Coach Billy Gillispie to be back next season.

"I don't think it's possible that he won't be back," Hood said. "We got another commitment, another signee, yesterday in Konner Tucker. I talked to him. He's a good guy. Coach will be back."