High School Basketball

Ferguson's hoop dreams a fade-away

Jonathan Ferguson's last shot as a high school basketball star was a fade-away three-pointer from the top of the key that he swished in the closing minutes of Elliott County's loss to Holmes in the Sweet Sixteen semifinals in Rupp Arena last month.

It was a signature move by one of the most prolific scorers in the annals of Kentucky high school hoops.

We now know it was also Ferguson signing off from competitive basketball.

The Elliott County sharp-shooter, who made about 300 three-pointers in his career and was the fifth-leading boys' scorer in state history with 3,377 points, says he is finished with the game.

Several colleges recruited Ferguson for his keen-eyed shooting, but to no avail.

"Nobody knew it, but I officially decided before this season that I didn't want to play college basketball," he said last week.

"I was just burned out and tired of it all."

Ferguson's decision to give up hoops is startling considering he was a first-team All-Stater with one of the smoothest jump shots this side of Chris Lofton.

Several Kentucky high school basketball stars in recent years didn't play college hoops — Michael Bush and Curtis Pulley, for example — but they gave up the game to concentrate on football.

Ferguson said he is going to Morehead State to be "a regular student," study pre-pharmacy and be with his girlfriend, Morgan Hardin.

Dale Ferguson, Jonathan's father, has had a difficult time accepting his son's decision.

"Talk about a big letdown," Dale said. "It destroyed me and my wife for a week or two.

"I'm afraid when he's 40 years old, it's gonna eat his heart out that he didn't play."

Jonathan said he doesn't think that will happen. When he decided last fall that his senior season would be his last in basketball, it freed him to approach the game differently.

"Basketball had been like a job, but this year I just went out, had a good time and didn't worry about impressing anybody," he said.

"I still really wanted to win, but when we lost, we lost. I still had fun."

Elliott County's team was a darling of fans and media. The small-school Lions from the mountains played a fast-break, shoot-'em-up style that helped them rise to No. 1 in the state ratings.

With Ferguson sharing top billing with identical twins Ethan and Evan Faulkner, Elliott County won a third consecutive region title, made it to the state semifinals and finished with a 32-3 record.

Ferguson, who led the way with a 24-point average, said he enjoyed the season, despite the behind-the-scenes personality conflicts (between coaches and players, and parents and coaches) that every high school team endures.

The first few weeks of the season, Ferguson drew notice by wearing Christmas socks (stitched with red snowflakes and Frosty the Snowman) with his uniform. He finally had to trash them after the heels wore out.

Ferguson fondly remembers the thrill of scoring a career-high 41 points in December against Boyd County, and becoming the 16th Region's all-time leading scorer late in the season.

Getting to Rupp Arena for the third year in a row was a fitting end to his career.

"Everybody will remember our team for years to come, and that's nice to know," he said.

But Ferguson, who drew recruiting interest from Air Force, Marshall, Mississippi State, Morehead, Northern Kentucky and The Citadel, has no desire to make new basketball memories.

His emotional tank is empty when it comes to hoops.

Ferguson hasn't picked up a ball since the Sweet Sixteen, and he passed up an invitation to try out for the Kentucky All-Stars.

The only shooting he's doing nowadays is with his 12-gauge Mossberg 500 shotgun. He's spent the past two weeks hunting turkey on his family's 200-acre farm in Isonville.

"I've really enjoyed this break," he said. "I don't miss basketball at all, and I don't think that'll change."

Neither will his memory of that final three-pointer ripping the net under the bright lights of Rupp Arena.

Jonathan Ferguson can always take satisfaction in knowing that his basketball career was good to the very last shot.