Paducah Tilghman Blue Tornado
Region: 1st Record: 27-6 Enrollment: 806
Brad Stieg is in his eighth year as head coach (172-75). He also got the Blue Tornado to the Sweet Sixteen in 2007 and '08, and was an assistant when they were state runner-up in 2002 and a semifinalist in 1999.
Paducah Tilghman starters
Kris Jackson 5-10 sr. 5.5 ppg
J.B. Harmon 6-1 so. 13.1 ppg
Trevonte Cole 5-11 jr. 11.4 ppg
Josh Forrest 6-4 jr. 14.7 ppg
Dejuan Edmonds 6-4 jr. 5.2 ppg
The Blue Tornado are a perimeter-oriented team that loves to attack the basket. Forrest is the catalyst, but his supporting cast is solid, too. Both Harmon and his younger brother J.D. (who comes off the bench) average in double figures. Cole is the best perimeter threat; he's hit 71 of 176 three-pointers (40 percent). Jackson is a standout defender. Edmonds provides a big body inside. Tilghman's 11-game winning streak is the longest of any team in the Sweet Sixteen. Shelby Valley will present a challenge. Stieg is worried about more than containing Wildcats' point guard Elisha Justice. "They were in the state tournament last year, and they're (two-time) All 'A' champs. That experience factor concerns me."
Player to watch
Forrest is a college prospect in basketball and football. A gifted athlete, he plays multiple positions in basketball. "He can play the point, on the wing, he can post up; he's just that versatile so he plays everywhere on the floor," Stieg said. "He's got that basketball sense you can't teach." Forrest averages 14.7 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3 steals. Stieg said Murray State and Oklahoma State are among the schools showing interest in the 6-4 junior.
Paducah Tilghman got on a late-season run and won the Class 3A state football title last fall. Among the key players were Jackson, Forrest, Edmonds and J.D. Harmon. "Winning that (state title) has carried over to this basketball team," Stieg said. "These kids ... are just winners."
Tilghman is making its 27th appearance in the state tournament. It was runner-up in 1953 and 2002.
Shelby Valley Wildcats
Region: 15th Record: 28-4 Enrollment: 589
Jason Booher (155-37 in six years at Shelby Valley) has his Wildcats in the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth time in six years. He previously coached at Henry County and Belfry. Booher played in the state tournament for North Hardin in 1990 and '91.
Elisha Justice 5-11 sr. 19.6 ppg
Ashley Hatfield 6-6 sr. 14.8 ppg
Taylor Newsome 6-3 sr. 11.7 ppg
Cody Varney 6-3 sr. 6.3 ppg
Tyler Newsome 6-4 sr. 13.2 ppg
Justice, Hatfield and Taylor Newsome started in the Sweet Sixteen as freshmen, and again last year when they played in front of 40,000 fans in two games in Rupp Arena. They've also won a pair of All "A" titles. Justice gets the most attention, but he's surrounded by accomplished veterans. Hatfield, a 41 percent three-point shooter, has been more aggressive this year. That's helped his rebounding (7.3 rpg) and inside scoring. Tyler Newsome has also expanded his offensive game. Taylor Newsome (a distant relative of Tyler) holds the school record for rebounds (705). Booher calls Varney "the best athlete on the team" who's strong on the boards (7.2 rpg).
Player to watch
Justice comes into the Sweet Sixteen nine points shy of 2,000 for his career. He's already the state record-holder for steals (524). But numbers don't define him. "He's one of those kids who could go get 35 or 40 points a game, but he knows for us to be the best we can, he has to share the ball," Booher said. Justice is averaging 6.2 assists, 4.1 steals and 3.9 rebounds. He's also shooting 41 percent from three-point range and 80 percent from the foul line, and has accepted Rick Pitino's offer to walk on at Louisville next season.
Four fun-filled years
Over the last four seasons, these Shelby Valley seniors have won 112 of 130 games, including back-to-back All "A" titles, and have made three trips to the Sweet Sixteen.
Shelby Valley has made it to Rupp Arena for the third time in four years, and for the sixth time since 2002. The Wildcats got their first state tournament victory last March.