High School Basketball

Mike Fields: Bad breakup for Shelby County

Breaking up is hard to do, or at least it's hard to sustain strong athletic programs after splitting up.

Look at Shelby County.

Traditionally a sports powerhouse, the Rockets have fizzled since Shelby County was divided to create Martha Layne Collins High School, which opened last August.

Shelby County's football and basketball teams (boys and girls) have a combined 2-33 record since a lot of their athletes were siphoned off by Collins this school year. "It's just growing pains, just part of splitting," Shelby County Principal Eddie Oakley said. "It's been frustrating for the kids and the coaches, but I have to commend them. They've stuck in there and are working hard."

It's inevitable that when one school is divided into two, one of them will struggle for a while. Remember when Jessamine County split into East and West in the late 1990s? East's first football team went 0-10, and its boys' and girls' basketball teams were a combined 5-41.

Last fall Shelby County football went 1-9 while Collins, led by former Rockets stars Branden Cresap and Tavis Elzy, went 11-2. Shelby County's boys' and girls' basketball teams, both of which have new coaches and no players who had any varsity experience before this season, are having a tough time too. Rick Parsons' boys are 1-13, losing by an average of 20 points. Mike Sowers' girls are 0-11, losing by an average of 32 points. "The coaches are working hard and being patient," Oakley said. "But it's like going into a math class and trying to teach kids algebra that haven't had pre-algebra. The kids' basketball IQs aren't what they would be if they were older and had more experience."

There is a positive side to splitting. Two high schools in the county mean more kids get to participate in sports.

As for Shelby County's struggles, Oakley said "we're measuring progress by improvement more than wins. It just takes time. We all know brighter days are ahead."

■ Dixie Heights' loss to Covington Scott on Wednesday leaves one undefeated boys' team in the state — John Hardin, which took a 12-0 record into Thursday night's game with Central Hardin.

■ Hopkinsville's girls lost for the first time this season, falling to Daviess County 59-58 in double overtime. Paige Kramer's three-pointer with six seconds left was the game-winner. The only unbeaten girls' teams left are Campbell County (12-0) and Jeffersontown (13-0).

■ East Ridge eighth-grader Camron Justice, a 6-foot point guard, is averaging 22.8 points. His coach (and dad), Raymond Justice, is surprised by Camron's immediate success on the varsity level "because everybody's put their best punch on him, and he's stood up to it. He's stepped right up and played well." Fans have been known to make it difficult for a coach to play his own son, but that hasn't been the case at East Ridge. "Everybody has accepted us as a dad/son and coach/player," Raymond Justice said. It helps when the son is as talented as Camron. He's hit 56 percent of his three-pointers and 86 percent of his free throws. He made 43 of his first 46 foul shots.

■ The best boys' basketball game in town this weekend has No. 5 Lexington Catholic at home against No. 13 Tates Creek on Friday night. Lexington Catholic has won seven of eight games against the Commodores since 2002, six of those victories coming in the post-season.

■ Paul Laurence Dunbar hosts the annual S.T. Roach Classic on Saturday, the first time for the boys' basketball event since the legendary coach died in September. Bryan Station plays Ryle at 6 p.m., followed by Henry Clay facing Dunbar. The S.T. Roach Classic hasn't had much sizzle in several years, but new Dunbar coach Justin Yeary hopes to revitalize it in the future. That would be a nice way to honor Mr. Roach. When the classic was started in the early 1990s, it drew big crowds by featuring Mr. Basketball candidates and powerhouse teams.

■ After knocking off higher-ranked Scott County last Saturday, Clark County's boys will host No. 3 Warren Central this Saturday. Clark County jumped from No. 7 to No. 4 in Dave Cantrall's ratings after it beat then-No. 4 Scott County 79-62.

■ Sayre's 80-64 victory over then-No. 22 Boone County last week was the Spartans' first victory over a top 25 team that anybody can remember. Mike Smith led Sayre with 29 points. Reid Freeman had 20 points and Griffin Patterson added 15. Ray Brewer had 10 rebounds. Coach Ted Hall also credited Griffin Miller's defense and Philip O'Rourke's timely shooting. Spartans senior point guard Cabot Haggin suffered a concussion and didn't play the second half. "Since Christmas we've taken some steps forward, especially defensively," Hall said. Boone County was without senior guard Travis Montgomery, who suffered a knee injury in a win over Simon Kenton.

■ Trinity's victory over St. Xavier in the Louisville Invitational Tournament was Coach Mike Szabo's 300th career win. He's 188-96 in 10 years with the Shamrocks. He previously coached in Texas.

■ Wayne County senior point guard Kayla Bowlin had games of 23, 29 and 20 points last week.

■ Twins Ethan and Evan Faulkner, who helped Elliott County to three straight Sweet Sixteen appearances, went separate ways in college. Ethan is averaging 18 minutes and 4.1 points as a sophomore at NKU. Evan is averaging 24 minutes and 6.6 rebounds as a sophomore at Radford. Meanwhile, Jonathan Ferguson, a teammate of the Faulkners at Elliott County who burned out on basketball and didn't play last season, has gotten back in the game. Ferguson, the fifth-leading scorer in boys' state history with 3,377 points, enrolled at Alderson-Broaddus College, a Division II school in Phillipi, W.Va., this second semester and is on the basketball team.

■ Lexington Catholic will honor former player and coach Danny Haney by naming its basketball court after him before the Knights' game against Wayne County on Feb. 18. Haney's former players are invited to be part of the ceremony. Contact Ann Tramontin Bruggeman at atramontin@lexingtoncatholic.com. Haney was a star player for the Knights in the 1970s. In 17 years as head coach, he had 414 victories, including the 2002 state title.

■ Paul Rains, who got out of coaching after guiding Lexington Christian to the Class A football title in 2009, is the new coach at Mercer County. "It seems like a nice fit and I'm excited about it," Rains said. The Titans won a 2A title in 2006 following the consolidation of Mercer County and Harrodsburg. After playing in 5A the last few years, Mercer County will be in 4A next season, in a district with defending state champ Boyle County, Lexington Catholic, Marion County and Taylor County. "That sets the bar high," Rains said. "The potential is there. It's just a matter of bringing in my philosophy and getting the kids to believe." Rains has an overall record of 188-80 in 22 years at LCA, Madison Central, Montgomery County and Hazard.

■ Dudley Hilton, who's left Bell County to take over the Pikeville College football program, will coach one more high school game. He'll lead Kentucky against Tennessee in the fourth annual National Guard Border Bowl. Kickoff is noon Saturday at University of Cumberlands in Williamsburg. Six Lexington players are on the Kentucky roster: Tim Hayden and Darrian Miller of Bryan Station, Jerry Williams of Henry Clay, Will Whitman of Lexington Catholic, Chad Snyder of LCA and Jontez Jones of Tates Creek. For complete rosters, go to www.ky-tn-borderbowl.com. Steve Tressler, who does radio broadcasts for Lexington Catholic, will be a sideline reporter for the Border Bowl's TV broadcast (live on WYMT, tape-delay on CWKYT at 8 p.m. Saturday). Tressler is a staff sergeant and public affairs officer for the National Guard.

■ In other football news: Mike Copley resigned as Greenup County coach after two years. Chris Engstrand, former coach at Henry County and Western Hills, is taking over at Fairdale. Former Manual Coach Joe Nichols is the new coach at Fern Creek. Bryan Station Athletic Director Chad Luhman said the Defenders hope to hire a new coach by the end of January.

■ CeCe Witten, runner-up in state singles last spring, graduated from Boyle County last month and has enrolled at UK so she can get a head start on her college tennis career. Witten, a six-time region champ, is the cousin of former UK tennis players Jesse and Sarah Witten.

■ Central Kentucky is well represented in the newest class to be inducted into the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association's Hall of Fame in Louisville on Saturday. The honorees include coaches Larry Allison of Clark County, Keith Galloway of LCA, Dom Fucci of Tates Creek and Jay Lucas of Woodford County. Also being honored are Todd Driskell of Male and Bobby Keith Dixon of Perry Central, along with former Kentucky Post sportswriter Terry Boehmker. The Hall of Fame ceremony will be part of KHSBCA's annual convention, which is Friday and Saturday at the Fern Valley Hotel & Conference Center.