High School Basketball

Sweet 16 notes: UK recruit Willis has no luck with Shamrocks

Bullitt East's Derek Willis, going up for a shot in Wednesday night's loss to Trinity, was just 3-for-15 with eight turnovers. The Shamrocks rotated defenders on the 6-9 junior, who has committed to play for the University of Kentucky.
Bullitt East's Derek Willis, going up for a shot in Wednesday night's loss to Trinity, was just 3-for-15 with eight turnovers. The Shamrocks rotated defenders on the 6-9 junior, who has committed to play for the University of Kentucky. Jonathan Palmer

Derek Willis will call Rupp Arena his basketball home in a couple years, but it was more like a haunted house for the Bullitt East star on Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-9 junior, who has committed to Kentucky, had a miserable time dealing with the frightening Louisville Trinity defense as the No. 1 Shamrocks beat Bullitt East 52-32.

Willis was 3-for-15 shooting and had eight turnovers. He did have 13 rebounds, but it still added up to a night to forget.

"It was frustrating," he said. "When I tried to post up, another guy would leak off and help on me, I didn't know what to do."

Trinity rotated thick-bodied DeMarcus Page and Craig Owens, and super quick James Quick on Willis.

"Page is a football player and a physical kid, and Craig Owens is, too," Willis said.

Bullitt East Coach Troy Barr said he thought last week's 6th Region finals against Pleasure Ridge Park was the most physical game he'd seen, but this Trinity game was a close second.

"Derek got beat to death in the PRP game," Barr said. "If I watched the PRP film, I'd do the same thing. If the refs are going to let you beat on him, I'd say let's do it until they call it. It's got to be frustrating for Derek. I'm proud of him for the class he showed in not reacting."

Now that the Chargers' season is done, Willis can follow UK in the NCAA Tournament. He said he hopes to be in the KFC Yum Center to watch the Cats play Western Kentucky on Thursday.

Sneakers to cleats

North Laurel's opening-round loss in the Sweet Sixteen means point guard Marcus Carson is ready to trade in his basketball sneakers for baseball cleats.

The 5-foot-9 junior, who has committed to play baseball for UK, said he would get in some throwing and hitting practice this weekend, and play center field for the Jaguars when they play Somerset on Monday.

The life of Riley

Tim Riley, who coached Warren Central to eight 4th Region titles and a state championship (2004), left the high school game last year to become an assistant for the WKU's women's program.

But Riley is out of work after WKU, his alma mater, fired coach Mary Taylor Cowles last week. Riley, who was in Rupp Arena on Wednesday, said he has expressed interest in succeeding Cowles and also is interested on staying as an assistant.

If Western doesn't keep him, might Riley return to high school coaching?

"I'm not going to rule out anything," he said. "I'd probably come back to the boys' (game) because I love this (Sweet Sixteen) right here — an opportunity to get back to this."

Clark County/NCAA

Clark County, which is in the Sweet Sixteen for the second year in a row, has a basketball alum playing in the NCAA Tournament for the seventh year in a row.

Vinny Zollo, who played for the Cardinals last season, will play for WKU against UK in the KFC Yum Center in Louisville on Thursday. Former Clark County star Preston Knowles played for Louisville in four straight (2007-11) NCAA tournaments. Ex-Card Andrew Preston played for Belmont in two NCAA tournaments (2006-07).

Denney's story

Coaching in the Sweet Sixteen is nothing new to Roscoe Denney, but the experience never gets old.

Denney is in his first season as an assistant to Brad Sizemore at North Laurel, which reached the state tournament for the first time.

But this is Denney's 11th Sweet Sixteen overall. He made it twice as a head coach (Danville in 1990 and Breathitt County in 1996) and nine times as an assistant at five schools.

Denney is in his 40th year of coaching. He's been at 12 high schools and two colleges (Franklin and Transylvania), but he's enjoyed this stint at North Laurel as much as any.

Jaguars Coach Brad Sizemore played at South Laurel when Denney was an assistant there. "He's like a son to me," said Denney, who was thrilled to be part of history at North Laurel.

"To help these kids, who were so green and inexperienced when the year started, to win the region for the first time makes it doubly special," he said.

Sunshine in Rupp

Gary Meyer grew up in Louisville, played high school basketball at Durrett and went on to play hoops at Florida Southern in the early 1970s. After graduating from college, he stayed in Florida and has been a high school coach in the Sunshine State for almost four decades.

But he's still hooked on Kentucky's Sweet Sixteen.

Meyer and three Florida coaching buddies — Dave Robbins, Gary Jordan and Alan Reed — have been coming to the state tournament almost every year since 1977, when they watched Jeff Lamp lead Ballard to the state title.

Meyer has even brought some of his players with him to see what the Sweet Sixteen is all about. "They can't believe there's 18,000 people here for a first-round game Wednesday at 12 o'clock," he said. "No disrespect to Florida's state tournament, but it's nothing like this."

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