High School Basketball

Kentucky hoping stars' team spirit trumps Hoosiers' talent

Jason Booher is an optimist, but he's also a realist.

"We're a big-time underdog," the coach of the Kentucky All-Stars said this week, before they take on Indiana in the annual basketball border war.

"They're unbelievable," Booher said. "They're one of the best Indiana teams I've ever seen."

Just a brief trip down the two rosters shows what Kentucky's boys are up against.

The Hoosiers' college destinations include places like Michigan State, Indiana, Michigan, Butler, Notre Dame, Purdue and Iowa.

Their Kentucky counterparts' colleges include smaller schools like Morehead State, Tennessee Tech and Evansville.

Indiana has two McDonald's All-Americans on its roster in Mr. Basketball Gary Harris (Michigan State) and Yogi Ferrell (Indiana) and another two or three that probably could have made the cut.

"They've got these McDonald's All-Americans, but they're just basketball players," said Kentucky All-Star Jay Johnson of Woodford County, who has signed with Tennessee Tech. "They put their shoes on just like we put our shoes on. We just have to go out there and play hard."

The Hoosiers have seven players ranked among Rivals' top 131 in the nation.

Meanwhile, the Kentucky roster will be missing three of its original members.

Perry Central's Jaysean Paige didn't show up for practices this week. Moore's Mekale McKay couldn't get out of his commitments to Arkansas, and Fairview's Mike Terry injured his knee and is unable to play.

But the coach and his players are hoping that the closeness and chemistry in the Kentucky locker room could be a factor when the teams take the floor Friday night at Freedom Hall and Saturday in Indianapolis.

"What we're trying to convince our kids of is that it's not the best individuals that win, it's the best team," Booher said. "We're trying to do all of the little things that good players take for granted."

The Kentucky boys don't just want to play for the state name across their chests, but for one another.

"I like how unselfish we are," former Scott County standout and Marshall signee Tamron Manning said. "It's hard to bring together all these guys who are the best players on their team and have a good team. But we have that kind of unselfish group."

Johnson described it as having "nine brothers in that locker room."

It's going to be a tall order for a shorthanded, undermanned team led by Mr. Basketball Nathan Dieudonne of Louisville Trinity. "We're going to have to play really well just to compete with them," Booher said. "We'll have to hit some shots we're not used to hitting and play excellent at almost every facet of the game."

Kentucky doesn't have history on its side, either. Indiana has swept six of the past seven series and 23 of the last 26 games.