When the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Girls' Sweet Sixteen opens Wednesday in Bowling Green, plenty of eyes will be on the prize — a state championship.
But Joey Thacker, coach of 11th Region champion Franklin County, wants his team to see the bigger picture, too.
"I just hope they enjoy it because there's a lot of kids across the country that don't ever get to experience the greatest show in hoops," Thacker said. "And we want to compete. But we want to have fun in doing so."
Franklin County will be in the second-to-last game of the first round, against Allen County-Scottsville, Thursday night at 7:30.
The Flyers (26-6) are in the big show for the first time since 1980, having claimed the 11th Region title with a 58-56 victory over Henry Clay.
"All in all, I think the response for tickets and things like that has been pretty enormous," Thacker said. "Thirty-five years is a long time, and I think our school and our community understands what an accomplishment it is for our kids. Everybody's just kind of looking around at each other like 'is this real or not?'"
Oh, it's for real all right. And Thacker senses that his players are still hungry.
"The thing about our team and really the makeup of most our kids has been they just like to play. ... I just think that they're all about whatever competition's next," Thacker said. "They're really, really mature, I guess because they've all been playing varsity for so long. They don't take the highs too high and the lows too low.
"That may change when we get under the bright lights because you can't really tell what they'll do. But I trust them. It's just a phenomenal bunch. It's a bunch of gym rats that get along great and always have with each other. We're just kind of a throwback team."
A throwback team with uncanny balance. Five Flyers average between 9.1 (Anna Arrastia) and 13.8 points (Princess Stewart) a game. Dasia Kilbourne (12.8) was a standout in the win over Henry Clay. Then there's Malaka Frank (9.9) and Rebecca Cook (9.7).
"We've had so many different kids step up on different nights. I think we've played 32 games and we've probably had a different leading scorer probably half of those games," Thacker said. "Again, it goes back to our kids are really, really versatile. They do a really good job of playing with the ball in their hand and without the ball. And we're allowed to put some pressure on people because of our versatility and just our chemistry."
On offense, the Flyers are a dribble-drive team. Said Thacker: "We kind of like to spread the floor and play penetrate-and-kick and pick on people that help real hard in the paint to shoot the three, and pick on people that don't help real hard in the paint to use matchups to get to the rim. ... We use various sets for various people, but just trying to use our quickness to turn the corner and get an advantage going toward the bucket."
The Flyers use seven looks on defense, each trying to create instant offense. Thacker likes to pick his spots to turn up the aggressiveness and put an opponent's head on spin cycle. And, because he has interchangeable parts, Thacker says foul trouble and fatigue usually don't become factors.
As for how his team matches up with Allen County-Scottsville, Thacker has done his homework.
"They're awfully good in transition." he said. "You know (Morgan) Rich, obviously, is a UK signee. A tremendous shooter. Her game has evolved since I've seen her over the past couple of years. She's done a lot more offensive stuff off the bounce. Very, very good in transition. And they just know how to play."
Thacker says the Patriots' Holly Beth Robinson is a tough matchup in the paint; Savannah Gregory is an aggressive offensive rebounder who runs the floor; Jordan Brooks is a savvy point guard; Sarah Sutton is physical on the boards; and Reaann Stafford and Sydney Day are a strong 1-2 punch off the bench.
"So we've got our work cut out for us," he said.
He just wants to keep the work fun.