The Paul Laurence Dunbar boys’ basketball team isn’t shying away from top competition this season, and the Bulldogs left little doubt of their promise in Saturday’s appearance at the Marshall County Hoop Fest.
Junior guard Taveion Hollingsworth scored 33 points to lead Dunbar to a 76-62 victory over Madison Academy, the defending Class 3A state champions from Alabama.
The Bulldogs, 11th Region favorites who won their first two games of the season over Woodford County and Bryan Station by an average of 26 points, started things off in a hurry against Madison.
Dunbar scored 17 points in the first four minutes, led 32-15 at the end of the first quarter and never let the visitors from Alabama back within striking distance.
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“Our energy level was great,” Bulldogs Coach Scott Chalk said. “We were obviously fired up for the opportunity. ... We could have done a little better job in a few areas defensively. They got some easy stuff, but they’re good, so that’s going to happen. I was pleased.”
Madison has been to Alabama’s Class 3A state semifinals nine of the past 10 seasons, with five state championships in that span. The team’s star player, shooting guard Josh Langford, is considered one of the best prospects in the class of 2016 and has already signed with Michigan State.
Dunbar, the preseason No. 3 team in Kentucky, was not intimidated.
Hollingsworth had 14 points in the first quarter, and he and the rest of the Bulldogs were active on both ends in the game’s opening minutes.
“That’s the plan every night,” Chalk said. “That’s how we have to play. That’s what our strength is. ... If we don’t run, we’re silly. We’re on them about, ‘Don’t walk it up. Ever.’ We have to play at that fast pace and not let defenses get a chance to wall up and double on our drivers.”
That style of play led to another big game for Hollingsworth, who scored 35 points in Thursday’s victory over Bryan Station and had 25 points by halftime Saturday.
The 6-foot-3 junior got to the basket at will, scored from a variety of angles and drew several fouls throughout the game. He was 9-for-20 from the field, 3-for-6 from three-point range and 12-for-17 from the free-throw line.
“It felt pretty good,” Hollingsworth said. “I loved it. I love playing in games like that.”
Langford, who picked up three fouls in the first half, finished with 32 points and nine rebounds.
Saturday’s game was the first of several tough matchups for Dunbar, which is scheduled to play later this month in the King of the Bluegrass tournament and Lexington Catholic’s Holiday Classic.
The Bulldogs’ slate also includes a game at No. 1 Taylor County and several matchups in the always-tough 11th Region.
“It’s no fun to show up in the gym and play people that you know you’re going to beat by a bunch,” Chalk said. “I want to play somebody that’s a challenge every night. And this team needs that, because they’re good enough to do that.
“We tried to play everybody we could play. I know we have the toughest schedule we could possibly come up with.”
Update on No. 1 recruit
Josh Jackson went for 34 points, 19 rebounds and eight assists to lead Prolific Prep (Calif.) to an 83-77 victory over Huntington Prep (W.Va.) in one of Friday’s late games at the Hoop Fest, then he gave a little update on his recruitment.
Jackson, a 6-foot-8 wing who is ranked as the No. 1 overall prospect in the class of 2016, said he is still considering Arizona, Kansas, Michigan State, UCLA and UNLV.
Jackson will take his first official visit to Arizona later this month and is not expected to make a college decision until the spring.
Thon says no to pros
Five-star recruit Thon Maker has been rumored as a player who might opt to skip college altogether and go overseas for a season after high school before declaring for the NBA Draft in 2017.
Maker — a 7-footer in his senior year at Athlete Institute (Ont.) — shut down that speculation during an interview with reporters at the Hoop Fest.
“To me, Europe is not an option. Simple as that,” Maker said. “And I do want to go to college.”
Maker’s guardian, Ed Smith, told the Herald-Leader that Arizona State, Indiana and Kansas are the three schools recruiting him the hardest.