Friday, March 26, 2010

McClure headed to Division I?

Former Paducah Tilghman basketball star Isaac McClure is getting some interest from some lower-level Division I schools after helping Southeastern Illinois College reach the national junior college tournament.

McClure, a 6-6 sophomore, averaged 13 points and six rebounds for SIC, which finished at 25-11 after going 2-2 at the national tournament in Hutchinson, Kan. Austin Peay, Loyola-Chicago and Youngstown State have expressed some interest in McClure, and Tilghman coach Brad Stieg got a call this week from the coaching staff at Charleston Southern, which plays in the Big South Conference.

Edwards pitching well at Middle Tennessee ...

Chad Edwards is 2-1 with a 3.80 ERA for Middle Tennessee's baseball team, which is 14-6 going into this weekend's Sun Belt Conference series with Arkansas State. In 21 1/3 innings, Edwards had allowed 22 hits with four walks and 11 strikeouts. Edwards, a Reidland product, is averaging seven innings per start.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sweet 16 notes ... tourney observations

Someone in the Kentucky High School Athletic Association office should get a gold star for this display of genius.

Earlier in the week, the KHSAA recognized Edmonson County's surprise state championship team of 1976. As it turned out, Shelby Valley's run to the state title was reminiscent of the Wildcats' ascension to the throne.

Both teams were smaller schools from rural areas and have enrollments in the low 600s. And the general perception was that both benefitted from being in the easier of the two brackets — Christian County, which lost to Edmonson in the championship game, had to survive close games against Ashland, Louisville Shawnee and Lexington Henry Clay to get to the final, and Shelby Valley slugged its way through the lower bracket while Louisville Ballard, Scott County, Christian County and Warren Central fought up top.

In fact, there were a lot of people in Rupp Arena on Friday that felt that that day's afternoon quarterfinal session might be the real final four. Ballard blew a 20-point lead against Warren Central before winning on a last-second 3-pointer, and Scott County fought off massive foul trouble to come from behind and beat Christian County.

Shelby Valley spoiled that premise, however, with an exemplary display of basketball. With Louisville-bound point guard Elisha Justice leading the way, the Wildcats won their first three games by an average of nearly 20 points, then defeated Ballard 73-61.

• Justice's performance has some people re-evaluating their assessment of his game. Justice turned down some mid-major offers to take a walk-on slot for Rick Pitino at Louisville, and truth be told, there aren't many that see him as anything more than an extra body for the Cardinals.

He's a 5-10 point guard and not exceptionally quick and athletic by Division I standards, but Justice showed a better outside shot than many had given him credit for a week ago — in four games, he scored 97 points and, surprisingly, was 13-for-22 from 3-point range. The rest of his numbers (15 assists, nine steals, 10 turnovers) were equally impressive, and he was a remarkable 22-for-23 from the free throw line.

And while there is little doubt that last week's effort sealed his bid to become Kentucky's Mr. Basketball award winner, it's still hard to see Justice as little more than a practice player for Pitino. But, as a walk-on, he will be a nice player to push the Cardinals' other guards.

• Scott County's band of all-star transfers fell short of its bid for a state title, but several players that appeared with the Cardinals in the 2008 version of Marshall County's Hoop Fest will continue their careers on the Division I level.

Dakotah Euton, who had once given a verbal commitment to then-Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie, will play at Akron. Guard Chad Jackson — like Euton, he played in the Hoop Fest for both Scott County and Rose Hill Christian — has committed to James Madison.

Guard Ge'Lawn Guyn, who started his career at Lexington Henry Clay, had once committed to Charlotte but has since re-opened his recruitment.

Some consider West Jessamine guard Jarrod Polson, like Justice, to be a little too small for the high-Division I level, but apparently Polson (57 points and nine assists in two games) has one potential suitor in Mississippi State. Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury, a Meade County native, was on hand to watch Polson play on Thursday, a night after his team beat Jackson State in the opening round of the NIT.

Louisville Ballard's Keisten Jones, a 6-3 swingman, looks like a steal for Division II power Bellarmine. Christian County's Shaquille Wilson has some Division I interest, but he will have to first recover from his second concussion of the season, suffered on an accidental elbow from a Scott County player in the waning seconds of their quarterfinal clash.

Christian County point guard Anthony Hickey (46 points, six assists in two games) raised his stock at the Sweet 16, and Warren Central's junior duo of 6-7 George Fant and guard Jordan Shanklin played well.

The best prospect on hand, however, may have been Shelby County freshman Darryl Hicks, a 6-3 guard who was 6-for-11 from 3-point range and scored 30 points in a first-round loss to Louisville Ballard.

Hicks' destination for next season remains a bit of a mystery. Shelby County is splitting into two schools next year, and Hicks lives in the district for the new school, Martha Layne Collins High. But Hicks nearly transferred to North Oldham last fall and there is speculation that he could end up in Louisville, perhaps at Ballard, Eastern or Trinity.

According to Jody Demling, the Louisville Courier-Journal's well-informed recruiting guru, Hicks already has a scholarship offer from Indiana and could field offers from Kentucky and Louisville sometime this spring.

• Muhlenberg County coach Reggie Warford played at Kentucky, but never took the court in Rupp Arena. Warford was a senior in 1976, when the Wildcats won the NIT and played their final season in Memorial Coliseum.

Jack Givens, a UK teammate of Warford's, was on hand to watch the Mustangs' first-round loss to West Jessamine.

But Warford is getting support from the state's basketballl community for another reason. He was recently diagnosed with leukemia and started undergoing treatment a few weeks ago. Warford's doctors feel that they caught the disease in its early stages and that it is likely to be treated successfully.

Warford is a Muhlenberg native, having played at now-defunct Drakesboro in the early 1970s. He was coaching in Pittsburgh before returning home to coach Muhlenberg's first consolidated team, and he has two sons that start for him.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Oh, those Bobcats ...

Ohio University pulled off one of the big upsets of the NCAA tournament, beating #3 seed Georgetown 97-83 in the first round on Thursday.

The Bobcats' coach is Jon Groce, who actually was Murray State's first choice to replace Mick Cronin four years ago. Groce, who was Thad Matta's top assistant at Ohio State at the time, opted to stay in Columbus since the Buckeyes had a mega-star recruiting class that included Greg Oden and Mike Conley.

Ohio State made it to the national championship game the following season, losing to Florida.

Point guard D.J. Cooper is remembered, not necessarily fondly, by our neighbors to the north in Massac County. Cooper was straw that stirred the drink for the Seton Academy squad that blitzed the Patriots 83-63 in the Illinois Class 2A state championship game, handing out 12 assists. I'm still of the belief that Massac would have beaten Seton Academy, a Chicago-area Catholic school, had Cooper not been on the floor.

During the game, my seat on press row was next to that of a recruiting analyst. At halftime, as we went to the hospitality room to get a drink, I noted that "Cooper's probably a little better than Ohio U."

His response was succinct: "He'll be an impact player, probably the (Mid American Conference) freshman of the year."

I wish I remembered the guy's name — he told me he played college basketball at Virginia and was in Peoria that night to make an evaluation for recruiting guru Bob Gibbons. That's because he was on the money. Cooper, who averaged 13 points, six rebounds and five assists per game and led the league in assists, was named the MAC's top freshman.

Cooper torched Georgetown with 23 points, including a 5-for-8 performance from 3-point range, and eight assists.

Sweet 16 notes ... awards portion

The Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches hands out its annual awards at the boys' and girls' state tournaments, including those for the regional player and coach of the year.

• On the girls' side, Hickman County's Paige Barclay was the winner of the First Region player award that goes to each region's top senior and will receive an automatic invite to the Kentucky-Indiana all-star tryouts. Barclay also appeared in the East-West all-star game last week in Bowling Green.

Paducah Tilghman's Josh Barnett was named the First Region's top coach.

• Carlisle County's Caleb Hardy was the boys' First Region player honoree. Hardy, the Paducah Sun Purchase Player of the Year as a junior, is expected to win the honor again after finishing second in the state in scoring with a 29.3 average and leading the state in rebounding with 13.6 boards per game.

Hardy and Mayfield point guard Tyrese Murrell will represent the First Region in the East-West all-star game on Saturday, and Lyon County's Taylor Gray is one of the two Second Region representatives.

• Heath's Burlin Brower was the KABC coach of the year in the First Region, one of three Heath current and former Pirates' coaches to take center court this week.

Longtime coach Jimmy Long was named to the KABC Court of Honor in recognition of a 30-year career that produced over 500 wins at now-defunct Lowes and Heath.

Long led Lowes to the regional finals in 1981, falling 45-40 to a Mayfield squad that the Blue Devils had beaten in the district finals and eventually reached the state's final four. He also coached Heath to three All A Classic regional titles, reaching the state semifinals in 1994.

One other former Heath mentor was honored on Wednesday — Charlie Hopkins, who coached the Pirates in the late 1980s, was an assistant on Edmonson County's 1976 state championship team that was recognized this week.

• David Smithmier of Paducah was the First Region's top-rated girls' official this season and was selected to work the girls' Sweet 16. Kevin Driver of Benton and Ford Branch of Princeton represented the First and Second regions, respectively, at the boys' state tournament. Driver also worked the All A Classic state tournament earlier this season.

Driver and Hickman County native Will Jones, the Fourth Region representative, worked the Louisville Ballard-Scott County semifinal on Saturday.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wright, Shaw off to hot starts ...

Heath product Chad Wright, one of the Kentucky baseball team's biggest surprises last spring, has maintained his level of performance early in his sophomore season. Wright, the everyday left fielder, was hitting .348 with a team-high 16 RBI in 16 game and led the team in total bases before the Wildcats' game with Wright State on Wednesday night.

Kentucky was ranked 20th nationally before Monday's 7-5 loss to Murray State and was 13-3 going into the Wright State contest.

Gabriel Shaw, a former St. Mary star, has given Louisville stellar bullpen work so far this season. Shaw is 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA in eight appearances and has a couple of saves. Shaw has pitched 11 innings, allowing 11 hits with a walk and 11 strikeouts.

Shaw appears to have recovered well from elbow surgery late last summer.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Jones pitching well down south ...

Ballard Memorial product James Jones, now pitching collegiately for Louisiana-Monroe, was named the pitcher of the week for the Sun Belt Conference and the state of Louisiana after tossing a two-hit shutout against Mississippi Valley State on March 6.

Jones, who is now 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA, followed up that outing with a strong performance at conference rival Middle Tennessee on Friday, in the opener of a weekend series. Jones worked eight innings, allowing three earned runs and getting a no-decision.

Drafted in June in the 45th round by the Cleveland Indians after spending two seasons at John A. Logan, Jones opted to pitch in the Northwoods League last summer (4-2 with a 3.52 ERA) and go to Louisiana-Monroe to up his draft stock. The Warhawks pay Western Kentucky a visit for a three-game series that begins on March 26.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Former Racer Fowler gets first head coaching job ...

Cary Fowler, who played at Murray State and later served as an assistant coach under Houston Nutt and Denver Johnson, has been named as the head coach at Tarleton State, a Division II program in Texas.

Fowler, a Hopkinsville native, has been the defensive coordinator at Tarleton the last two seasons after serving in the same capacity at in-state conference rival Midwestern State.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Baseball's "floating realignment" plan ...

Word was leaked this week of a potential Major League Baseball realignment proposal, one that reportedly has the endorsement of commissioner Bud Selig.

According to various reports, teams could change divisions, depending on geography and desire to contend.

For example, it has been reported that a team like Tampa Bay, with all of its fine young talent, could move to the AL Central in a given season if a team in that division wished to move to the East. The idea is that the Rays would benefit from not having to compete against the Yankees and Red Sox, both of which have exponentially higher payrolls and more financial resources with which to assemble a team.

The school of thought is that an AL Central team that isn't expected to contend might want to move to the East, given that more games against New York and Boston might result in increases in attendance and revenue.

In short, the idea stinks to high heaven. If Selig really wants to deal with the financial restraints facing some small-market teams, it's time to consider the institution of a salary cap.

Hayden, Downey, Richerson on state Top 50 list ...

Baseball season isn't far away, and three of the First Region's top players were named to the state coaches' association's preseason list of Kentucky's top 50 players.

Ryan Hayden, Graves County's No. 1 pitcher, heads the list. Hayden also played second base and shortstop for the Eagles last spring.

Two Murray players, left-handed pitcher and outfielder Brock Downey and catcher Tanner Richerson, are also on the list.

Fields' likely destination: West Virginia ...

Some of the buzz at the girls' Sweet 16 is that Calloway County star Averee Fields, who will announce her college basketball plans on Monday, has given West Virginia a verbal commitment.

West Virginia is currently 28-5 and finished second in the Big East Conference and reached the conference tournament's championship game, falling to top-ranked Connecticut in the final.

Fields was being courted by several other Big East schools, including Louisville, Marquette, Villanova and Seton Hall.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fields to commit to ... Murray State?

Lost in the hubbub surrounding Saturday night's dramatic girls' First Region final between Murray and Calloway County was the revelation that Calloway star Averee Fields, one of the state's top juniors, will announce her college choice on March 15.

The kicker is that the announcement and ceremony will be in the Murray Room at Murray State University's Regional Special Events Center, fueling speculation that Fields may spurn interest from bigger schools to stay at home and attend Murray State.

I asked Murray coach Rob Cross, who has been recruiting Fields hard for a couple of years, what he knew about it and got only a little smile as a reply. Really, the fact that the announcement will be made on campus makes you wonder.

Fields has had several Big East schools (Villanova, West Virginia, Seton Hall, Louisville and Marquette) check out her game in recent weeks, as have others such as Michigan, Western Kentucky, Tennessee State and Tennessee-Martin.