LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- One of nation's longest-running holiday basketball tournaments tipped off here Thursday as the King of The Bluegrass got under way at Fairdale High School with a lineup of top teams and college prospects.
The event has featured high-profile college and NBA players such as Rajon Rondo, O.J. Mayo, Derek Anderson, Rex Chapman, Allan Houston, Reggie Lewis, Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues, Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble and Reggie Williams in the past. A packed house was on hand for the opening session to see the potential stars of the future.
One of them drew particular interest from the Kentucky contingent on hand at Fairdale. Several blue-clad Wildcat fans, as well as UK assistant coach Tracy Webster, watched as Lexington Catholic's Vee Sanford led the Knights to a 75-62 victory over Bullitt East in Game 2. The senior guard has seen his stock rise since last year's Sweet 16 appearance and recently drew a scholarship offer from UK, which hopes to see him attend prep school next year before joining the Cats in 2010.
Sanford got off to a hot start, scoring 14 points in the first half as LexCath established a 37-30 lead at the break. The 6-foot-3 combo guard scored on a variety of aggressive drives to the basket and was a key component of the Knights' full-court pressure, which forced 17 turnovers leading to 17 points.
He cooled off in the second half, however, going scoreless and attempting only four shots. Sanford continued to anchor the Knights at the point, but appeared to be hobbled by a minor injury that kept him from penetrating like he did in the first half.
Sanford has received scholarship offers from UK, Miami of Ohio and Bradley. He is also receiving serious interest from Notre Dame, Nebraska, Saint Louis, VCU, Marshall, SMU and South Florida.
LexCath also features another promising prospect in the form of Jaylen Beckham. The 6-foot freshman guard was a major defensive presence with his on-ball pressure and also chipped in with nine points and five rebounds.
The big story for the Knights, however, was the play of sophomore swingman Taylor Martin, who played above his 6-3 stature and flirted with a triple-double. His final line read 12 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and six steals. If he continues to grow and mature physically, he could be a name to watch in the future.
Taylor Botkin and Tanner Peurach paced LexCath's scoring with 16 and 15 points, respectively.
GAME ONE: TAYLOR COUNTY 56, FAIRDALE 50
The host Bulldogs held a commanding 35-17 lead at halftime, but Taylor County came roaring back in the third quarter and eventually tied the game at 44-44 with 3:55 remaining in the fourth.
Chase Cox powered the Cardinals' comeback with a game-high 35 points, including five 3-pointers, but it was the senior guard's defensive play -- a steal at midcourt leading to a layup with a minute to go -- that gave Taylor County its first lead since the opening moments of the game. He followed that with four consecutive free throws in the final 28 seconds to seal the victory.
Expect Cox, a 6-1 senior guard, to get some lower D-I and small college looks with the possibility of playing at a higher level in the future. He has a complete game that will attract many coaches.
Two-sport star Leonard Macon, a 6-6, 230-pound athlete who has received attention from both Kentucky and Louisville for football, added six points and seven rebounds for Taylor County before fouling out.
Junior forward Quintrel Morris had 17 in the first half for the Bulldogs, but could not duplicate that performance in the second. He finished with 21. Josh Stroud, one of the state's top sophomores, added eight points.
GAME THREE: DuPONT MANUAL 73, BARDSTOWN 58
This time last year, one could have looked ahead to Manual's appearance in the KoTB and envisioned the Crimson as a favorite to take home the championship. Much has changed since that time, though, as they've seen two of their Division I prospects -- Aaron Cosby (Jeffersontown) and Tony Kimbro (The Christ School, N.C.) -- transfer to other schools and a third major college prospect, sharp-shooting senior guard Jacob Jenkins, sidelined by an ankle injury.
Bardstown shot 64 percent in the first half, but allowed 14 second-chance points and 14 points off turnovers as Manual built a 42-35 lead. The Crimson extended the lead methodically in the second half en route to a 73-58 win. Junior guard Tre Jones led all scorers with 18 points.
Aleksandar Nikolic, an intriguing big man, scored 14 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked five shots for Manual. The 6-foot-10 junior from Serbia has started to attract some D-I attention from Eastern Kentucky to go along with several small college inquiries.
Jenkins, a 6-4 shooting guard who continues to be tracked by the UK staff, is expected to be back in action within a week. He is also receiving attention from Evansville, Toledo, Butler, Dayton and Western Kentucky, among others.
GAME FOUR: JEFFERSONTOWN 54, ANDERSON COUNTY 52
One of the best-kept secrets in the Bluegrass State calls Lawrenceburg home. Another is tucked away in a small package at Jeffersontown, and the two went head to head in Friday's finale.
J-Town's Thomas Jackson is listed in the program at 5-11, but he'd have to be standing on a brick to make that true. Don't underestimate his big game, though. By halftime, he'd racked up 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting, and he led the Chargers to a hard-fought 54-52 win in the most exciting game of the night.
After a missed J-Town free throw in the final seconds and a mad scramble at midcourt, Anderson County had two players break free for what appeared to be a open layup to send the game into overtime. But the Chargers' Dominique Smith hustled back on defense and came up with an amazingly athletic blocked shot against Anderson's Landon Jenkins as the buzzer expired. The play left what remained of the night's big crowds buzzing all the way to the parking lot.
It may have also overshadowed the effort by some of the marquee players. Jackson finished with 26 points to lead the winners. A 2010 prospect, he has offers from Georgia State, North Carolina A&T and Wright State. He's also receiving interest from Eastern Kentucky.
Anderson County's C.J. Penny, a 6-5 senior shooting guard, features a big-time college body and raw scoring ability. He paced the Bearcats with 17 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in the night's second near triple-double. Penny holds a scholarship offer from N.C. A&T and is also receiving interest from Xavier, Eastern Kentucky and Western Kentucky.
J-Town also got two points and six rebounds from 6-10 senior center Jordan Reves, who has signed with Texas-Arlington.
Note: Cosby, who transferred from Manual at this time last year, will be eligible to play for J-Town on Monday night.
The second day's bracket features several matchups which should draw big crowds to Fairdale. At 4:30 p.m., Dorsey (Calif.) takes on Coral Reef (Fla.). Led by Alabama signee Shawn Kemp, Cherokee (Ga.) will face Centennial (Tenn.) at 6. The 7:30 game was originally scheduled for Thursday night, but was changed when Franklin (Wash.) encountered travel delays due to a snowstorm. The Quakers, powered by Louisville signee Peyton Siva, will play Louisville Male. The grand finale features Madisonville and UK signee Jon Hood against Louisville PRP at 9.
If Siva and Hood's teams win on Friday, they could square off in a battle of future Cards and Cats on Saturday at 7:30.