As the 100th Boys' Sweet Sixteen basketball tournament is set to commence play tomorrow coaches, fans, and players are filled with anticipation. My father took me to my first state tournament in 1973 at Freedom Hall in Louisville. That first trip set off a family tradition that has lasted a joyous forty-four years. It also made a curious six-year boy dream of playing or coaching in the Sweet 16 someday. The dream has not yet happened but the love of the tournament instilled by my father has never died.
The sights and the sounds of the tournament are different but in many ways still the same. The 25 cent chocolate milks at Freedom Hall with my childhood buddies has evolved into sharing the famous Rupp Arena ice cream cones with coaching friends and my own children. The first day of the tournament has fans and coaches trying to spot the man sporting the Carr Creek school jacket or the Kenny Rogers look-a-like with the great seats close to the floor. The Hyatt lobby full of fans and coaches is also a Sweet 16 staple. It is truly a basketball heaven for Kentucky basketball fans.
Each Kentuckian has their favorite memories from their experience. I always looked forward to three days out of school and wall-to-wall high school hoops. As a youngster, I remember the likes of Dicky Beal, Jeff Lamp, Charles Hurt, and Darrell Griffith as being larger than life figures on the hardwood. Seeing the underdog Edmonson County squad led by the charismatic Bo Davenport capture an improbable state title in 1976 and saving class basketball in the process. What high school basketball fan doesn't remember Paul Andrews half-court shot to win Laurel County a state title? Or the massive crowds and famous Mason County pre-game parties at the Continental Inn during my teenage years. The epic battles between Clay County and Ballard. The matchup between Ashland and Paintsville in 1996. State tournament memories are forever etched in our minds.
My dream of being a participant in the tourney has not happened but seeing good friends win state championships has helped fill the void. Anytime a close coaching friend has made it to The Greatest Show in Hoops the week has been even better. The Sweet Sixteen is five days of seeing old friends maybe for the only time all year. My parents have kept our family tradition of attending the state tournament alive for their children and grandchildren to carry on for future generations.
So who are my picks for my 44th Sweet 16? I hope to see Elliott County break through and notch a win for 16th Region. The consensus picks seem to be Scott County, Bowling Green, Cooper, Fern Creek, and Hopkinsville. I am hoping to see an upset or two along the way. Could Jake Ohmer carry Scott High on a run to a state championship? Could Meade County continue their unexpected run at Rupp? In the end, I think Bowling Green will grab the title over a pesky Cooper squad. Hope to see you there!
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