Dan Weber’s Just Sayin’: UK Commit to Face CovCath at BB&T Arena; Other Notes


Dan Weber writes a sports column for LINK Media. You can contact him at [email protected].

Back in the day back when the UK Wildcats under the late and so rightly beloved Joe B. Hall, who died Saturday morning at the age of 93, were starting on the path of re-exerting Big Blue college basketball dominance in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, back in the day when statewide interest was building back up, UK was more ahead of the game than any of us knew.

Back then, the usual recruiting pitch for UK was something of an early version of today’s NCAA-permitted “Name, Image and Likeness” allowance for college athletes to cash in on their fame and name while still playing college sports.

All-time trash-talker – and Indiana native – Larry Bird would tell anyone who came by when UK alum Rick Robey joined the Boston Celtics how “Rick had to take a pay cut when he left Kentucky for the NBA.” Everybody laughed – including Rick. Not that there was any more going on in Lexington than at Alabama, Auburn, LSU or Ohio State football. It’s just that the passion of UK fans for their Wildcat basketball was unparalleled.

For good and . . . well, you know.

But the thought was that if you put together a perfectly-according-to-the-rules package for a recruit of what it would add up to for his four years of working for a thoroughbred horse farm owner in the summers with an individual sponsor during the school year who could broker his personal – and legal to be sold – season tickets and finally a post-graduation barnstorming tour around the Commonwealth, that would add up to a decent subsidy for a college athlete.

All of which is mostly permitted now. Except the barnstorming is no more, well, not in the old sense of a post-graduation sendoff from the fans. Look how that’s changed. Like everything else. Take the case of UK-bred-and-bound Reed Sheppard, the 6-foot-3 super-skilled junior prospect out of North Laurel in London, son of two famous UK basketball players – Jeff Sheppard and Stacey Reed-Sheppard. Jeff won a pair of national titles and a Final Four MVP during his time in Lexington while Stacey is a Top 10 women’s basketball all-time UK player.

So the demand to see the newest star in Big Blue Heaven is overwhelming. Which is where Northern Kentucky comes in. As we checked in with Covington Catholic Coach Scott Ruthsatz before the season on how his Colonels, the team with the best chance here to be playing at the end of the season, on a play-tough scheduling philosophy that had him mostly on the road this season, he did note one team coming here. That was a North Laurel team that CovCath gave a last-minute home game to in last year’s COVID-wracked season.

And they were coming back – with Reed Sheppard and all. “Where’s the game going to be played?” we asked. It’s scheduled for CovCath now,” Scott said. “Wouldn’t that be a game to consider for 9,000-seat BB&T Arena at NKU?” we asked. “Sure,” Scott said. If they hadn’t been thinking of doing that before we asked, it took no time to make it happen. Within weeks, CovCath’s – and North Laurel’s official KHSAA schedules – reflected the change of the Feb. 11 game. This week CovCath released the details of the Fifth Annual Dan Tieman Classic Game named after the beloved former Colonel player and teacher who went on to Villa Madonna College (now Thomas More) and then the Cincinnati Royals as a player before returning to CovCath to coach and teach.

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The game will be a rematch of CovCath’s 79-67 win in the finals of the King of Bluegrass tournament Dec. 21 and a sign of how things are going in high school basketball in Kentucky. CovCath (14-2) and No. 2 in the state to Winchester’s George Rogers Clark and without an in-state loss, is looking to face the best available opponents. North Laurel (11-4) has a player so many in the state want to see.

So here comes the pre-high-school-graduation barnstorming tour. Looking at North Laurel’s schedule, the London-based team some 80 miles south of Lexington in the 13th Region, opened with five straight home games, then headed to Louisville for four games at the King of Bluegrass and then over to Lexington Catholic for five games against top Kentucky teams like Louisville Trinity, George Rogers Clark and Louisville Ballard at events like the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic, the White, Greer & Maggard Holiday Classic and the Second Chance Shootout. That’s nine straight in Louisville and Lexington for the guys from London. By the time they get to BB&T, they’ll have visited Lexington once more for the Jock Sutherland Classic at Lafayette and be looking at their 17th road game when they get to Northern Kentucky.

High school basketball is in a very different place these days in Kentucky, especially when you have the kind of home-state player who has been such a rarity for John Calipari at UK. But while we have your attention here, we’d strongly suggest if you plan to attend the game, do not take your eyes off CovCath’s 5-11 explosive point guard Evan Ipsaro, averaging 23.2 points a game, who does much more than score the ball. Just as Sheppard does, while averaging 26.9 points a game. Reed is No. 5 in free throw shooting at 90.4 (85 of 94) while Ipsaro is No. 9 at 89.2 (74 of 83). Not a bad trait for a point guard. Team-wise, North Laurel is the state’s best free throw shooting team at 85.6 percent (173 of 202) while CovCath is No. 2 in the state in margin of victory (22.3 points a game) behind George Rogers Clark’s 24.3 and No. 2 in FG Shooting at 56.4 percent (425 of 753) behind only Pikeville (56.6, 374 of 661).

A good example of how CovCath is playing the game right now would be Wednesday at Cincinnati McNicholas, a 70-32 Colonel win, that saw CovCath jump out to a 23-5 first period lead on the road and never look back, holding McNick twice to just five points in a period, forcing 23 turnovers, shooting 71.8 percent that first quarter and 62 percent for the game (27 of 42). Ipsaro led the way with 26 points in 21 minutes.  

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The varsity game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. following a JV game at 6. Tickets are $10 Adult, $5 Students, and $20 for Courtside Floor Seats and are available via Ticketmaster here (a link is also available at www.covcath.org/TICKETS).    

*** 2 TOP 10 TMU TEAMS: Uh oh, was our first thought when seeing on the same day Thomas More’s men’s and women’s basketball teams were heading off to play at Bethel College in McKenzie, Tenn., one of the toughest places to play for a visiting team in NAIA basketball. And for the first time in the Saints’ (and their precursor Villa Madonna Rebels) history in more than six decades of basketball at the first Covington then Crestview Hills school, both teams were ranked in the Top Ten nationally.

The women were no surprise. The two-time NCAA Div. 3 champs had opened the season at No. 2 and then beat No. 1 Campbellsville 72-56 last week. So no shock there. But the men, after getting to No. 13 before thumping defending national champs Shawnee State (Ohio) 100-65, also last week, had jumped to No. 10. And now it was off to a tough Mid-South doubleheader in West Tennessee. The perfect setup for a stumble.

Only TMU did not. And the men dropped the hammer only after the women toughed out another win, 55-53, by crushing the 10-7 Bethel men, 77-57. Ryan Batte, with 24 points, led the Saints who shot 72 percent the second half and outshot Bethel 56 percent to 34 percent. “Give Thomas More a lot of credit for a lot of that . . . ,” said Bethel Coach Jeff Britt as Bethel’s all-time Crisp Arena record fell to 114-37.

For the Bethel women, it was just their 23rd all-time loss at Crisp where they have won 135 times. For 16-1 TMU, who won it on a pair of free throws by Summer Secrist who led the Saints with 16 points off the bench, it was their 15th straight win (9-0 in the Mid-South). Both TMU teams stay in Tennessee for a doubleheader at Freed-Hardeman in Henderson (1 p.m. for the women, 3 p.m. for the men) Saturday. Update: The Thomas More women won at Freed-Hardeman, 80-56.

*** NKU WINS 2 . . . TOO: Not sure we saw this coming as NKU won a pair, too, with the women’s 74-54 win at Detroit Mercy no surprise Thursday. The 10-3 start for the women is Northern’s best in 10 years. But for the men, now 6-8 after a terrible home collapse in their last game against Milwaukee, it was hard to see the Norse coming back for their first road win after five losses after giving up the lead with less than 10 seconds left at Youngstown State. But there was freshman leader Sam Vinson dishing the ball to returning inside man Adrian Nelson, who had been out of the lineup with illness since Dec. 22, for the layup and the 68-67 win with 8.7 seconds left. The 6-5 Vinson, last year’s Kentucky Mr. Basketball out of Highlands, had 13 points and a career-high eight rebounds. Both teams stay on the road Saturday with the Northern women moving on to Oakland (Mich.) and the men to Pittsburgh for Robert Morris.

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*** MEYER KEEPING IT GOING: It’s not easy to keep your scoring average above 40 points a game as Holy Cross junior guard Jacob Meyer has been doing in his battle with Robertson County’s Justin Becker for the state’s top scorer. After all, this week with just 19 points on a mere 10 shots in a 92-39 All “A” Classic runover against Bellevue while coming back for 45 points in a 78-60 win over Beechwood and 48 more Friday night in a 71-65 semifinal win over St. Henry, that still dropped his average just a bit to 40.0, it showed how tough it is to stay above 40 a game. But his challenger Roberts has been having trouble keeping his at the 39-point mark, falling now to 37.1. So let it play out. 


*** A PIPELINE FROM GREEN BAY? When NKU hired new men’s soccer coach Tom Poitras this week, the first question had to be how did the Norse discover the Connecticut native who put Hartford soccer on the map starting in 2011? Well, here’s the answer. With three of the top four NKU athletic administrators including retiring AD Ken Bothof now from the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, Poitras got his start there by taking the 2009 Green Bay team to the NCAA Tournament as part of his record of 269 wins, 186 losses and 71 draws. So the pipeline flows south.    

*** NAACP RECOGNIZES HOLMES’ NEVELS: When the Northern Kentucky Chapter of the NAACP hands out its annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Monday at the Syndicate in Newport, one of its Vision and Unity Awards will go to Holmes High football coach Benjamin Nevels. Good choice. A lot of challenges coaching football at Holmes but Ben makes it look like fun. 

*** AND NOW FOR YOUR BEECHWOOD BAND: I remember when we needed to raise money for new baseball uniforms for my CovCath baseball team, we sold the standard “World’s Finest Chocolate” bars that pretty much guaranteed a 50 percent profit with some 5,000,000,000 of the bars now having been sold. So give the state champion Beechwood High band credit for originality – as with their halftime routines – by offering mulch, black or brown, for the spring. The 2-cubic feet bags are just $4.60 each and delivered anywhere in Northern Kentucky for free April 29-30. Order online here: https://beechwoodbands.org/mulch

–Dan Weber