If you had a few guesses at who is leading Kentucky high school boys’ basketball in scoring this season, a few of the common responses might be an obvious one first with Holy Cross senior Jacob Meyer, North Laurel’s Reed Sheppard, Lyon County’s Travis Perry or maybe even Covington Catholic’s Evan Ipsaro.
Sheppard is 22nd at 23.4 points per game. Ipsaro’s 25.2 per game ranks 14th. Perry sits at the number four spot at 30.4 points per contest. He’s among six players averaging 30 points or better this season. Two of those six going for 30 a night play for Class A schools in the 9th Region.
Meyer’s 33.9 points per game leads the state. One of the surprises in the top six is Ludlow senior Jaxson Rice sixth at 30.2 points per game.
While the points are nice, Meyer has one thing on his mind.
“I don’t go out expecting to get 30 a night,” Meyer said. “I’m just worried about the wins. I’d rather have 10 assists, 10 rebounds than 30 or 40 points a game. I’m more focused on the wins.”
Casey Sorrell inherited Meyer when he became the Holy Cross head man last season, but he was already familiar with Meyer from his time as an assistant at Covington Catholic and facing the Indians in district play.
“I was putting together our scouting report to play Holy Cross. I watched about a minute and 13 seconds of film, and he stole the ball and went coast-to-coast and ripped the rim off. My eyeballs about popped out of my head,” Sorrell said. “I looked up their roster and for the first time saw the name Jacob Meyer and that he was a freshman. I just could not believe it.”
Once Meyer was on his roster at Holy Cross, Sorrell knew allowing Meyer to play his game was the best approach.
“Jake’s a natural born scorer. I mean, he’s the most elite pure scorer that I’ve ever been around,” Sorrell said. “I think a big mistake coaches can make sometimes is getting in the way. When you have a guy like that, you do have to let him go. You have to let them play with ultimate freedom.”
After that first season with Meyer, in which he averaged 38.2 points per game and led the nation, Sorrell spent the spring, summer and fall helping Meyer become a more complete player heading into this season.
“The one thing that I do try to challenge Jake on is teaching him to win and teaching him to understand the different parts of the game that help him to win, like facilitating the ball, sitting down defensively and helping us get stops,” Sorrell said.
Meyer bought in and has put in the work.
“I think over the last two years as our relationship has grown and trust between us has been built, his game has expanded, you know as far as, he’s a double-digit rebound guy. He’s flirting with being a triple-double guy in terms of points, rebounds and assists. And defensively, he’s one of our best on-the-ball defenders. That wasn’t the case a year ago. So, those are things I think that has helped him branch his game out a little bit more than just being a scorer,” said Sorrell.
That was evident Wednesday night in the Indians’ 90-75 win over Campbell County. Meyer put up 37 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. But when it comes to scoring, there are some intangibles Meyer possesses that simply can’t be taught.
“He’s an elite explosive athlete. (Some of those intangibles are) his speed with the ball in his hands, his jumping ability, his ability to control his body in the air to be able to make some of those really difficult shots sometimes over one or two and even three guys. And the big thing that I think that is a unique skill set with him is his ability to finish with either hand,” Sorrell said.
Those qualities have led to 10 Division I college scholarship offers. Although, Sorrell believes there is a bit of a lack of statewide recognition that Meyer is one of the best all-around players in Kentucky.
“I do think he’s flown under the radar. I think the narrative about him is a little bit wrong. He’s not just a scorer. He’s a very dynamic player and a guy that’s learning to win. And I think that prepares you for the next level,” Sorrell said.
Meyer said that he has been hearing from Ball State, Chattanooga, Eastern Kentucky, Iona and Marshall.
Northern Kentucky extended him an offer when he was a sophomore, but Meyer said he’s not sure if that offer still stands.
With the numbers Meyer has been putting up, not just this season but throughout his high school career, he’ll be in the conversation for Kentucky Mr. Basketball.
“We think he’s the best player in the state,” Sorrell said. “Anytime you got the best player in your state who’s got the ability to lead, to guard, to facilitate, I think that’s a recipe for success. And I think winning, the more he wins, the more that helps his case.”
Holy Cross has done that. The Indians entered Thursday with a 12-5 record and as 9th Region All “A” champions. Holy Cross will open with Danville in the first round of the All “A” Classic state tournament at Eastern Kentucky University January 26 at 5 p.m.
For Meyer, “it’s cool” that he’s leading the state in scoring, but bringing home the trophy at the All “A”, claiming a district crown and winning the 9th Region are his focus.
“I’d rather win. I think winning means more,” Meyer said. “I don’t want to be known as the guy who led the state in scoring. I want to be known as a champion.”
Prior to Meyer taking over as the state’s leading scorer, Ludlow’s Rice held that distinction just a couple of weeks ago. Unlike with Meyer, that seemed improbable for Rice a year ago.
“I’m not sure anyone thought he would take off the way he has,” said Ludlow Coach Aaron Stamm. “I mean, this is a kid that averaged about 15, 16 points a game last year, something like that. His work ethic is outstanding. He’s just having a great season.”
Rice knows exactly how many points he averaged per game last season, 14.6. He felt he had more in him.
“I just knew I had to keep on working over the summer. I think this year is when I really started playing my game at the best level I could,” Rice said.
Stamm, who is in his first season as the Panthers head coach, spent the previous three seasons as the girls’ head basketball coach at Ludlow. So, he was familiar with Rice.
“You knew he could score the ball. You knew he was an athlete,” Stamm said. “He was the quarterback on the football team. So, you knew he was going to be one of those kids when we were able to take over that was going to be one that you counted on.”
Rice threw for nearly 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns, while rushing for 823 yards and six touchdowns this past season. He was also the Panthers kicker, hitting on 14-of-20 point after tries and one-for-two on field goal attempts.
“The really good football season that he had kind of carried over. I think his confidence was really high when the (basketball) season started, and I think that’s a big thing, too,” Stamm said of Rice more than doubling his scoring output from a season ago.
That jump in scoring is also a result of how Stamm has chosen to use Rice in the offense and improved play defensively, which has led to more opportunities in transition for Rice.
“I think the ball has stayed in his hands a lot more. We moved him to the one and kept him there. We kind of spaced it out a little bit, giving him the freedom to do some different things,” Stamm said. “He’s working a lot harder on the defensive end, which has allowed him to get out and get some easy baskets.”
Rice is shooting 53.8% from the field and 44% from 3-point range (51-of-116) through 18 games this season. On two-point attempts alone, he’s hitting at a 58% clip (161-278).
“His midrange is probably the best that I’ve seen, that I’ve coached and I’ve been around,” Stamm said.
Rice has also been able to get to the free-throw line, a team-high 103 trips, where he is making 66 percent. Rice said his goal was to reach 1,000 points during his high school career, which he recently surpassed. This season alone, he has 543 points. He admits he checks his numbers on the KHSAA website to see where he ranks.
“I think my family and my friends are really proud of me,” Rice said. “It makes me feel good to see my name up there with all the good athletes in Kentucky.”
The college offers have yet to start rolling in for Rice, but Stamm said they have received some interest from a couple schools.
“I don’t know what level, but he can help somebody at the next level, there’s no doubt in my mind,” Stamm said. “His work ethic and his effort and his strength – hopefully, we can find him something, and he can go have a good career.”