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MOUNT WASHINGTON - The dream of every high school basketball player in Kentucky is to reach the Sweet Sixteen State Tournament.
Of course, after all of that dreaming, stepping onto the court at Rupp Arena is a breathtaking experience for a teenager.
That is something that Bullitt East players went through last year and that Charger coaches also went through in 2005. Bullitt East passed that first test pretty well, beating Bardstown and going on to advance to the tournament semi-finals before losing on Saturday morning to Rowan County.
Trinity has not been to Rupp Arena since 2004, the Shamrocks only other trip to the big show. Trinity has played at Freedom Hall this season (against St. Xavier), but this will be a new endeavor for the state’s top-ranked team which lost to Ballard in the first-round of the 27th District Tournament last season.
Give Bullitt East a nod to experience even though Trinity will have an older starting line-up. Trinity will start three seniors and two juniors while Bullitt East will start four juniors and one senior.
“It can’t hurt,” Bullitt East head coach Troy Barr said having played in Rupp Arena before. “The first time you walk into Rupp Arena it can be overwhelming. There are so many new things.
“There are so many new things about getting around the city,” the coach added. “Our kids know what will hit them in the tunnel. It will be a benefit and hopefully it will help us to have won some games there.”
Making a second straight trip, one of just three teams in this week’s tournament played in it last year, certainly makes it a little easier on the players, but it also makes it easier on the coach. More than anything, Barr has a better understanding of using his time between scouting and media events and practices as well as the more unusual things like getting T-shirts ordered and distributed.
“Bob (BE athletic director Bob Blackburn) does a fantastic job if deflecting some of those things off me,” Barr said. “It makes it easier. It is overwhelming what hits you.”
On Friday, Barr said that the plan in place then was to leave after lunch on Tuesday and to have a practice at the Kraft Center on the University of Kentucky campus. When you have a player like Derek Willis who has committed to UK, the doors to the Kraft Center open wide for you. Bullitt East worked out in that facility last year.
The Chargers were also planning to have a practice on Wednesday morning before playing that night in Rupp Arena.
No matter the early outcome, Bullitt East was going to stay in Lexington on Wednesday night. That is a minor change from last season as Bullitt East could have an off day on Thursday instead of playing three straight days as they did playing in the bottom half of the bracket last season.
“Our guys have been great win or lose,” Barr said. “They deserve to be down there. They are a great group of kids.”
While Bullitt East and Trinity have never met in a regular season game, the two programs do a have a few ties of note.
The most obvious being that Bullitt East’s only senior starter, Kory Caufield, played as a freshman at Trinity. He transferred back to Bullitt East as a sophomore and played with the team that season.
That is much the same story as last year’s leading scorer, Hayden Sweat. Sweat played at Trinity as a freshman before shifting back to Bullitt East.
Caufield started the season last year with the Chargers and played in key games off the bench, but was dismissed from the team midway through the season. He met Barr’s criteria for returning to the team and has been a part of the team all season.
“It’s a great opportunity to get a second chance,” Caufield said. “Everybody wanted to get back to state this year, but it is a little different for me.”
Caufield did attend the Bullitt East games in the state tournament last season, but watched from the stands.
“I was there supporting them,” he said.
Another tie between Trinity and Bullitt East revolves around Willis. When the 6-9 junior stand-out and his family opted to leave Male after his freshman season, two of the stops the family made in looking for a new school were at Trinity and in Mount Washington.
Trinity offered a strong group of players in the class in front of Willis and at the time, Darryl Hicks had not officially transferred from Shelby County to Trinity, but Bullitt East was coming off an undefeated freshman season. Plus, Willis had a relative living in Mount Washington. He opted for Bullitt East and the rest is history.
Oldham County Losses
While Trinity and Bullitt East have gotten most of the attention in the area this season, the third Louisville-area team in Lexington this week is Oldham County, the champions of the Eighth Region.
In the computer rankings, the top three teams, Trinity, Scott County and Bullitt East, are separated by less than eight points. You have to go back ten points to get to fourth-ranked Oldham County. Still, that is quite a mark for the Colonels who have a 29-5 record.
Two of those losses came to Bullitt County teams.
On Dec. 13, the Colonels traveled to Mount Washington and lost to Bullitt East 63-39. The very last lose Oldham County suffered came on Jan. 10 when they played at Bullitt Central and suffered a 47-44 setback. Those were two of the three lowest point totals the Colonels had in games this season.
Since that loss to Bullitt Central, Oldham County has won 16 straight games. The biggest of those wins came in the Eighth Region final when they defeated Collins 50-40. Of course, Collins was the last team to beat Bullitt East.
Ezra to Play
Another positive for Bullitt East heading into this week’s play is that sophomore Ezra Troutman will be available to play. He suffered a severely sprained ankle against Jeffersontown in the district tournament and at the time it appeared that his season was over.
On the Sunday that Bullitt East defeated Butler in the Sixth Region semi-finals, Troutman told Barr that he could play if needed. He practiced the next day and then saw action in the first half of the regional final against Pleasure Ridge Park.
Having Troutman available does increase the depth for Bullitt East. Of course, last year the Chargers really didn’t use more than seven players in the state tournament games. Barr could possibly use as many as eight or nine players in a game this season as Luke Francke, Reece Hardin, Derek Jones and Troutman could all take the court if needed.