LOUISVILLE - For 26 years, Bullitt East Lady Charger head coach Chris Stallings had dreamed of coaching the Kentucky All-Stars in the annual summer series against Indiana.
The successful high school coach got that honor this past weekend and he made the most of the opportunity, leading the Kentucky girls to a split of the two-game series. Stallings’ team won 64-57 on Friday at Bellarmine University’s Knights’ Hall, but then came up short 69-56 24-hours later at Canseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
“Like I told the girls on Saturday, it was a one-and-a-half to two year process,” Stallings said after the busy week was concluded. “The good Lord blessed me with a fine group of kids to work with.
“It was an honor to have coached them and lead them,” the coach added. “They are a special group of kids for an All-Star team.”
Unlike most All-Star games where defense is an afterthought and there is very little coaching involved, the Anthem Kentucky-Indiana All-Star series is different. The Kentucky All-Stars have try-outs and there was a weekend mini-camp in May. Stallings then was with the girls for a week leading up to the two-game series including a pair of scrimmages against Junior All-Star teams.
That preparation led to a very high level of play in the two games. A lot of college games won’t involve the talent on the court that the best from Kentucky and Indiana put on the floor this summer. The rosters included a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans.
“We were really concerned with Indiana’s transition game going in and their quickness,” Stallings said after watching that team scrimmage earlier in the week. “They had annihilated their Junior All-Stars in two games. From Tuesday on we focused on transition defense and rebounding. We felt that we could out rebound them.
“Especially in the Kentucky game we did a good job slowing the tempo and they only had four or six points in transition,” the coach added. “We felt if we did that well we would give ourselves a chance.”
This was an All-Star team and all of the players were coming off seasons where they were the focus of their team’s offense. Stallings was impressed how this group of players sacrificed to play defense.
“They really bought into playing defense,” the coach said. “As a group, most of them were used to playing zone defense, but they bought into the man defense and the bumping and switching. They showed a lot of pride in what they were doing.”
In the Kentucky event, the organizers used high school officials to call the game. That game had 44 fouls called, but the calls were just about evenly split. A night later, there were 50 fouls called with 33 of those whistled on Kentucky. Stallings was a little perturbed that Indiana shot 50 free throws on Saturday to just 12 for his Kentucky All-Stars.
“We knew it would be tough and physical,” Stallings noted. “Indiana is big and we were pretty big. The college game will let you play.”
That was not the case with the Indiana officials.
“We played the exact same defense,” Stallings said of the game plan on Saturday as on Friday. “With four minutes to go we were down six. We fought through a lot of adversity. The kids showed a lot of determination just to hang in there.”
“We didn’t count on that,” Stallings said of the fouls. “We didn’t let the outcome take away from what we had done together through the week.”
In the game at Bellarmine, Kentucky Miss Basketball Sara Hammond scored 21 points and pulled down 14 rebounds. A night later, she had two early fouls and then scored only four points as she made just two of eight shots, but she did have ten rebounds.
Having Hammond, the 12th-ranked high school player in the country who will play at the University of Louisville next season, was a blessing for Stallings.
“Sara Hammond is a phenomenal leader on and off the floor,” the coach said. “She is unselfish. That set the tone early on even in the try-outs.
“This team was made up of leaders,” Stallings said. “They should be commended for their effort to the state and their communities should be proud of them.”
Stallings Family Event
Coaching the Kentucky All-Stars is a volunteer job, but it takes a lot of time. Stallings served as an assistant coach last season when Kentucky spilt with Indiana and he spent a lot of that time working with the Junior All-Stars. Even before that, Stallings was spending a lot of time scouting and evaluating players and away from wife Missy.
This past week, the coach involved his family in the festivities. The head coach of the Kentucky team has two regular assistant coaches and then can bring one of his own coaches to help. That meant that Stallings’ sister, Christal Scott, was on the bench to help. She has been an assistant coach at Bullitt East for all 12 years that her brother has been the head coach.
Joining the coach on the bench were both of his children. Daughter Katie worked as a team manager while son Clayton worked as an assistant manager. Both Katie and Clayton spent the week with the team.
“That’s the way we do it here,” Stallings said of making it a family event for everyone involved with the Kentucky All-Stars. “I let it be known early on that all the parents were invited to practice or to go out and eat with us.
“My parents and family have done a lot here,” the coach added. “I wanted them to be there and share that time.”
Former Bullitt East head coach Steve Small, who has long known the Stallings family, serves as the Girls’ Game Chairman for the Kentucky All-Stars.
Stallings also wanted to thank the remainder of his coaching staff at Bullitt East as they have been holding down the fort while he and coach Scott have been with the All-Stars. Bullitt East still has been playing in summer league games.
“There were our players and former players and people from the community at the game,” Stallings concluded. “That meant a lot to me. I really appreciate that.”