Long before they became two of the state’s most coveted basketball recruits, Ballard High School seniors Quentin Snider and Kelan Martin met as 10-year-olds on the AAU circuit.
They were teammates on the Louisville Prodigy before Snider’s father, Scott, got them involved with the Cincinnati Playmakers.
Even then, they were the two best players on their team.
“They’ve been good friends ever since then,” Scott Snider said.
Now Snider and Martin are ready for their last opportunity at a longtime goal — a state championship.
Behind those two and a deep group of underclassmen, Ballard is the overwhelming pick for the No. 1 state ranking in The Courier-Journal’s preseason coaches’ poll. The Bruins, who lost to Madison Central 65-64 in last season’s state final, received 87 of 98 first-place votes. No other school received more than three first-place votes.
Ballard coach Chris Renner is accustomed to his program having high expectations, and wasn’t surprised with the No. 1 ranking. He knows the Bruins have plenty of potential, but also sees problem areas.
“It’s potentially one of the best offensive teams I’ve had since I’ve been at Ballard,” said Renner, entering his 16th season with the Bruins. “We have two guys (Snider and Martin) who averaged 19-plus points last year, and they’re better this year.
“But if we’re as good offensively as we’ve ever been, on the flip side we’re as bad defensively as we’ve ever been in my years at Ballard. … We’ll get it figured out, but hopefully it’s sooner rather than later.”
Renner will lean on a duo that has been playing together for years.
Snider said he remembers the 10-year-old Martin as a pure big man.
“He didn’t really have any handles like he does now,” Snider said. “He couldn’t put the ball on the floor but he was the biggest kid out there. He could score down low.”
The two played together off and on through their grade-school and middle-school years before joining together as freshmen at Ballard in 2010.
Snider said their history is an advantage on the court.
“We can both read each other when we’re on the court,” he said. “I know his eyes get real big when he wants a lob. It’s just little things like that. I just know his game.”
Martin said the two have remained close throughout.
“He’s a good player, a good person,” Martin said. “We’ve been real close, like brothers. We hang out almost every weekend.”
Snider, a 6-foot-1 point guard who has signed with the University of Louisville, is considered the front-runner for Kentucky Mr. Basketball. He averaged 19.3 points, 4.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds last season.
He has 1,674 career points and 428 career assists and could surpass Allan Houston (2,276 points) and Mark Bell (512 assists) as the school’s all-time leader in both categories. He said the awards and numbers aren’t his foremost concern.
“My real goal is just to try to win State before I leave,” Snider said.
Martin, a 6-6 forward, has signed with Butler after averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds last season. Renner said Martin likely will play on the perimeter more than he did last season.
“We’re not just doing that to prepare him for college … but because it helps our team get better,” Renner said. “His toughest challenge at that spot will be defensively. He’ll be guarding 6-5 or 6-6 guys there in college, but at the high school level they’ll be 5-10 or 6-1. He has to learn how to guard those guys.”
Snider and Martin will be surrounded with plenty of talent.
Renner expects junior Jalen Perry to emerge as the team’s No. 3 scorer after the graduation of Lavone Holland. The play of junior Corey Douglas and sophomore Malik Dow on the inside will determine just how much Martin is allowed to roam on the perimeter.
Senior Rijad Kovacevic, an accurate 3-point shooter, juniors Brandon Berry and Raeshawn Robinson, and talented freshman guard Jamil Wilson also are expected to contribute.
Renner said this team reminds him of his second season at Ballard, the 1999-2000 team that followed up a state championship season.
“We were returning the nucleus of our team that season … and we had higher expectations and didn’t even go to the state tournament,” Renner said. “That might have been one of my two best teams. Because I’ve experienced that, I’m not too caught up in the expectations
“I don’t want to say that I don’t want to win the state championship because that’s part of it. But there are more important things.”