The Bruins (5-1) will open the tournament at 4:30 p.m. Friday against St. John’s of Washington, D.C.
The No. 2 state ranking indicates this still is a formidable Ballard High School boys’ basketball team, but coach Chris Renner believes the Bruins are flying a bit under the radar this season.
With No. 1 Trinity considered the overwhelming favorite in Kentucky, most observers have lumped Ballard in with a large group of contenders.
“We’re still Ballard, and people still expect a certain level of play from us,” Renner said. “But the level of pressure maybe isn’t the same as we’ve felt the last couple of years.”
Ballard will get a good feel for where it stands in the state this week as it competes in the 34th annual Forcht Bank King of the Bluegrass Holiday Classic at Fairdale High School. The Bruins (5-1) will open the tournament at 4:30 p.m. Friday against St. John’s of Washington, D.C.
“It’s a really good field,” said Renner, whose Bruins claimed their fourth KOB title last year by beating Trinity in the final. “I like the in-state flair and the out-of-town teams. It’s always a good tournament for us to participate in.”
Ballard is among 10 teams in the KOB field ranked among the Top 25 in The Courier-Journal’s preseason poll of coaches, joining No. 4 Newport Central Catholic, No. 5 Hopkinsville, No. 7 Wayne County, No. 9 Owensboro, No. 10 Doss, No. 11 Holmes, No. 16 Bullitt East, No. 17 Taylor County and No. 18 Bardstown.
The field also includes four solid out-of-state teams, with St. John’s joining Brooklyn (N.Y.) South Shore, Nashville (Tenn.) Christ Presbyterian and Chicago De La Salle. Christ Presbyterian won back-to-back KOB titles in 2011 and 2012 but did not participate last season.
Renner believes his team can contend for a second straight title.
“We can be really good at times because we shoot the ball well and we have guys who can handle the ball and play good defense,” Renner said. “But we also have stretches where we don’t play as well.”
With Quentin Snider and Kelan Martin both off to college, senior Jalen Perry has emerged as the Bruins’ go-to player. He’s averaging 23.2 points per game, including a season-high 32 in a 97-72 whipping of Scott County on Dec. 1.
“He’s really playing within himself and shooting the ball well,” Renner said. “And he’s doing other things besides shooting. Things he’s wanted to do in the past are clicking for him this year.”
Transfer Anthony Eaves, guard Paul Schiavone and forward Corey Douglas give the Bruins three other seniors in the starting lineup, and junior Jake Ramsey rounds out the starting lineup.
Ballard is playing without sophomore point guard Jamil Wilson, who has a stress fracture in a foot. Renner hopes to have him back in mid-January. Without Wilson, Eaves — son of former University of Louisville star Jerry Eaves – has taken over at point guard.
“He hasn’t played that spot much in the past, but he’s growing into the position,” Renner said.
In its opener Ballard will face a St. John’s team that is off to a 3-2 start. St. John’s is led by 6-foot junior guard Anthony Cowan, who reportedly has scholarship offers from Maryland, Xavier, Florida State, George Washington, Georgetown, Penn State and Rhode Island.
Cowan is among several top prospects in the field, which includes five of Kentucky’s top eight players in The C-J’s preseason poll — Holmes senior James Bolden (West Virginia signee), Taylor County junior Quentin Goodin, Owensboro senior Aric Holman, Newport Central Catholic senior Drew McDonald (Northern Kentucky signee) and Hopkinsville senior JaQualis Matlock.
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and followed on Twitter @kyhighs.
FORCHT BANK KING OF THE BLUEGRASS HOLIDAY CLASSIC
Where: Fairdale High School (two gyms used Sunday and Monday).
Tickets: $8 per day.
Friday: Ballard vs. Washington, D.C., St. John’s, 4:30 p.m.; Fairdale vs. Wayne County, 6; Taylor County vs. Waggener, 7:30; Owensboro vs. Bardstown, 9
Saturday: Brooklyn (N.Y.) South Shore vs. Chicago De La Salle, 4:30 p.m.; Newport Central Catholic vs. Doss, 6; Bullitt East vs. Holmes, 7:30; Nashville (Tenn.) Christ Presbyterian vs. Hopkinsville, 9
Sunday: Consolation games and quarterfinals at 4:30 p.m., 6, 7:30 and 9
Monday: Consolation games at 4:30 p.m., 6, 7:30 and 9; semifinals at 7:30 and 9
Tuesday: Seventh-place game, 3 p.m.; fifth-place game, 4:30; third-place game, 6; championship, 7:30