In what came as a surprise to nearly everyone involved, the Bullitt East High School boys’ basketball team on Tuesday was named the No. 1 seed for this month’s Republic Bank Louisville Invitational Tournament.
The Chargers are 12-1 after beating Cooper 59-55 in Saturday’s championship game of the Lloyd Memorial Tournament.
“I’m kind of shocked,” coach Bob Blackburn said. “It’s such a prestigious tournament and such an honor when you think of all the great teams that have won it. … Hopefully we’ll play to that level if we can.”
The 67th annual LIT is Jan. 13-18 at Valley High School and will include the top 20 teams from the Sixth and Seventh regions in the SETH Power Rankings, a system devised by Jerry Wyman, director of athletics for Jefferson County Public Schools.
Many considered Ballard the likely No. 1 seed for the tournament; the Bruins (11-3) were ranked No. 1 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s preseason poll of coaches. Ballard is 6-0 against Kentucky competition and won the King of the Bluegrass Holiday Classic, but is seeded third for the LIT.
King of the Bluegrass runner-up Trinity (9-2) received the No. 2 seed, and Lake Cumberland Holiday Classic champion St. Xavier (10-1) got the No. 4 spot.
“(Bullitt East) is being rewarded for staying home and playing Kentucky teams and seeing what happens,” Wyman said. “Some may question why Ballard or Trinity aren’t No. 1, but Bullitt East hasn’t done anything, in my opinion, to make you think they don’t deserve it.”
Wyman said Bullitt East paid a $1,000 fine for opting out of last year’s LIT and instead playing in the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions in Springfield, Mo. Wyman said the LIT committee adopted a new rule starting this year that any team skipping the tournament would pay a $2,000 fine and be ineligible to play the following year.
“The whole committee agreed they wanted (Bullitt East) in, and they said they’d pay the fine and that it won’t happen anymore,” Wyman said.
Bullitt East is off to a hot start after losing all five starters from last season’s 29-5 team. Blackburn replaced Troy Barr as coach during the offseason and has received strong play from senior guard Rhett Troutman, junior Tyler Bacon and sophomore Tyler Sharpe.
“We’ve had a lot of kids working toward this chance for four years, and I’m tickled pink for them,” Blackburn said. “To be 12-1, I’m very pleased. I said in the preseason that this team has a lot of potential, but we still have a long way to go.”
Iroquois (9-2) is another Sixth Region team that has enjoyed a strong December, winning the Best In Hoops Tournament at Oldham County and finishing 2-1 and taking fifth place in the Upward Classic in Spartanburg, S.C.
Second-year coach Jeff Morrow returned an All-Region performer in senior Devon Johnson but also has received strong play from seniors Jalen Martin, Troy Smith and D.J. Little.
“If there was a perception that we’re a one-man team, people who see us know that’s not the case,” said Morrow, whose Raiders received the No. 10 seed and will face No. 7 Manual in the first round.
Holy Cross and Moore tied for the 20th and final spot in the field. Instead of using a coin flip to break the tie, Wyman said the teams decided to play at 6 p.m. Sunday at Valley to settle the No. 20 seed. The winner will face 13th-seeded Western in the LIT opener at 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 13.
Bullitt Central would have qualified as the No. 18 seed but chose not to participate. The top three teams left out of the field, according to the SETH Rankings, were Collegiate, Central and Atherton.