Top-ranked Rocks open season with target on backs

Top-ranked Rocks open season with target on backs

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Top-ranked Rocks open season with target on backs

Trinity appears to be the team to beat this season.

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Trinity appears to be the team to beat this season.

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Perhaps it was gamesmanship, or perhaps he simply was being honest.

Whatever the reason, Male High School boys’ basketball coach Larry Miller summed up the feelings many have about Trinity entering the 2014-15 season.

“I think everybody is chasing second place, really,” Miller said. “I think it’s going to take a major upset for any of us to beat Trinity this year.”

Indeed, with the regular season set to begin in Kentucky on Dec. 1, the Shamrocks overwhelmingly are viewed as the team to beat. In The Courier-Journal’s preseason poll of coaches, Trinity is No. 1 after receiving 74 of 91 first-place votes.

With five seniors already signed to play college basketball and two more expected to do so in the spring, Trinity coach Mike Szabo knows his team will have a target on its back for the next four months.

“It’s a good thing,” said Szabo, who led Trinity to its first state title in 2012. “We’ve used it to give us confidence and inspire us to work even harder. We know everybody’s coming after us … but it’s not like we’re changing our approach because we’re the preseason No. 1. We’re going to continue to do the same things that got us here.”

RELATED: Trinity’s Raymond Spalding tops list of state’s top 25 players

RELATED: Trinity No. 1 in coaches’ top 25 teams

The Shamrocks return three starters from last season’s 31-6 team that lost to Scott County in the semifinals of the Sweet 16.

The leader is 6-foot-10 senior Ray Spalding, a University of Louisville signee who is considered the front-runner for Mr. Basketball honors. He led Trinity in scoring (13.4 ppg), rebounding (10.3 rpg) and blocks (3.3 bpg) last season and gained 5-7 pounds during the summer, Szabo said.

One knock on Spalding is that he can be passive at times, but Szabo has seen the big man improve in that area.

“We want him to be more aggressive when he catches it in the post instead of passing it right out,” Szabo said.

Guards Michael Stafford (7.5 ppg) and Daniel Ramser (6.1 ppg) are the other returning starters. Ramser has signed with Bellarmine University and joins Spalding, Christian Thieneman (Marshall), Jay Murphy (New York) and D’Angelo West (Texas State) as players who have signed to play in college. Stafford and Jax Levitch are expected to sign in the spring.

“This summer everyone just blew up,” Thieneman said of the talented group of seniors. “It gave us tons of confidence, but with that confidence we have to back it up.”

West is expected to bring a new dimension to the Shamrocks after transferring from Jackson (Miss.) Provine, where he averaged 22.1 points, five assists, four rebounds and two steals as a junior.

Among the underclassmen, junior guard Gabe Schmitt got the most playing time last season and averaged 3.4 points per game.

With so much talent, Szabo has heard the talk of “not having enough balls to go around.” But both he and Spalding shot down any notions of possible tension.

“We’re not worried about that,” Spalding said. “This team is a really giving team. We’re not too worried about getting 20 or another guy getting 40. We’re worried about winning the game.”

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To get back to the Sweet 16, Trinity will have to survive a typically rugged Seventh Region that includes three other top-25 teams.

Coaches voted Ballard No. 2 in the state despite the graduations of Quentin Snider (University of Louisville) and Kelan Martin (Butler) and the departures of Malik Dow (Mercer County transfer), Brandon Berry (Taylor County transfer) and Raeshawn Robinson (no longer with program).

Seniors Jalen Perry and Anthony Eaves, a transfer from North Carolina, are expected to lead the Bruins.

No. 19 Eastern has a pair of college signees in Trey Moses (Ball State) and Cameron Reed (New Orleans), and No. 24 Manual will feature North Carolina-Asheville signee Dwayne Sutton.

Ballard coach Chris Renner knows all about Trinity’s situation this season, as his Bruins were an overwhelming No. 1 pick last season but fell to the Shamrocks in the Seventh Region final. He said Trinity clearly is the best team in the state but still has to prove it on the court.

“They’re good, as everybody knows … but they have work to do,” Renner said. “They have guys in some new roles now. Tre’ Ivory and Craig Owens were such great leaders, and they’re gone now. You can replace with talent, but can you replace those intangibles?”

Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and followed on Twitter @kyhighs.

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RELATED: 25th District previews for Central, Manual, Portland Christian, St. Francis and Shawnee

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