Trinity High School boys basketball coach Mike Szabo saw promise in guard Jacob King during his freshman season but also believed he was capable of much more.
“I said, ‘Listen, you have great handles. They’re awesome. I’m not disputing that. But you can’t shoot,’” Szabo said.
King took those words to heart and now has become a deadly long-range threat for a Shamrocks team that is on a roll.
King nailed 4 of 11 3-point attempts and scored a game-high 27 points to lead Trinity to a 69-66 victory over Bullitt East in a nip-and-tuck semifinal of the Forcht Bank King of the Bluegrass Holiday Classic on Tuesday at Fairdale.
The 27 points were a career high for King, a fearless 5-foot-9 point guard.
“Pretty much every aspect of shooting I’ve tried to put in my game,” King said of the transformation since his freshman season. “I was just getting a lot of reps, really. There was nothing more to it than getting in the gym.”
Gabe Schmitt hit 3 of 5 3-point tries and scored 20 points for Trinity (9-0), which was No. 10 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s preseason poll of coaches. The Shamrocks, who won the crown in 2009, will shoot for their second KOB title at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday against Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy, a 64-59 winner over North Hardin in Tuesday’s other semifinal.
“I love this team,” Szabo said. “I’m really excited about what we can do with these guys this year and moving forward.”
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Tyler Sharpe put on a big-time performance for No. 8 Bullitt East (8-1), hitting 5 of 10 3-point tries and posting 26 points and six assists. Jared Farris pitched in 15 points and 13 rebounds.
The Chargers will face North Hardin loser at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the third-place game.
“They’re all practice games until the district tournament starts,” coach Bob Blackburn said. “But it would have been a nice one to win.”
King nailed a pair of buzzer-beating 3-pointers, giving the Shamrocks a 34-27 halftime lead and a 49-46 edge after three quarters. Brandon Klefot opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer to tie the score at 49 and set up an exciting finish.
Trinity took the lead for good, 58-57, when Schmitt nailed a 3-pointer from the right corner – off an assist from King – with 3:33 remaining.
Both coaches pointed to Lukas Burkman’s 3-point play, which gave Trinity a 65-60 lead with 1:53 left, as a key possession.
“He saw that lane to the basket, went in there strong and used his body,” Szabo said. “That’s what I like about Luke. He’s tough. He likes contact.”
Sharpe hit a pair of 3-pointers down the stretch, the second one pulling the Chargers within 67-66 with 7.4 seconds left.
King sank two free throws for a 69-66 edge with 6.5 seconds left. Bailey Rakes’ 3 point try with 3 seconds left was off, and the Shamrocks ran out the clock.
“We didn’t get defensive stops when we needed to,” Blackburn said. “We messed up a couple of defensive rotations, especially on that (Burkman) 3-point play. That ended up being critical and was a little hard to overcome.”
As was the shooting of King.
“He’s earned the right to play so well,” Szabo said. “He’s so confident and so tough because he’s spent countless hours working on his craft. He still has a lot to learn, but the good thing is he wants to know what he has to get better at.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and email@example.com.
Bullitt East (8-1): Sharpe 26, Rakes 7, Polson 5, Klefot 13, Farris 15.
Trinity (9-0): Sharpe 26, Rakes 7, Polson 5, Klefot 13, Farris 15.
3-point goals: Sharpe 5, Rakes, Klefot; King 4, Schmitt 3, Terry, Burkman.