He takes honor for second time in three seasons
It was early in the season – Dec. 23 to be exact – but the final score sent shockwaves through Kentucky’s girls high school basketball community: Elizabethtown 60, Butler 37.
In a matchup of two of the state’s top teams, the Panthers dominated the Bearettes in the championship game of the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic at Lexington Catholic. Butler coach Larry Just admitted some concern about whether his team could close the gap if it faced E’town again in the postseason.
“I thought by far they were the best team in the state,” Just said. “There was a big gap between them and everyone else at that time.”
But the Bearettes went to work, tinkered with their defense and hit their stride when the calendar flipped to 2016. A championship in the Louisville Invitational Tournament in late January was a good sign, and Butler rolled through the postseason – winning a rematch with E’town along the way – to capture its fifth state championship.
Coaches around the state took notice of Just’s work with the Bearettes, voting him The Courier-Journal’s Girls Basketball Coach of the Year for Kentucky.
Just received 13 votes from the 50 coaches who returned ballots in The C-J’s statewide survey. Franklin County’s Joey Thacker was the runner-up with nine votes, followed by Murray’s Rechelle Turner (eight) and Elizabethtown’s Tim Mudd (four).
Just also won the award in 2014 after leading Butler to the state title and is one of three members of his family who have been so honored. His brother Charlie – now the women’s coach at Spalding University – won the award as the girls coach at Mercy in 1982. Their brother Jimmy – now the boys coach at Manual – took the boys honor in 2000 while at Iroquois.
“There are a lot of family discussions about basketball, I know that,” Larry Just said. “I’ve been blessed to have a lot of good people around me, starting with my brothers and some of the staff that’s been with me since I started at Butler.”
The 49-year-old Just, a 1984 St. Xavier graduate who went on to play basketball at Indiana University Southeast, is on an amazing run during his seven seasons at Butler. He has compiled a 182-46 record (.798 winning percentage) and captured five regional titles and two state championships.
His latest squad won its final 14 games, finished 31-5 and whipped Franklin County 62-36 in the championship game of the Sweet 16. Starting with the semifinals of the Sixth Region Tournament, the Bearettes beat six straight Top 20 teams on their way to the state title and won them by an average margin of 13.3 points.
The closest was a 61-59 victory over E’town in the quarterfinals of the Sweet 16. Janna Lewis’ basket at the buzzer was the difference and confirmed Just’s belief that the Bearettes could, indeed, close the gap on E’town after that December defeat.
“You have to get out of the region first, but in the back of your mind you’re always hoping you get past that step and get a chance to play someone like E’town again,” Just said. “Along the way you’re thinking about the things you need to have in your repertoire in order to be able to compete with them.”
Just had plenty of weapons this season, and most will return next season for a run at a second straight state title and third in four years.
Micaiah Bowden and Allison Just, Larry’s daughter, were the only seniors on the team this season. Both have committed to Spalding University.
The Bearettes will have a strong senior class next season, led by one of the top candidates for Miss Basketball in Jaelynn Penn (Dayton commit). Teri Goodlett (Eastern Kentucky) and Tasia Jeffries (Saint Louis) also have committed, and fellow returnees Lewis and Bre Torrens will be college prospects as well, Just said. Molly Lockhart, a 6-foot-3 post player, anchors Butler’s Class of 2018.
They’ve all been through the process of defending a state title before and didn’t handle it well. After winning the crown in 2014, the Bearettes never clicked during the 2014-15 season and finished 23-6 after falling to Bullitt East in the first round of the regional tournament.
Just said the lessons learned from that disappointment will pay dividends entering next season.
“We were too worried about what others might be trying to do to beat us, and that took ourselves off what we needed to do,” Just said. “We’re not going to worry about what others are saying … or about the target on our backs. We’re going to emphasize doing what we do.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and email@example.com.
PAST COURIER-JOURNAL GIRLS’ BASKETBALL COACHES OF THE YEAR
1975 – Bunny Daugherty, Sacred Heart; 1976 – Daugherty, Sacred Heart; 1977 – Peggy Fiehrer, Butler; 1978 – Roy Bowling, Laurel County; 1979 – Bowling, Laurel County; 1980 – David Young, Allen County-Scottsville.
1981 – Dan Hempel, Clark County; 1982 – Charlie Just, Mercy; 1983 – Vanous Lloyd, Warren Central; 1984 – Howard Beth, Marshall County; 1985 – Beth, Marshall County; 1986 – (tie) Teresa Ashby Terry, Madisonville; Beth, Marshall County; 1987 – Bill Brown, Southern; 1988 – Bowling Laurel County; 1989 – (tie) Ken Smith, Manual; Dave Weedman, Oldham County; 1990 – B.J. Elswick, Elkhorn City.
1991 – Leslie Scully, Mercy; 1992 – Jerry Troutman, Bullitt East; 1993 – Barbara Kenney, Nicholas County; 1994 – Rick Powell, Holy Cross; 1995 – Beverly Roby, Marion County; 1996 – Mark Evans, Oldham County; 1997 – Tim Mudd, Elizabethtown; 1998 – Mike Kindred, Montgomery County; 1999 – Jim Wright, Shelby County; 2000 – John “Hop” Brown, West Carter.
2001 – Greg Parrett, Jackson County; 2002 – Donna Moir, Sacred Heart; 2003 – Moir, Sacred Heart; 2004 – Moir, Sacred Heart; 2005 – Chrysti Noble, Rockcastle County; 2006 – Steve Helton, Scott County; 2007 – Jason Seamands, Lexington Christian; 2008 – Mike Sowers, Paul Dunbar; 2009 – Mudd, Elizabethtown; 2010 – Trent Milby, Marion County.
2011 – Noble, Rockcastle County; 2012 – Sarah Van Horn, Paul Dunbar; 2013 – Milby, Marion County; 2014 – Larry Just, Butler; 2015 – Kes Murphy, Covington Holy Cross.