LEXINGTON, Ky. – When Richie Farmer entered his senior season at Clay County High School in the fall of 1987, he was the clear front-runner for Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball award.
He sealed it with an outstanding season, averaging 27.1 points and leading the Tigers to a memorable run to the Sweet 16 final, where his team lost 88-79 to Ballard. Farmer scored 51 points in that final, was named the Sweet 16 MVP and went on to enjoy an outstanding career at the University of Kentucky.
But what if Farmer’s senior year hadn’t gone as planned? What if he had suffered an injury that limited him to, say, just 13 games that season?
Would Farmer have believed he still deserved a shot at the Mr. Basketball honor?
“Had they awarded it to me, I know I wouldn’t have turned it down,” Farmer said Wednesday before the Sweet 16 tipped off at Rupp Arena. “But if something like that would have happened, I probably would have felt like I missed my chance to earn that.”
Dontaie Allen lived that scenario this season and on Tuesday night was named Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball winner. Allen, a 6-foot-7 UK signee, was averaging 42.9 points and 14.2 rebounds before suffering a torn ACL in his left knee on Dec. 22. He had season-ending knee surgery in early January and finished his career with 3,255 points (10th in state history) and 1,228 rebounds (22nd in state history).
There’s no arguing Allen’s talent and there’s little argument that he was a shoo-in to win Mr. Basketball had he kept the same scoring and rebounding pace through February.
But Allen didn’t play after Christmas, and even he wasn’t sure if he’d still be in the Mr. Basketball running. For the record, only seniors are eligible, and coaches, media and former winners are the voters.
“It’s crazy, honestly,” Allen said. “I played 13 games, and to think that I got it, that shows a lot. I’m really grateful. I wasn’t really expecting to (win). I was just living in the moment, honestly. … I think people appreciated the way I played.”
When it comes to Mr. Basketball, Mr. Football, Miss Basketball or any other award, there’s a longstanding theory that a Kentucky high school player committing to UK immediately puts him or her in the lead position.
I remember my senior year I was playing well and people started asking me about Mr. Baseball, so I asked my dad if he thought I would win, he says “Chris, you’re from Louisville, you go to StX and you signed with Tennessee. You ain’t winning” 🤣🤣🤣 pops kept it 💯 https://t.co/7xcYUXfFD7
— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurke02) March 6, 2019
Pendleton County coach Keaton Belcher said as much Tuesday night.
“I thought he still had a chance because of the senior season he was having,” Belcher said. “And when you sign with the University of Kentucky, that puts you in a primary spot to win big awards.”
Dominique’s Dimes: Breaking down the controversy behind Allen’s win
So did Allen still deserve to win after playing about 40 percent of the season? It depends on who you ask.
Farmer said he hadn’t seen Allen play but was surprised he won with so little action.
“I’m going to say that’s a little bit unusual,” Farmer said.
But if not Allen, then who? Well, there were plenty of other worthy candidates.
University Heights guard KyKy Tandy ranked fifth in the state in scoring (26.0 ppg), led the Blazers to the All “A” Classic championship and has signed with Xavier.
Trinity’s David Johnson (16.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg), a University of Louisville signee, is considered by many the best all-around player in the state. Michael Moreno (15.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg) helped Scott County reach the Sweet 16 for the third straight year but was limited to 17 games because of a foot injury.
I voted for Tandy because I thought he had the most complete senior season and the deadline to vote was Feb. 18. If the deadline had been two weeks later, I likely would have voted for Johnson because of the way he carried Trinity to the Seventh Region title.
No matter the deadline, I would not have voted for Allen. He’s a great player, and it’s a shame that the enjoyment he might be having for winning the award might be diminished by the controversy surrounding it.
But the season matters. And if it doesn’t, just give the Mr. Basketball award to the highest-ranked player before the season even starts.