The rivalry between the states of Indiana and Kentucky on the basketball court – at the high school level at least – is losing a bit of its luster.
While Kentucky has claimed each of the past two NCAA men's basketball championships (Kentucky in 2012 and Louisville this past season), when it comes to the Indiana-Kentucky All-Star Classic, the Hoosier boys have dominated this series of late.
The series gets underway today at Freedom Hall in Louisville at 5:30 p.m. (girls game), with the boys game to follow. The series resumes Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis at 5 p.m. (girls game) with the boys game to follow.
The Indiana boys have turned this supposed rivalry into a walk in the park. The last time Kentucky won a game in the series, Indiana Mr. Basketball Zak Irvin was in the seventh grade.
The Hoosier boys have won eight consecutive games against Kentucky and 15 of the past 16. And after coaching this squad for the past week, Indiana assistant coach Kevin Leising of Bluffton High School likes what he sees so far.
“What has been so pleasing so far is how their attitudes have meshed together,” Leising said. “When you are dealing with kids that are almost always the best player on their (high school) team, McDonald's All-Americans, or the best player in their region, it is very difficult. It is difficult to understand that whole chemistry issue taken care of.”
Indiana opened the week by beating a talented Junior All-Star squad 106-95 on Monday, and followed that effort with a 133-111 win over the Juniors on Wednesday. The common theme throughout both victories was – perhaps surprisingly for an all-star group – defense.
“We're not a really big team,” Leising said. “But we have a lot of 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8 kids and I really felt like our quickness on the perimeter creates problems (for opponents.”
Leising said that this group has played a lot of basketball together during the AAU seasons, “but that is different,” according to the coach. This group has brought a load of talent (eight of the 13 players will be playing in the so-called “power conferences”), but also work ethic and character.
“We have some really quality kids,” Leising said. “We are so deep, with so many different kids (that can play).”
One of the more consistent players throughout the two exhibition games has been Notre Dame recruit V.J. Beachem of New Haven High School. In the two games the 6-foot-7 wing has connected on 11 of his 20 shot attempts and averaged 16 points.
Beachem said that competition in practice sessions has resulted in a need to play well when given a chance.
“Everybody can play and everybody brings something to the table,” Beachem said. “So you have to come out and earn your playing time and play hard to stay on the court.”
Another Fort Wayne-area representative for the Indiana boy's squad will be Northrop High School guard Bryson Scott.
Indiana girls have something to prove
While the Indiana boys have crushed Kentucky for years, it has been just the opposite for the Hoosier girls.
Kentucky has won four of the past five outings in the girl's games. However, Indiana assistant coach Juanita Goodwell of South Side High School likes this particular group of players from not just a talent standpoint, but from a chemistry angle, as well.
“This group of girl's has really blended well,” Goodwell said. “They are working hard. We've given them some really hard practices. They've definitely found a way to come together.”
Goodwell's top player at South Side, forward Ariana Simmons, will represent Indiana in the two-game series.