X Man

One of the more anticipated decisions of the c/o ’19 was resolved recently when Dekeyvan “KyKy” Tandy announced that he would be taking his game to the next level at Xavier University.

The combo guard from UHA was highly sought after by the likes of Clemson, Cincinnati, and Auburn (among others).  It ultimately came down to Ole Miss and Xavier.  He went into an official visit with the Musketeers on October 19th and had already planned to announce his decision the following Tuesday.  If they hadn’t won him over before then, apparently they sealed the deal on that trip.  He came home and made it official a couple days later.

Tandy is the second player from the state of Kentucky to join Xavier’s 2019 class joining Walton Verona’s big man Dieonte Miles (rated as high as a 3 star center from Walton, KY).

These two will make a total of 4 from the Bluegrass State joining junior Leighton Schrand (Villa Hills) and junior guard Quentin Goodin (Campbellsville, KY) who has played a big role in Xavier’s success over the last two seasons.

With the decision out of the way, Tandy is freed up to focus on his senior season.  As a junior he averaged 30.5 ppg while shooting nearly 45% from behind the arc and nearly 5 rebounds per game as well.  He will be in the mix, if not the favorite for the Mr. Basketball award.  His senior year will be one to keep an eye on, but where he will play in college is no longer in doubt.

For more coverage for hoops, be sure to follow @jndavis2181 on Twitter as well as @BluegrassBball

The King and I

Today is the 80th Birthday of Kelly Coleman —- one who basketball fans and aficionados alike know as “King” Kelly. B99C2F39-1004-4534-9AF8-946E91095F49 He graduated high school in 1956 and was named our first ever Mr. Basketball.

To you, he may be the KHSAA all-time leading scorer. He may be that legend and lore you’ve heard all of your life as a basketball player. To you, he may be the Greatest High School Basketball Player that Ever Lived. He absolutely is all of those things. You know what else he is?

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My best friend. He’s a shot at getting to enjoy a grandfather figure as I get older (because Lord knows mine were gone way too soon.) He’s someone I can ask about “back then”, someone I can talk about life, today’s struggles, and a simpler time.

Someone I get to laugh with, smile with, and as of lately — cry with, too.

I’ve only known Kelly for about 4 years but it feels like a lifetime.

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I could never replicate the joy he brings to my days as I grow older and begin to appreciate his wisdom, his troubles, his jokes, and even his choice in movies.

You see, King Kelly is a great basketball legend, and that will carry on for lifetimes in the record books and stories… but he is so much more than that, too, and that will carry on in my heart for the rest of my days.

I hope it has been the absolute best birthday anyone could experience. And I hope I get to see many, many more.

Happy 80th Birthday, old man.

Forgotten Legends: Lester West

One of the greatest high school teams of the early years of Kentucky High School basketball was the Inez Indians. In ten amazing seasons, from 1932 to 1941, Coach Russell Williamson and his teams won 298 games, including two seasons with 40 wins each; eight 58th/59th District titles (1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1939 and 1940); seven 15th Region championships (1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1939, 1940 and 1941), appeared in five “Sweet 16” Final Fours (1935, 1936, 1937, 1940 and 1941) and won one Kentucky High School state championship (1941). Starting5 This is an amazing accomplishment when you consider the enrollment at Inez during those years never exceeded more than 110 high school students. Possibly the greatest praise the Indians were given after winning the 1941 State Tournament came from Adolph Rupp, head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky. Rupp was quoted in the Indianapolis Star saying, “that Inez had done more for the advancement of basketball in Kentucky than any other team.”
Those 1940-41 Indians were led by a strong core of seniors – Alex Harmon, Bob Cooper, Charlie Kirk, Billy Taylor and Lester West.Perhaps the best player of the bunch was Lester West. Standing 5’10 and weighing 160 lbs., West, known for his ball-handling and passing skills, was one of the toughest high school players in the state. Dislocating his shoulder in an early January game at Louisville Male he continued to play the rest of the season despite the injury. He played so well in fact that he was named to the “Sweet 16” All-Tournament team for the second consecutive year after helping lead Inez to that state title. image4West and the rest of the Inez starting five played so well throughout the season that all five were named to the prestigious Kentucky All-Star team who would take on their counterparts from Indiana in the annual All-Star Game between the two states in the summer of 1941.
Lester West went on to play collegiate basketball at Murray State Teachers College (now Murray State University) in the 1941-1942 season, earning a varsity letter under first year coach Rice Mountjoy. Suiting up for the Racers, West teamed-up with future NBA great Joe Fulks, who was also beginning his first year at Murray as well as another great freshman from Hardin, a former teammate of West on the Kentucky All-Star team, John Padgett. Despite a great regular season, finishing with an 18-2 record, Murray State did not fare as well in the two post-season tournaments they played in that year. The Racers lost to Western Kentucky by two, 46-44, in the first round of the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (KIAC) Tournament and then lost to East Central (OK) State in the first game of the NAIB Tournament in Kansas City by one, 46-45. The disappointing post-season did not discourage Murray State fans from looking forward to next season, even a few sports writers were encouraged with the players returning. The Messenger-Inquirer of Owensboro, KY had this to say about the 1942-43 Racer team in September 1942, “… Murray should have a great team next season with such stars as Captain Hyland Grimmer, Joe Fulks, John Padgett, Leonard “Red” Metcalfe, Herbert Hurley, Lester West and Wid Ellison returning. To inherit a ready-made machine like that is a dream few coaches realize…”
Unfortunately, Lester West would not be a member of the team that next season. World War II had been raging in Europe for three years and in December 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor sending the United States to war. Answering the call of duty, Lester West left Murray State and enlisted in the United States Army at Huntington, WV on November 10, 1942. image5After completing basic training, West was sent to receive additional training as a flight engineer and gunner in the Army Air Corps. After a long and arduous training regimen West was assigned to a crew who would be flying a B-24 Liberator into war. The crew of ten included the pilot, 2nd Lt. Edwin T. Szczypinski; co-pilot 2nd Lt. Robert F. Allgeier; navigator 2nd Lt. Bernard Wienckowski; bombardier 2nd Lt. Elmer Pahl; Lester West, recently promoted to Sergeant, was the flight engineer; his assistant engineer was Sergeant Ernest Szydlowski; the radio operator was Sergeant Carl Swift; the final three crew members were all assigned as gunners, Sergeants John Refy, Edward Westpfahl and Harvey Hitt.
In late January 1944, the flight crew, now known as Training Crew 18, were assigned to the 42nd Bomb Squadron in Hawaii for six weeks of additional training. In Hawaii the crew performed three weeks of flight training before finishing with three weeks of ground school training. Flight training included gunnery, formation flying, strange field landings, bombing, navigation and search missions. It was then on to ground school that included lectures on water landing procedures, radar communications, photo interpretation, ordnance, aircraft and sea craft recognition and identification as well as a course on the general geography of the Central Pacific. Even while the crew was being trained on the ground, they were expected to fly every day. Military officials hoped that this type of training would prepare the crew for the missions they were about to fly against the Japanese and expose them to any situations they may face, including flying over the wide expanse of the Pacific.
On March 29, 1944, with training complete, West and the rest of his B-24 crew were assigned to the 26th Bomb Squadron, 11th Bomb Group of the 7th Army Air Force operating out of Eniwetok Atoll. At that time, the 26th was regularly bombing Japanese held Truk Atoll. Considered the most formidable of all Japanese strongholds, Truk was Japan’s main naval base in the South Pacific. image3In February 1944, the United States had launched Operation Hailstone, a three day bombing campaign against the atoll that was a huge success, sinking twelve Japanese warships, thirty-two merchant ships and destroying 275 aircraft. Truk then earned the nickname “the biggest graveyard of ships in the world.”
However, Truk still remained a stronghold and American bombers were tasked with reducing the Japanese forces still remaining. The base was still sending aircraft to other parts of the Pacific against Allied forces and was defended by somewhere near forty anti-aircraft guns. Because of the amount of gunfire aircrews were receiving over Truk, it was determined that the best way to attack the Japanese troops there was to fly at night.
On April 16, 1944, just two weeks after being assigned to the 26th, Lester West and his crew found themselves on a night mission flying a B-24 nicknamed Heavy Date against the Japanese at Truk. The Heavy Date went through the mission undamaged and bombardier Elmer Pahl was able to drop his bombs on target, even after “a 6,000 foot dive to avoid enemy searchlights and night fighters.” However, it was on the flight back to Eniwetok that the crew realized they did not have enough fuel to return to base. At 8:19pm local time, the Eniwetok radio station picked up the first SOS call from radio operator Carl Swift, “SOS SOS SOS Ditching Flying Course 73…” The radio transmission was acknowledged and radio operators immediately tried to get a fix on the aircraft’s position. After being asked how much more time the plane could remain in the air, Swift replied with “Not over an hour at most.” The problem with lack of fuel was communicated and the aircraft climbed to 10,000 feet. The bombardier Elmer Pahl later recalled the mood of the men on the plane, “We knew we did not have enough gasoline to make it and would have to come down in enemy territory, probably on the water. Everyone took it calmly and went about the business of throwing out everything that would lighten the plane… It made me feel proud to be with them, the way they took it. I don’t think there was a man aboard who wasn’t sure that he would come through all right and be rescued. Some of them stuffed themselves with K-rations while waiting but I was too scared to eat.”
At 9:36pm, the radio operator on Eniwetok recorded in his log that the Heavy Date “sent scrambled, nervous [radio calls], unable to make sense out of transmission.” It had been an hour and seventeen minutes since the first SOS had been sent and fuel was now critically low on the aircraft. In the next few minutes the crew watched as one engine ran out of fuel and stopped running. The bombardier Pahl recalled, “The pilot [Edwin T. Szczypinski] let us know that we were going down. He kept calling off the altitude as we got closer and closer to the water…” At 9:48pm the Heavy Date made a crash landing “in Japanese-controlled waters off [the island of] Ponape [Pohnpei].”
Because of the violence of the crash, the next few moments were a blur for members of the crew. Edwin Pahl remembered that, “I was in the tail and all I remember is the spray coming in the window. Then I was in the water swimming my head off.” Gunner Harvey Hitt, knocked unconscious for a few moments when the plane hit the water, was also in the tail of the plane but came to in the bomb bay before swimming to a nearby life raft. The pilot, 2nd Lt. Edwin T. Szczypinski, was severely injured in the crash, suffering severe cuts on both legs as well as a compound fracture of his left leg. He only remembered being able to release his safety belt and use his arms to swim away from the plane, finding a raft. Assistant flight engineer Ernest Szydlowski, despite a broken thigh bone, managed to swim clear of the sinking plane and reach the life raft that held Pahl and Hitt. Before long it became clear, these four men were the only members of the crew of the Heavy Date to survive.
A few weeks later, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph West, who had moved from Martin County to Waverly, Ohio, were informed of the death of their son. It wasn’t long before news of his death spread around the state of Kentucky. The Louisville Courier-Journal reported the following on July 13, 1944, “Lester West, Murray State College basketball star who was in the Army Air Corps, has been reported killed in the South Pacific. West, who captained Inez to a state championship in 1941 and was unanimous choice for the all-state team, was considered one of the best passers ever to enroll at Murray and had a brilliant cage future until he left school in the fall of 1942. He was reported to have been killed in a crash when the plane made a water landing. Efforts to save the crew were only partially successful, four members of the staff being picked up…” Nearly a month later, on August 7, 1944, the College News of Murray, KY informed their readers, “Lester West was killed in action on April 16 near Truk Island. He was an engineer gunner on a bomber. His commanding officer wrote his parents as follows: ‘The crash occurred while returning from a bombing mission against the enemy base. Just prior to making the water landing, radio contact with the plane was maintained and the approximate location of the crash was received. Our planes, together with Navy sea planes were dispatched immediately to that area. At first nothing could be found but after a continued search four survivors were rescued after drifting in life rafts for two days. The survivors confirmed the fact that your son, along with other members of the crew, had been killed in the crash.’ Before coming to Murray State in 1941, West had played four years on the Inez High School team where he was on the all-state team for two years. Inez won the championship in 1941 and West was captain of the all-state team. He was awarded a letter in 1942 as a member of Murray’s basketball squad.”
The bodies of Lester West and the other five crewmembers of the Heavy Date lost on April 16, 1944 were never recovered. The names of these men are inscribed on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila-American Cemetery and Memorial in Manila, Philippines.

We’re Back: The Kentucky/Indiana All-Star Game

In 2017, the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches became the Administrators of the Kentucky/Indiana All-Star Game. The game was held at the Civic Center in Frankfort, giving the now-demolished building one last hoorah.

In the last 10 years, interest in the game has waned on our state’s side, we’ve seen attendance down below 500 in recent games.

The KABC plans to change that.

If you attended last night’s game at Bellarmine University, you’ll understand. If you didn’t — let me paint a picture for you.

Knights Hall holds 2,181 patrons and approximately 30 members of the media. The arena was full of fans — just 100 tickets shy of a complete sell out crowd.

The game directors pulled out all of the stops. The programs, with interactive QR codes and historical blips/videos/photos weaved in and out of current information, sold out long before the boys game tipped off. T-shirts flew off their respective tables and fans from all over filled the gym.

The game committee chose an elite Cheerleading squad from Pikeville High School to bring some spirit to the gym. PHS cheer donned tank tops to match the Kentucky teams and performed floor cheers to get the crowd involved.

KABC also decided to bring back a tradition that had been lost in recent times by inviting All-Star Game alumni back and honoring them at center court.

Former Girls All Stars such as Miss Basketballs Geri Grigsby, Jamie Walz Richey (All-Star game coaching staff), and Lindsay Duvall joined Candace Bingham and several others to have their name called and gave the crowd a wave.

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Boys All-Star alumni were well represented — Kentucky Wildcats Derek Anderson and Anthony Epps joined prime time prep stars such as Mr. Basketballs Ralph Richardson and J.R. VanHoose. Louisville basketball great James Boo Brewer, an All-Star Assistant Coach, also stepped out of the locker room to join his fraternity of players.

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Adding a nice nod to our history, video interviews of All-Stars of old played during Media Timeouts. Fans turned to the video board to listen to stories from long ago.

To cap the evening off — both Kentucky teams came out hot. Our girls team brought it during both halves and grabbed their win. The boys, up against 5+ Big 10 commits from Indiana were predicted to lose by a large margin. With team chemistry and grit, they commanded a lead early. Several Kentucky boys answered the call and came out victorious.

The magic in the room did not go unnoticed. Kentucky fans enjoyed the atmosphere, the lore, and most importantly, the win.

For a game that has all but had its Death Certificate signed by the sports realm’s most heavy hitters — it sure seems like it’s  not ready for the end.

The Kentucky/Indiana All-Star Game is back, folks. Hop on the bandwagon, I’ll scoot over and make some room.

Kayla Moore VanHoose
Bluegrass Basketball

Dear Coach Cal

Dear Coach Cal,

Please care more about Kentucky High School Basketball.

Now, hear me out — this is not a letter to insult or berate you in any way. This letter is to tell you exactly where you stand in Kentucky hoops: the top.

You ARE Kentucky basketball… and I don’t mean the University of Kentucky. I mean that you are the face for the roundball across our entire Commonwealth.

You see, we are having a problem in our great state. Every year, less and less fans care about getting out to a high school game. Our Sweet 16 — the greatest high school tournament in the world according to my friend Jim Host — is seeing a decline in numbers. Our local rivalry games are hit hard, too. I can’t help but think if Coach John Calipari — the state’s basketball icon — cared about high school hoops, everyone else would follow suit. 

Coach, maybe you know how big your influence is. Maybe you don’t, I don’t know… but I do know one thing. I was in attendance the year you showed up to the Zip Zone Tip-Off Classic in Eastern Kentucky and your presence changed the environment for the entire weekend. When you showed up to watch a player this season… the attention to that game increased tenfold. Imagine what buzz you could generate all season long just by offering some insight, attention, or maybe just starting a conversation about it?

I know you’re a busy man. Beyond busy! But what I would love to see is you and your love for this sport cause a snowball effect and bring back the passion across Kentucky. I’d love to see you at our Mr/Miss Basketball event, at our All-Star games in the summer, at anything. But if you can’t be present I’d love to see encouragement and chatter from your social media, inciting the people of Kentucky to get involved again.

I also know you’re not obligated to do any of these things. But Kentucky fans love you… and Kentucky fans have kids/family that play in High School. What a win-win.

Respectfully,

Kayla VanHoose
Bluegrass Basketball

Dear Governor Bevin.

Governor Bevin,

The Kentucky Public Education System made me who I am. I come from two hard-working parents who divorced when I was 7, my brother 13, and after that, life got hard on everyone financially. I am one of those kids that could not have afforded a Private or a Charter School. On paper, our working-class income would not have awarded me or my brother a “waiver” for tuition — and we definitely would not have been the “ideal” students whose family could make generous contributions. What kind of education would we have received if it was not for Kentucky Public Schools?

My brother and I both began our educational journey at Inez Elementary School — taught and guided by some of the most amazing ladies I know. I am thankful for Mrs. Ida Smith, Mrs. Teresia Crum, and countless others for laying such a strong foundation. I owe it to Inez Elementary for giving me a love of learning — I haven’t stopped.

I like to think Middle School was/is awkward for everyone and I wasn’t immune — but I had an artistic side, an out-of-the-box learning style. I will never forget Mr. Mark Grayson and Mr. Rick Osborne for nurturing, appreciating, and accepting me for my lack of sameness. They taught me it was okay to have an identity.

And my fine educators at Sheldon Clark High School — most retired, a few passed on, and some still going to bat for their students every single day — I owe them everything. Mrs. Carolyn Bentley is responsible for every ounce of literary knowledge in my brain, because I just could not tell a story in order to save my life. She is the sole reason so many people compliment my articles for being “beautifully written” (and the reason I’ve edited this article twice already!) I cannot forget the late Mrs. Sylvia Six, whom I miss every single day — she was this freshman’s biggest cheerleader… and Mrs. Pat Sluss — I wish I had told her before she passed that she introduced me to my favorite book and that I haven’t stopped reading since. Finally, Mr. Freddie Napier — who had the patience of Job when teaching me how to do Math: I am thankful for him because I get to apply those skills he taught me every single day to students in my own school district — and change their path for the better the way they changed mine.

Today my husband and I work in one of the greatest school systems in the state: Johnson County. We are home to international academic champions and some of the finest educators you can find. He and I, and our colleagues, go beyond the call of duty every single day. We have kids in college that are not biologically ours that still look for our guidance. One in particular refers to us as her “second parents.” That’s because we love her beyond the confines of standards, tests, and books, Mr. Bevin.

You see, Governor, children from all walks of life have a story. Much like me, their teachers are often chapters in their novel of life — and I hope I am putting countless chapters in the books of this generation.

Mr. Governor, you may look and see selfish, lazy, uninformed, short-sighted — but you have never experienced what they do on a personal level. Because of that, you will never value our educators. You can take away, insult, belittle, do whatever you wish — but your position is the least permanent of us all. After you’re gone, it will only be us rebuilding — trying to erase the bad memories of a man who tried to dismantle one of our state’s most precious resources.

So here I am, Matt Bevin, loudly and proudly supporting the Kentucky Public Education System — because everyone has a favorite teacher — nobody has a favorite Governor.

 

Regards,

Kayla VanHoose

Sweet 16 Champs: All in the (Ruthsatz) Family

Coach Scott Ruthsatz never had a plan to be the Head Coach at Covington Catholic High School, but when the opportunity came for him to be closer to family in Ohio, he seized it.

Developing his passion for basketball under Coach Bob Hurley, Sr. at former New Jersey powerhouse St. Anthony High School in Jersey City. After winning a National High School Championship in 2011 as an assistant, Scott Ruthsatz was looking for a way home. He perused openings in the Kentucky/Ohio area and saw the opening. He began making phone calls — first to Chris Mack, to ask his advice. His question? Could Covington Catholic become a St. Anthony? Coach Mack deferred to Joe Fredrick — whose sons were both CovCath grads. His answer? Absolutely yes. Scott Ruthsatz threw his name into the hat and quickly became the top choice of Covington Catholic High School.

From going 17-14 his first season as a Colonel in 2012, to having an amazing 27-7 record in 2013, to winning the school’s first ever Sweet 16 in 2014, Coach Ruthsatz has officially made Covington Catholic a staple of the KHSAA Boy’s Sweet 16 Tournament. He takes minimal credit for their success:

“You know, I give all the credit to the kids. There’s a culture already in place there, and you’re trying to change it, put your thumbprint on it, but the kids are the ones that changed things around in a single year. That was them — total credit to the kids for buying into a system.”

Coach Ruthsatz is a family man. A father of 7 and a husband to a lovely wife — who he brags is always “mom first” — says it is an unbelievable experience to coach both Nick and now Aiden to State Championships. 

“Outside of just being a Dad, but being on the sidelines, going through the state tournament as it’s structured in Kentucky, crowning one champion, and having an extension of me on the court, it’s an unbelievable joy,” said Ruthsatz.

I asked him about the trials of coaching your own children, “I had a few, but you know, Nick played his freshman year under Coach Hurley, so he got to experience that whatever it takes mentality, understanding roles, and knowing how hard you have to work to

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“Winning was one of my most fulfilling and rewarding moments, especially because it’s family.” – Nick Ruthsatz Photo Courtesy of Nick Ruthsatz

succeed. I have to say that Nick set the tone for the rest. Aiden was in the stands as an 8th grader when Nick was a Senior — so he got to see first-hand the role he had to play”

Few Dads get to experience what Coach Ruthsatz has experienced with any of their children. Scott has experienced it twice — Nick was a senior in 2014 and now Aiden, a senior this season, who contributed heavily to CovCath’s Sweet 16 Victory. I asked Ruthsatz if he had hopes for a repeat with the next in line, Nolan, a 5th grader, who left the Sweet 16 victory for a tournament at the KBA in Lexington.

“You know, I hope to continue this success for many years, and I’d love to have it with Nolan, but that’s up to him. If basketball is what he wants to play, then great. I like for my kids to do what makes them happy.”

With four sons, two as state champions, and a younger one leaving a major moment to compete in a game of his own — it’s pretty clear that the name Ruthsatz might be one we basketball fans hear for years to come.

Aiden Ruthsatz is currently a Senior at CovCath and has committed and signed to Christian Brothers in Memphis, Tennessee. Coach Ruthsatz says he thinks that’s a great fit for Aiden, there are a lot of Cincinnati/Northern KY kids on the roster, and the coach runs a similar system.

Nick Ruthsatz graduates from Findlay College this May and is already having some business and basketball success of his own — he has started a fundamental basketball program called Heart Over Height Hoops, where he provides individual skill development to youth basketballers, and with about 150-200 clients, Coach Ruthsatz says he’s teaching fundamentals to the kids, something he feels is missing from the game today.

I know one thing: Both Aiden and Nick have been a joy to watch. The art of being a true Point Guard seems all but lost — until you see these two play. I look forward to what Coach Ruthsatz does with the program from here forward. Next up: Nolan.

Kayla VanHoose
Bluegrass Basketball
@BluegrassBball on Twitter