With three returning starters, the stateâ€™s top point guard and a deep bench populated with eager talent, the Ballard High School basketball team has all of the necessary pieces to claim its first Sweet Sixteen crown since 1999.
March, however, is a long way off and the Bruins have more pressing concerns â€“ like how to stop two future Kentucky Wildcats.
In one of the most highly anticipated matchups of the young season, Ballard will take on Fort Bend Travis (Richmond, Texas) â€“ a team featuring 6-foot-5 twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison â€“ this Friday at the Marshall County Hoopfest.
According to ESPN.com, Andrew, a point guard, and Aaron, a shooting guard, are the No. 1 prospects in the country at their respective positions and rank among the top five players overall in the class of 2013. Both committed to the University of Kentucky in early October.
Tipoff is set for 10 p.m. and Bruins coach Chris Renner said it will be a special night.
â€œPart of the high school experience is creating memories that can last a lifetime,â€ said Renner, who is in his 15th year at Ballard. â€œWin or lose, theyâ€™re going to remember playing these guys.â€
The Bruinsâ€™ top three scorers are back from last yearâ€™s 24-9 team, which fell to Trinity 58-55 in a Seventh Region semifinal. Junior point guard Quentin Snider (16.9 ppg., 4.5 apg.), a University of Louisville commit and arguably the best player in the state, will again direct Ballardâ€™s up-tempo and highly potent offense.
â€œ(Sniderâ€™s) not this frail, weak kid that he was last year,â€ said Renner. â€œHeâ€™s gained about 20 pounds in the last year and a lot of that is muscle.â€
Snider, who shot 45 percent from beyond the arc last season, is joined by 6-foot-6, 225-pound junior forward Kelan Martin (13.1 ppg., 6.5 rpg.) and senior guard Lavonne Holland (15.7 ppg.).
Among several other potential contributors are sophomores Jalen Perry (6-1, G) and Corey Douglas (6-4, F), and seniors Zach Caggins (6-2, G) and Dontez Byrd (5-10, Sr.).
Six-foot-three freshman Malik Dow is returning from a recent concussion and may be a factor as well.
The tussle with the Harrison twins is one of a few early tests for the Bruins, who opened their season Tuesday against a highly regarded Scott County team.
After traveling to Indiana Class 4-A No. 1 Indianapolis Cathedral on Dec. 15, Ballard begins play in the King of the Bluegrass Holiday Classic at Fairdale (Dec. 19-23) and then heads to the elite Kingdom of the Sun tournament in Ocala, Fla., Dec. 26-29.
Ballard wonâ€™t play a game on its home court until a Jan. 22 tilt against Seneca.
â€œThe early games are going to be tough,â€ said Renner. â€œA state championship isnâ€™t won at this time of the year. Itâ€™s a long haul and weâ€™ve got to get better.â€
*The 12-team Dixie Duals wrestling tournament will be held Saturday at Doss. Along with the Dragons, the event features Central, DeSales, Fairdale, Fern Creek, Holy Cross, Iroquois, No. 25 John Hardin, North Bullitt, PRP, Western and two-time defending champion No. 15 Southern.
Matches get underway at 9:30 a.m. with final round action slated to begin at 5 p.m.
*After impressive regional qualifying performances last weekend, runners from St. Xavier and Assumption will look to make a splash on the national scene Saturday at the elite Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore.
Assumption, running as Louisville Track Club, returns to Nationals for a second straight year after edging Tatnall (Del.) 92-93 to win the 12-state Southeast Regional in Cary, N.C. on Nov. 24. Bailey Davis (sixth, 17:44.8) and Katherine Receveur (10th, 17:52.5) led the squad.
Running as Louisville Extreme, St. X took the boysâ€™ regional 87-139 over Blacksburg (Va).Â Connor Sheryak (sixth, 15:24) and Sam Lewis (ninth, 15:33) crossed first for the Tigers.
Holy Crossâ€™ Jacob Thomson overcame an early fall and qualified for Foot Locker Nationals with a fourth-place finish (14:58) at the South Regional in Charlotte, N.C. on Nov. 24. Nationals are set for Dec. 8 in San Diego, Calif. Thomson was 19th last year with a time of 15:41.5.
*All times EST
Contact columnist Chris Cahill at email@example.com.