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High School Basketball in Northern Kentucky is Thriving

(Photo courtesy of Les Nicholson)

(Photo courtesy of Les Nicholson)

The Fort Thomas Highlands Bluebirds rolled through the 2021 KHSAA Boy’s Sweet 16, winning every game by double-digits (all against ranked teams) and claiming the school’s first championship in the process.

Even though the state tournament was played from March 31 – April 3, the eventual winner may have been determined the week before. That’s when the 9th region, the Northern Kentucky regional tournament, was played. Then #4 St. Henry defeated then #1 Covington Catholic in the first round 61-60. That set up a semifinal matchup between St. Henry and #6 Highlands, in which the Bluebirds won 74-68, their closest game of the postseason. They followed that up with a 77-67 win over a top 25 Conner team.

An argument can be made that the top 3 teams in the state all reside in Northern Kentucky. Highlands won the state championship, so their case is clear. The Bluebirds beat Ashland in the first game of the season, ending the Tomcats’ 33-game winning streak. Covington Catholic suffered only three in-state losses all season, with two coming to St. Henry by identical 61-60 scores, and the other coming at the hands of North Laurel in overtime early in the season. The Colonels’ resume includes regular-season wins over state semifinalist Ashland (71-62) and state finalist E-Town (79-62). St. Henry’s resume includes back-to-back All “A” State titles, two wins over Covington Catholic, and a win over Highlands. Their only losses were to Lexington Catholic (80-78 in OT), and 9th region top 25 teams Beechwood, Dixie Heights, and Highlands.

Northern Kentucky schools have won 2 of the past 3 state tournaments (Covington Catholic in 2018 and Highlands in 2021).  Covington Catholic also won the title in 2014.  Northern Kentucky has had a state finalist in 3 of the past 4 state tournaments (Cooper lost to Bowling Green in 2017).

The area has produced several big-time D1 players recently including CJ Frederick (Covington Catholic – Iowa), 2021 state tournament MVP Sam Vinson (Highlands, Northern Kentucky University), Adam Kunkel (Cooper – Belmont/Xavier), James “Beetle” Bolden (Holmes – WVU/Alabama), and Sean McNeil (Cooper – WVU).  Though Pendleton County is not in the 9th region it is close in proximity so I will also mention 2019 Mr. Basketball winner Dontaie Allen (Pendleton County, UK).

Next year I expect Covington Catholic and Highlands to be in the mix to make a run at another state title. Evan Ipsaro is a name to keep an eye on for Covington Catholic in the class of 2023.

Article written by Troy Howell

Follow me on twitter @ teeroyhowell

11 Comments for High School Basketball in Northern Kentucky is Thriving

  1. KYCat4EVER
    12:09 pm April 4, 2021 Permalink

    Not too loud KSR…

    We don’t want everyone in the nation BUT Coach Calipari taking notice ya know!

    Ahhh.. there was a time in Kentucky Basketball history where real Coaches named Rupp and Pitino sought out Kentucky’s Highest High School Basketball talent … took them to Lexington …and developed them in to College All-Americans… while hanging banners in the Lexington rafters!

    But those days are gone… and now we have an “artificial Coach” who won’t look at you unless:

    A) you have a Five Star rating by some pundit

    B) are a man child who doesn’t need development and only needs an NBA contract

    • mm40
      10:46 pm April 4, 2021 Permalink

      How many Kentucky high school players did Pitino develop into college All-Americans, I can’t remember, Scott Padgett maybe?

    • MrPioneer
      8:36 am April 5, 2021 Permalink

      You need therapy. You seem like a very miserable person.

  2. Righteous1
    12:20 pm April 4, 2021 Permalink

    It is interesting to see Johnny Juzang become a star at UCLA when he could not get playing time at UK last year!

    • Bluehender
      1:11 pm April 4, 2021 Permalink

      Let’s not forget who he was playing behind last year. Maxey and Quickley are pros. He was behind Hagans too. And Juzang was a kid who skipped his senior year of high school. We saw how that worked out for this year’s high school senior skipper..

  3. zoupman
    12:32 pm April 4, 2021 Permalink

    So article is about high school basketball in N Ky and you two take cheap shots at coach Cal. Give it a break.

    • chris43
      2:31 pm April 4, 2021 Permalink

      That’s all it ever is….don’t get me wrong FANS have a right to complain (believe me I’m guilty of it myself) but GOOD GRIEF!!! Smh

  4. big_blue_truth
    1:09 pm April 4, 2021 Permalink

    Cal: “I’ll pretend I didn’t see that.”

  5. JDid
    5:44 pm April 4, 2021 Permalink

    It is 2021.

    All white team?


    Nice (sarcasm).

  6. KyZoneBlitz
    7:07 pm April 5, 2021 Permalink

    I would say high school sports in general is thriving in KY. Even though it’s easy to say we’ll never be even close to the level of a florida, texas, ohio, etc.. The amount of quality football recruits in our state has slowly increased ever so slightly, but in years past where there might be 1 to maybe 3 players worth recruiting, those numbers have moved to around 5 to 9/10 players & slowly continues to grow. of course, some years more than others but, along with bball, I think we’re seeing a different type of high school sports scene that we haven’t seen it n this state in a long long time.