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By LARRY VAUGHT
The Marshall County Hoop Fest featured some of the nation’s best high school talent last year and Hoop Fest director Dan Hudson is already putting together another star-laden even for Dec. 5-6-7 in Benton.
“We really think we could have a special event again,” said Hudson.
Kentucky recruiting target Cliff Alexander of Chicago Curry will be back to play in the event for the second straight season. The 6-9, 240-pound Alexander is ranked as the nation’s second best center and No. 5 overall prospect by Scout.com. He has Kentucky, Michigan State and Illinois at the top of his college list.
Also scheduled to play is point guard Emmanuel Mudiay of Dallas Prime Prep Academy. He is ranked as the No. 2 overall prospect by Rivals.com. He currently has Kentucky, Baylor, Arizona, Oklahoma State, Louisville, North Carolina, State, St. John’s, Kansas, Texas and SMU as his top college choices. He is a prototypical combo-guard with the ability to finish at the rim with either hand and speed some have speculated is comparable to former UK standout John Wall.
The 6-4 Mudiay also has a solid mid-range game as well as the ability to score off alley-oop plays in a set offense.
One of Mudiay’s teammates is 6-9 Elijah Thomas, who already has offers from California, Illinois, North Carolina State and Texas A&M. He’s been contacted by Kentucky and is ranked as one of the nation’s top juniors.
Two other traditional powers, Oak Hill Academy and Huntington (W.VA.) Prep will be back at the tourney and both always have several high Division I players on the roster. Five-star prospect Jalen Lindsey has already decided to transfer to Huntington and Minnesota’s Rashad Vaughn, another five-star prospect and UK target, is contemplating the same move. Huntington will also have junior guard Montaque Gill-Ceasar, who is also on UK’s radar.
Also scheduled to be back at the Hoop Fest will be Louisville Ballard and Louisville commit Quentin Snider, the likely leading candidate for Mr. Basketball honors going into next season.
“An all-session pass for 17 total games costs only $40,” Hudson said. “We will have presale information out soon for those wanting tickets as well as information on other players and teams that will be participating.”
Mudiay, Thomas, Lindsey and their teammates will also be back in Kentucky for the Jan. 9-10-11 McCracken County Mustang Shootout, a new event.
“With only 3,500 seats, tickets for this will be harder to get,” Hudson said.
Those wanting to pre-order tickets now can do so by contacting Kris Garrett at 270-538-4054.
By LARRY VAUGHT
New Jersey prep standout Karl Towns Jr. got a feel for what Kentucky basketball was like when he was part of the Dominican national team last summer that trained at UK and was coached by John Calipari.
However, he knows he’ll get an even better feel for the UK fans Saturday when he plays in the Red State Blue State Series at Broadbent Arena in Louisville. His St. Joseph’s team will take on Ballard featuring Louisville commit Quentin Snider at 3 p.m. followed by Whitney Young (Ill.) that features Jahlil Okafor, the nation’s top-ranked junior, against Evangelical Christian (Tenn.) and top five sophomore Skal Labassiare.
“I just really can’t wait to play in front of my soon to be home crowd,” Towns, a 7-0 junior said. “I can’t wait to see the turnout and to be in the Kentucky atmosphere. It will be a special moment. My team is very excited to be coming to Kentucky. They can’t wait to see where I will be playing in a couple of years, and we get to play a great team. I had no idea something like this would happen. I thought they were just playing with me when they told me at school we had a game in Kentucky. I can’t wait.”
Kentucky fans likely cannot, either. He is an extraordinary player who felt comfortable playing against NBA stars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James in an Olympic exhibition game last season. Earlier this season he had a quadruple double — 16 points, 17 rebounds, 11 blocked shots and 11 assists. To put that in perspective, there’s never been a quadruple double at UK and has only been one triple double. In NBA history, there have been only four quadruple doubles.
Towns had another game in January where he had 31 points, 17 rebounds, eight blocks and four assists. After his quadruple double, he came back with 23 points, 17 rebounds and 11 blocks. Last week he had a game with 20 points, 18 rebounds, 12 blocks and eight assists — and didn’t play in the fourth quarter because his team had such a big lead. His coaches and athletics director even reviewed that game tape to see if he might have had more assists to have made that game another quadruple double.
Towns said the quadruple double was “one of those special moments” he won’t forget.
“It’s something I will probably tell my kids and family about for years. It was kind of surprising and made me realize all the work I’ve put in has paid off,” Towns said.
He announced in early December that he would play at Kentucky and reclassify from the 2015 recruiting class to the 2014 class. He says those decisions have taken a lot of stress off him this season.
“I am not worrying about anything except basketball. I have some flaws in my game, but at the same time they will be strengths in our championship run,” Towns said. “I am putting up good numbers, have pride in myself and am trying to make sure I play well and give my team all I have every game.”
He plans to have that same philosophy against Ballard, one of the top teams in Kentucky, and knows what he hopes UK fans will leave Broadbent Arena saying.
“That I am a very versatile player. I didn’t just go to Kentucky because I am big guy. I am very versatile and can do anything on the court that the coaches ask. People from Kentucky know I can play. I just want to play the game I know how to play and play St. Joe basketball. We win and lose as a team. I want to do best and let Kentucky fans see I always try to do my best,” Towns said.
He’s not sure how much time he’ll have to interact with UK fans, but he wants to meet as many as possible.
“I always enjoy meeting fans. I just hope it happens so I can. think at end of day I will push Coach to do it. I love interacting with fans. When family is not there, the Kentucky fans be there and supporting you. I try to give back to fans all I can,” Towns said.
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Tickets for Saturday’s games are available at http://www.ticketmaster.com and at the box office at the Kentucky Expo Center.