George Rogers Clark vs. North Laurel is a championship matchup in the first round of the 2023 UK HealthCare Boys’ Basketball Sweet 16®. The defending state champions are going up against the most polarizing player in Kentucky high school basketball today, Reed Sheppard and North Laurel.
These two teams met last season on December 28, 2021, when GRC won 77-64 in the Lexington Catholic holiday tournament. Jerone Morton went for 27 points and Reed Sheppard had 25. Here’s a preview of the most anticipated first-round matchup of the Sweet 16®:
George Rogers Clark
Coach: Josh Cook (7th season)
The defending Sweet 16 Champions have returned to Rupp Arena for the fourth straight year.
The Cardinals defeated Mason County in the 10th Region Championship 54-42 in Maysville. In that game, Jerone Morton scored 20 points. He finishes second all-time in scoring in 10th Region Tournament history with 264 points. Chris Lofton is number one with 278 points. Morton is also the all-time leading scorer in Clark County history with over 2,600 career points.
Jerone Morton is the defending Most Valuable Player of the Sweet 16. The 6’4” senior is committed to play basketball at Morehead State next year. Morton leads his team averaging 20 points and 6.8 rebounds per game this season. Morton used the supplemental school year and is in his fifth year of high school. That decision can be attributed to not playing in the 2020 Sweet 16 and suffering a broken wrist that summer, causing him to miss games the next season.
Trent Edwards is the Cards’ 6’8” senior in the middle. Edwards is the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 16.6 and 6.6 per game. Most notably, Edwards is shooting 63.4% from the floor. Most of his shots come from layups, monster dunks, and offensive putbacks. He alters a lot of shots and makes it tough for any team in the paint.
Rounding out Clark County’s three-headed monster is Sam Parrish. The 5’11” senior guard is averaging 14.8 points a game.
Reshaun Hampton is a 5’11 junior guard and the Cards’ biggest threat behind the arc. Hampton has made 80 of 194 threes, shooting for 41.2%, making two or three of them every game. He also shoots 82.1% from the line.
Completing the starting five is 6’3″ senior guard Tyliek Maxwell. He averages 6.8 points and 4 rebounds per game. Maxwell is also a standout on the gridiron. The Cards’ QB threw for 1,059 yards and ran for 424 more.
Coming off the bench is sophomore Eli Craig and junior JP Gaines, who average 3.5 and 2.5 points per game, respectively.
George Rogers Clark’s last loss was on February 7th to Frederick Douglass. The 31-2 Broncos beat the Cards 63-52. It was GRC’s first double-digit loss to a team since the 2021 State Tournament, where they lost to Elizabethtown 65-44. Their other losses this season come in the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, SC, and the King of the Bluegrass in Louisville.
Clark is second in the state in win margin, beating teams by an average of 21.4 points per game. They are seventh in the state in scoring and field goal percentage with 76.3 ppg and 52.1%.
Winning back-to-back championships is one of the most challenging feats in sports. The last team to win back-to-back Sweet 16s was Louisville Fairdale in 1990 and 1991. Before that, it was Louisville Male in 1970 and 1971. The original 10th Region blue blood Maysville Bulldogs came close by winning it in 1947, but fell in the 1948 championship to Brewers, who they had beaten in last year’s Sweet 16. Similar to what happened to Clark County, who was runner-up in 1950, they claimed their first state title in 1951 under coach Letcher Norton.
Coach: Nate Valentine (4th season)
The Jaguar’s return to Rupp Arena for the second year in a row out of the 13th Region.
North Laurel had a tough first-round match against Harlan at the Corbin Arena. Ryan Davidson’s last possession three gave North Laurel the 55-52 win to move onto the semifinals.
That would be their most formidable opponent in the region tournament, as they swept through South Laurel 63-44 and Corbin 70-33 in the championship.
Last year, North Laurel was eliminated in the first round of the Sweet 16 after a 59-51 loss to Pikeville. Fans from all over the state came to watch Kentucky commit Reed Sheppard play at his future home of Rupp Arena. He scored just 14 points going 5 of 20 from the floor.
North Laurel’s last loss was on February 4th to Madison Central, where Sheppard was held to 12 points. Before that was on January 21st to Covington Catholic, where Sheppard had just 3 points. They would later avenge the loss to the Colonels on February 14th, winning 72-58.
While most people can name Reed Sheppard on the North Laurel roster, the Jags have a strong supporting cast.
Ryan Davidson is North Laurel’s 6’4” senior forward who is committed to play basketball at the Cumberlands next season. Davidson has been averaging 17.8 points per game this season, pulling down 5.8 rebounds.
His younger brother is freshman Reece Davidson, who stands at 6’5” and averages a few points per game.
The Jags’ big man is 6’5”, 225-pound junior Gavin Chadwell. An outstanding tight-end on the football field with an offer from Kentucky, Chadwell transferred from Knox Central over the summer. The man in the middle is their third-leading scorer, with 11.3 points per game and 6.4 rebounds. He has not attempted a three-point shot all season and is shooting 75.6% from inside (93/123) Chadwell has missed 14 games this season with a recurring knee injury.
Rounding out the starting five is 6’1″ junior guard Brody Brock with 9.9 points and 6’2″ sophomore guard Colton Rawlings with 6.6 points per game.
Coming off the bench is Chase Keen. Keen is a 6’4” senior that is committed to play baseball at Northern Kentucky. He comes off the bench with 2.7 points per game and 3.1 rebounds.
Leading North Laurel is none other than Reed Sheppard. Sheppard is a 6’3” senior combo guard committed to play basketball at the University of Kentucky. Sheppard is averaging 22.1 points with 8.7 rebounds per game, both leading the team. He is the 5th best free throw shooter in the state, statistically, going 109 of 123 from the line for 88.6%. Sheppard shoots 48.7% from the floor and 39.5% from three. While not listed on KHSAA, Sheppard’s high basketball IQ gives him multiple assists and steals per game.
Reed Sheppard is the favorite to win Mr. Basketball. In November 2021, he officially committed to Kentucky and signed a year later in 2022. He was named a McDonald’s All-American in January. His father, Jeff Sheppard, won two national championships at Kentucky in 1996 and 1998.
24/7 Sports says: Sheppard is a throwback-style guard who is skilled and exceptionally sound fundamentally. He is a solid athlete but not dynamic or totally explosive. His attack is based on his ability to shoot the ball, make sound decisions, and process the game. He has a high and compact release that allows him to get his shot off and rates as one of the best free-throw shooters on any of the three major circuits at over 90%. He plays strong with the ball, is tight and efficient with it as a handler, has good use of both hands, and snaps his passes. He’s supremely confident in his approach and is capable of playing on and off the ball. Defensively, he’s going to rely more on his intellect, physicality, and toughness than he is on sheer foot speed.
The Jags are fourth in the state in scoring margin, beating teams by an average of 19.1 points. They are also second in the state in free throw percentage, shooting a tremendous 78.5% from the charity stripe.
Laurel County has a rich tradition of basketball history in the last half-century. Laurel County won the Sweet 16 in 1982 and South Laurel won it in 2005. Laurel County was split into North and South in 1992.
This is one of the most anticipated games of the Sweet 16. The winner of this one could be the favorite to win it all. However, they still have to get through a loaded bottom bracket with teams like Lyon County, who they could face in the next round, and Frederick Douglass.
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