WALTON, Ky. — Talk about a history lesson.
Prior to this week, the most recent time the Walton-Verona boys’ basketball team appeared in the state tournament was just a few months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Walton-Verona was known as Walton High School in 1942, so the significance of the moment this week is certainly palpable.
The Bearcats took care of business Wednesday afternoon at Rupp Arena with a 76-54 win over Knox Central in the first round of the Boys' Sweet Sixteen Tournament.
Walton-Verona (28-6) plays the winner of Campbell County and undefeated John Hardin at noon Friday in the quarterfinals.
“Reaching the Mecca of high school basketball by playing in Rupp Arena is a dream to our players and people within the community,” Walton-Verona coach Grant Brannen said earlier this week. “Being a small school within a small town, you feel the buzz of what this means.”
The Bearcats, winners of the Eighth Region, had plenty of interest from the community leading to Wednesday's game in Lexington.
The Walton-Verona athletic department sold over 200 tickets within about two-and-a-half hours Monday after a weather delay started the week of school. The regional champion T-shirts arrived around noon Monday and were sold out within two hours.
“The Walton-Verona community is like no other when it comes to basketball,” Walton-Verona athletic Ddirector Kyle Bennett said. “I still get calls from the ‘old guard’ after every game telling me a story or comparing this team to teams in the past. The community’s identity is tied with the basketball teams. The gym is packed not only with our students but also the entire cities of Walton and Verona, along with all of those graduates who still find a way to come back to watch games.”
The Bearcats have been Eighth Region All ‘A’ champions, All ‘A' state semifinalists, NCKC conference champions, 32nd District champions and Eighth Region champions. Bennett said this is the best defensive team to ever wear at Walton-Verona uniform.
“Right now, we are playing the best basketball we have played all year,” Brannen said. “This is obviously the time we want to play our best. We have finally gotten healthy, and our identity is our defense and we hope to continue that at Rupp this week.”
The Bearcats have three players averaging double figures in scoring including senior 6-foot-11 center Dieonte Miles (Xavier signee), who is at 15 points per game.
“Dieonte is a game changer,” Brannen said. “He affects the game at both ends.”
Senior small forward Kam Pardee (14 ppg.) was an All-Region selection. Senior guard Garrett Jones, an All-Region Tournament team selection, averages 10 points.
Senior point guard Grant Grubbs and senior shooting guard Trey Bonner (state high jump champion) are the other starting players.
The Bearcats have played a very demanding schedule, which has prepared them well for this week. Walton-Verona has played in the King of the Bluegrass, Indiana/Kentucky Challenge, Jock Sutherland Classic and Ohio Valley Hoops Classic this season.
“We have a very good opponent come Wednesday against a Knox Central team that is 30-4,” Brannen said. “They have four guys who average double digits. I want the guys to enjoy every moment of this – saying that once we get on the court or in film session it’s all about Knox Central. We must stayed focused, and the goal is to survive and advance however you have to do it.”