Derby Classic celebrates Kentucky’s college hoops rivalry.
by Matt Caputo
Louisville is not a major league town. In fact, there is not one “big league“ team of any kind in the entire state of Kentucky. For major league baseball, the closest option is the Cincinnati Reds who play about 100 miles from Louisville. For the NFL and NHL, The Tennessee Titans and the Nashville Predators are the best bets for Kentucky natives, still over two and a half hours away. Indianapolis is just under a two-hour drive, but the Colts and Pacers influence doesn’t seem to stretch that far. Due to those geographical limitations, the biggest sports rivalry in the Bluegrass state has always been the one between the University of Kentucky Wildcats and the Louisville Cardinals. Each year, since 1973, the Derby Classic, a kind of national all-star game, celebrates the high school senior basketball players from around the country who are preparing to enter the respective KY schools.
The Derby Festival Basketball Classic is the second-oldest continuously running high school all-star game in the nation. In 1987, the Classic set a record for attendance with a crowd of 19,041 at Freedom Hall. Although the game is packaged as a national showdown of the country’s top players, it is more of a local tradition made to create a preview of the future of the “UK” and “U of L” basketball programs.
True to the game’s tradition, there were six players spread across the Gold and Black rosters that were headed to either UK or Louisville in the Fall. Freedom Hall hosted the event and although it’s the Cardinal’s home floor, the UK fans made their presence known early with chants of “Blue…White,” even before the game was underway.
Peyton Siva, who was giving the Freedom Hall faithful a taste of what’s to come over the next four years, took advantage of the few whistles and created some exciting plays in open-court. He finished with 15 points and 11 assists, that all seemed to come via some impressively completed alley-oop. Though Siva’s game was the most entertaining performance of the night, his Black squad was never really competitive against, Daniel Orton (UK), Jon Hood (UK) and Michael Snaer, who closed the evening with a game-high 30 points and is headed to Florida State.
The game was exciting from the get go. With some speed-up rules in place, one press row member said, “The Derby Classic can be a lot like a glorified scrimmage.” Walks, carries, even some hard fouls were tolerated and had no consequence. The Officials’ leniency allowed for both squads to open up the court and produce tons of highlight-reel-worthy action, if not a highly competitive game. The first quarter was rather competitive, ending with the Gold team ahead, 26-25, but it was pretty one-sided from then on.
In the second frame, Daniel Orton completed a pair of crowd-energizing dunks and the Gold team began creating some distancing themselves from their opponents in Black. By halftime, three Gold team members had scored in double digits, including Christian Wattford and Maurice Creek, who will both play at Indiana next season. At the end of two, Gold had a 70-59 lead over the Black team, but the distance seemed to be greater than that.
Another unique element of the Derby Classic is the completion of the dunk contest at halftime. Rhode Island-native and incoming Cardinal, Mike Marra successfully nailed a ball-off-the-backboard/windmill hybrid dunk to totally outshine John Hood, who sported a Jeff Sheppard jersey (trying to impress to former UK guard, a dunk contest judge) during his attempts, but failed to come up with a compelling slam the crowd really loved. This year, Wazoo Sports, an Internet broadcasting company whose director of Sales is former is Sheppard, became the game’s title sponsor. Sheppard acted as an MC on the floor, throwing t-shirts into the crowd and giving away BMW’s to people who hit half-court shots.
In the second half, the Black team tried to push themselves back into the game. Siva stimulated the offense with 10 second-half points and five assists. Although both teams had eight players in total score in double figures, Black had spent too much of the game trying to come from behind. At the end of three, both teams had scored 100-plus points and the Gold team was ahead 114-104.
The fourth quarter featured a modest comeback on the part of the Black team, but still not enough to take the sine out of their Gold opponents. The Black team lead was as small as about 5 at some points in the fourth, but ultimately the surge came too late. The Gold team finished the day at Freedom Hall with a 151-145 victory and the soon-to-be Seminole, Michael Snaer, earned the game’s MVP honors.
For video and photo galleries, check out the Louisville Courier-Journal’s website.