Kentucky is only one of two states that award just one single championship in high school basketball. Delaware is the other.
Lexington native Jarrett Van Meter, who is author of the book “How Sweet It Is,” which is about Kentucky High School basketball, has gone behind the scenes with a book on three high-profile basketball teams. He was the keynote speaker at the Williamsburg Kiwanis Club’s November monthly meeting.
“How Sweet It Is” chronicles the season-long quest of three geographically, socio-economically and culturally diverse teams as they try to reach the storied “Sweet Sixteen,” which is played in Rupp Arena each March.
The book is a look at the 2015-2016 season at the high school basketball programs of Covington Catholic, Taylor County and Clay County.
Van Meter said he grew up reading “Season With
the Team” books that go behind the scenes and tell the stories of the locker rooms, the bus rides and what goes into a high school sports season. The most prominent example of such books is probably “Friday Night Lights.”
Van Meter said that he wanted to change up the formula for such books by focusing on three schools instead of one.
“I knew if I tried to choose one team to follow from Kentucky high school basketball I would be
leaving out many different cultures and many different parts of the state,” he noted. “I tried to choose three teams from as different parts of the state as I could possibly do.”
Van Meter got all access to the three teams, including being in the locker rooms before, during and after games, being on team trips and in coaches meetings.
“Clay County was perhaps the most interesting for me personally,” Van Meter said. “For a long
time now it has prided itself on two things, the coal industry and all the jobs it provided and the long running success of its high school basketball program.”
Clay County was lead by senior Trey Farmer during the 2015-2016 basketball season.
Farmer is the son of Clay County and University of Kentucky basketball legend Richie Farmer, who led his Clay County High School team to a state title in 1987, and then went onto to play for the Wildcats.
After graduation, Richie Farmer was elected twice as Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner and then went to federal prison on corruption-related charges.
“He (Trey Farmer) was not just a kid to put on the bench because his last name was Farmer. He was the star of the team and ended his high school career with over 1,500 points,” Van Meter said.
“That was a big draw to me just to chronicle that story and
get to know Trey. He was living with his grandparents at the time because Richie was still in prison.”
Richie Farmer was released from prison in February 2016 in time for him to get to see his son play on senior night.
“It was interesting to watch Trey trying to balance in Clay County the expectations of being the son of the greatest Tiger ever,” Van Meter said.
Covington Catholic is located in far northern Kentucky. The Cincinnati skyline is visible from the gym’s parking lot. The team plays a lot of Cincinnati and Ohio schools and gets many of its players from Cincinnati.
“A lot of people within that community identify as being part of the Cincinnati, Ohio, community rather than the Kentucky community. However, they still compete for Kentucky state championships, which drives a lot of people nuts,” Van Meter noted.
“I tell people they are the Duke Blue Devils of Kentucky high school basketball. This is a program a lot of people love to hate because of their success and because of their perception that the kids that go there have been afforded a lot of opportunities in life that a lot of other people don’t get.”
Despite a passionate fan base and having some really good players, Kentucky high school basketball hasn’t produced the number of blue chip athletes that a lot of other states have.
The draw for Van Meter to shadow Taylor County during the 2015-2016 season was that the school had not one, but three high level and heavily recruited basketball players, including Quentin Goodin, who was an ESPN top 100 ranked player and the favorite to win the Kentucky Mr. Basketball award when the season started.
“He was the main draw for selecting that team,” Van Meter said. “They were the unanimous preseason number one team that year but they faltered due to a seven and seven start as they tried to get the chemistry right … They bounced and were the only one of my three teams that ended up making it to Rupp Arena that season.”
Invited guests at the meeting, included members of the boys and girls basketball teams at Williamsburg Independent School along with the high school cheerleaders.