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Forty wins are special, but they're meaningless starting Monday

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By John Herndon

By the end of this week, the basketball teams at Anderson County High School could have a combined 40 wins.

That's quite a winter, one that I am not sure has ever happened during the regular season at Anderson County. In 1997, the Lady Bearcats were 21-3 heading into tournament play and the Bearcats 18-5 on their way to a berth in the Sweet 16. There might be other big seasons - 1975? 1985? - but a winter with 40 regular season wins is rare in Anderson County history.

A year ago, the number was 38. The Lady Bearcats were 20-8 heading into the post-season while the Bearcats had surprised nearly everyone, except themselves, going 18-6.

It would have to be a perfect week to make 40 this year, but if that happens, the Lady Bearcats will finish the regular season at 21-7 while the Bearcats will be standing at 19-4.

And starting Monday, they will both be 0-0.

It might be a clich but the old saying about everybody being equal when March comes around is true. Or at least, almost 100 percent true. Even though the Gregorian calendar says that Monday will be Feb. 25, the hoops calendar, the most widely followed one in these parts, says it is March.

You know. March Madness.

And it's madness simply because, at the high school level at least, everyone really is 0-0 again. Granted, some teams are more equal than others, but theoretically, everyone has a chance at winning the big prize when district tournament action starts.

For Anderson County, that will be Tuesday, Feb. 26 when the Bearcats take on Eminence in the district semifinals. To say that the Bearcats will be heavily favored is akin to saying Beshear won by a decisive margin in November.

One night later, the Anderson girls will be playing a Spencer County team that is vastly different from the one Anderson shellacked back in December. Spencer has won 7 of its last 10, including a stretch of winning 7 of 8.

From Monday night until March 11, when most of the boys' regional champions will be determined, there will be a lot of smiles. For some teams, those that have no chance of playing in Rupp or Diddle arenas, there might be the satisfaction of pulling an upset or even simply playing a big boy closer than expected.

But for the most part, there will be gallons of tears shed over the next two-plus weeks. Many dream but the reality is that only 32 teams - 16 boys' and 16 girls' - will experience that joy that players such as Winston Bennett, Phil Cox and many other Kentucky high school greats never did.

Locally, Anderson County has produced 5 first-team all-staters since the school was formed in 1949. Three - Jimmy Dan Conner, Jonathan Beasley and Kathy Goins - made it through the region with their teams. Two - Orbrey Gritton and Will Carlton - saw Scott County shatter their dreams in the final seconds of a regional tournament game.

There are some that will contend that for most teams, just getting to the Sweet 16 is tougher than winning it.

Long-time Bearcat fans will remember 1970 when Anderson was, on paper at least, a slight favorite to win the 11th Region. In the regional semi-finals, the Bearcats dropped a double-overtime classic to a Richmond Madison team they had beaten by 12 points just two weeks before.

The next year, Anderson had been moved to the Eighth Region, but was down at the half in the regional championship game with Conner, the state's Mr. Basketball, in foul trouble.

In 1975, heavily-favored Anderson was in deep trouble against Taylorsville in the first round of the 29th District Tournament before Dagger McKee came off the bench to spark the Bearcats to a win.

In 1997, the Lady Bearcats, ranked number one in the region going in, suffered a cold-shooting night against Gallatin County and went home.

Why the history lesson? It is said that those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. It's the time of the year when you are one and done. With the exception of the district championship game, from here on out there are no more practices to correct what went wrong after a loss.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Bobby Plump, one of the great names in Indiana high school basketball. If you don't know the name, he and his Milan High teammates were the inspiration behind the classic movie "Hoosiers." An outspoken critic of Indiana's decision to go to a multi-class system about 10 years ago, Plump noted that what one thing that made a single-class system, like Kentucky's, so unpredictable was, "You have to beat your rivals."

In other words, to advance, a team has to beat those that know it best. It is incredibly difficult.

It might have gotten even tougher for the Bearcat boys Monday when the Rating the State rankings were released in the Lexington Herald-Leader. For the first time in over a decade, Anderson was at the top of the Eighth Region.

The Courier-Journal Litkenhous Ratings had not been released at press time.

That Anderson was ranked no. 1 in the region is not a surprise to those who have followed the game all season. Anderson is the only one with a perfect record against regional competition. Many coaches and media types have tagged Anderson as the team to beat and the ranking has to be a compliment to the program.

The Lady Bearcats are ranked third in the region.

But come Monday, it means nothing. One slip-up and 40 wins quickly turn into countless tears.