ONLINE EXTRA: 100 years of basketball -- The Ultimate 'What if?'

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By John Herndon

Basketball fans often talk about the “What ifs?” in their sport. 

Like “What if Mike Casey had not broken his leg in the summer before his senior year? Would a team of Dan Issel, Mike Pratt and Mike Casey have been unstoppable in 1970?”

Or “What if Terry Howard had remained perfect at the free throw line? Would Kentucky and Louisville have played for the national championship in 1975?”

Locally, the most common what if is “What if Anderson County had been in the Eighth Region all along? Chances are the Bearcats would have had many more state tournament trips than the four they have made since being moved to the Eighth Region prior to the 1970-71 season.”

The records give plenty of reason to believe that. Several Anderson teams in the 1960s defeated Shelby County, the team that was dominating the Eighth during that time frame. In 1970, for example, Anderson handled Shelby 83-67 in January, but in March, it was Shelby that went on to the Sweet 16 while Anderson stayed home after losing to Richmond Madison, in double overtime, at that, in the 11th Region tournament.

But in the 1950s it might have been even more pronounced. According to the best available records, Anderson often defeated Shelbyville, the Eighth Region power of the day, yet it was the Red Devils making multiple Sweet 16 trips while Anderson stayed home after losing in the rugged 11th Region.

Of course the same could be said about many schools even today. Scott County, which was one of the dominant teams in the Eighth Region from 1991 to 2005, has returned to Rupp Arena as 11th Region champs, but not as often as before.

However, the ultimate “What if?” might be “What if all of Anderson County's best players had been together in the mid-1950s?”

Take the 1955 season, for example.

At Anderson High, there were great high school players such as Bob Stratton and Dickie Russell. Many believe Russell could have been the best athlete to ever play sports at Anderson. Stratton played collegiately at Presbyterian College.

Western High went 27-4 that year, according to Bruce Springate, who was leading scorer on that team. He actually lived just across the county line, so you can't really count him, but Western had other great players like June Gritton. You can read more about that team in the Dec. 15 edition of The Anderson News.

Then at Lincoln Institute, Anderson County resident John Cunningham was leading the Tigers to a championship in the Kentucky High School Athletic League, organized for predominantly black schools. Other Anderson residents, such as Wallace Bean and Amos McKee, played key roles on that team.

It would be safe to say one county school would have been loaded, but what we don't know is how many other communities could have said the same thing.

But it is still fun to talk about.