The Ohio Valley Hoops Classic showcase basketball event will tip off at the Patriot Center on the campus of Southern State University the weekend of December 2, 3, and 4. In all the fans will be treated to 12 games. Three on Friday night, Six on Saturday, and Three on Sunday afternoon. During the 12 weeks between now and then, The Times-Gazette will highlight one match-up each week as we lead up to the opening game. This week, the December 3rd high noon showdown between the Mason Comets and Jaguars of Cooper High School.
This game has the potential to be one of the best matchups of the entire event. In last season’s Ohio Valley Hoops Classic, the Mason Comets lost to Dublin Jerome on a tip-in at the buzzer. The Comets did not lose again until the District final against the Wilmington Hurricane, as they finished with a 22-2 record and were ranked as high as third in the state in the Division I AP poll. Across the river in Northern Kentucky, the Cooper Jaguars were having an equally impressive run. The Jags finished the season 24-5, but three of those losses came after injuries to star players Sean McNeil and Adam Kunkel.
The good news for OVHC fans is that both teams return the nucleus of those teams. Cooper brings back four starters. The aforementioned Kunkel is a 6’3” junior guard who already holds Division I offers from Samford and Central Arkansas. McNeil is an explosive athlete. The 6’4” senior has offers from highly regarded Division II schools Kentucky Wesleyan and Bellarmine. Throw in returning starter Chris McNeil (5’10” junior point guard) and defensive stopper Dontre Hendrix (6’3” senior) and it is easy to see why Coach Tim Sullivan and the Jaguars have their sights set on playing in Rupp Arena at the Kentucky State Tournament in March.
“We came up just short of our goal of a 9th region championship last season,” said Coach Sullivan. “With four starters returning, we feel we can make that dream a reality this year.
“The history and reputation of the Mason program speaks for itself. Playing them will be a challenge and it will only make us better.”
Coach Greg Richards’ Comets do indeed have a strong tradition. Richards won his 300th career game last season (304-152 in 20 years at Mason), and his teams have averaged over 15 wins a year during his 20 years as head man at Mason.
Standout Kyle LaMott did graduate last season and is now playing at Division II Northwood University. However, the Comets return star guard Eddie Puisis and forward Matt King. Both players were first team all-league performers a year ago. The 6’2” Puisis has offers from Division I schools Maine and Air Force. King, a 6’4” sharpshooter, is being courted by several Division II schools. Point guard Carlos Lewis and wing Ben Schutte also return to give the Comets good experience.
Mason will also get lots of help from an undefeated J.V. team of a year ago. Another interesting piece for the Comets may be freshman Max Land. Land is the son of former UC Bearcat Eugene Land, and while Richards was reluctant to single out a freshman, he hinted that the 6’2” frosh may indeed get some varsity playing time.
Event organizer Bennie Carroll said this was exactly the type of game that the Ohio Valley Hoops Classic tries to schedule.
“These two teams are about as evenly matched as you can be,” said Carroll. “Both have star players, and both have the potential to be playing deep into the tournament. It should be a great game.”
Mason and Cooper will play Saturday, December 3 with tip off at 12 noon.