Cards face tough test in first round of Sweet 16

Published 3:00 pm Tuesday, March 14, 2023

By Will Jones

George Rogers Clark vs. North Laurel is a championship matchup in the first round of the 2023 UK HealthCare Boys’ Basketball Sweet 16®.  The defending state champions are going up the most polarizing player in Kentucky high school basketball today, Reed Sheppard and North Laurel.

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These two teams met last season on December 28, 2021, when GRC won 77-64 in the Lexington Catholic holiday tournament.  Jerone Morton went for 27 points and Reed Sheppard had 25.

They play again Thursday at 8:30 p.m.

The Jaguars return to Rupp Arena for the second year in a row out of the 13th Region.

North Laurel had a tough first-round match against Harlan at the Corbin Arena. Ryan Davidson’s last possession three gave North Laurel the 55-52 win to move onto the semifinals.

That would be their most formidable opponent in the region tournament, as they swept through South Laurel 63-44 and Corbin 70-33 in the championship.

Last year, North Laurel was eliminated in the first round of the Sweet 16 after a 59-51 loss to Pikeville. Fans from all over the state came to watch Kentucky commit Reed Sheppard play at his future home at Rupp Arena. He scored just 14 points going five of 20 from the floor.

North Laurel’s last loss was on February 4 to Madison Central, where Sheppard was held to 12 points.   Before that was on January 21 to Covington Catholic, where Sheppard had just 3 points, they would later avenge the loss to the Colonels on February 14, winning 72-58.

While most people can name Reed Sheppard on the North Laurel roster, the Jags have a strong supporting cast.

Ryan Davidson is North Laurel’s 6’4” senior forward committed to play basketball at the Cumberlands next season. Davidson averaged 17.8 points per game this season and pulled down 5.8 rebounds.

His younger brother is freshman Reece Davison, who stands at 6’5” and averages a few points per game.

The Jags’ big man is 6’5”, 225-pound junior Gavin Chadwell. An outstanding tight-end on the football field with an offer from Kentucky, Chadwell transferred from Knox Central over the summer. The man in the middle is their third-leading scorer, with 11.3 points per game and 6.4 rebounds. He has not attempted a three-point shot all season and is shooting 75.6% from inside (93/123)   Chadwell has missed 14 games this season with a recurring knee injury.

Chase Keen is a 6’4” senior committed to play baseball at Northern Kentucky. He comes off the bench with 2.7 points per game and 3.1 rebounds.

Leading North Laurel is none other than Reed Sheppard. Sheppard is a 6’3” senior combo guard committed to play basketball at the University of Kentucky. Sheppard is averaging 22.1 points with 8.7 rebounds per game, leading the team. He is the fifth-best free throw shooter in the state, statistically, going 109 of 123 from the line for 88.6%. Sheppard shoots 48.7% from the floor and 39.5% from three. While not listed on KHSAA, Sheppard’s high basketball IQ gives him multiple assists and steals per game.

Sheppard is the favorite to win Mr. Basketball. In November 2021, he officially committed to Kentucky and signed a year later in 2022. He was named a McDonald’s All-American in January. His father, Jeff Sheppard, won two national championships at Kentucky in 1996 and 1998.

24/7 Sports says: “Sheppard is a throwback-style guard who is skilled and exceptionally sound fundamentally. He is a solid athlete but not dynamic or totally explosive. His attack is based on his ability to shoot the ball, make sound decisions, and process the game. He has a high and compact release that allows him to get his shot off and rates as one of the best free-throw shooters on any of the three major circuits at over 90%. He plays strong with the ball, is tight and efficient with it as a handler, has good use of both hands, and snaps his passes. He’s supremely confident in his approach and is capable of playing on and off the ball. Defensively, he’s going to rely more on his intellect, physicality, and toughness than he is on sheer footspeed.”