6-8 Bowling Green center Ayers on the rise

Bowling Green's Joseph Ayers (top), now a 6-foot-8-inch junior center, shoots March 6 past Warren Central's Byron Carver during the boys' Region 4 Tournament championship game at E.A. Diddle Arena. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Daily News)

Bowling Green’s Joseph Ayers (top), now a 6-foot-8-inch junior center, shoots March 6 past Warren Central’s Byron Carver during the boys’ Region 4 Tournament championship game at E.A. Diddle Arena. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Daily News)

With high school basketball practice having started Monday, I wanted to pass along a few notes about Bowling Green junior center Joseph Ayers.

BG coach D.G. Sherrill is expecting Ayers, who stands 6 feet 8 inches, to draw some attention this season as he continues to progress. Based on conversations this summer, Western Kentucky is among those that Sherrill thinks will be keeping a close eye, he said.

“He’s a kid that I think will have a handful of schools watching him this year,” Sherrill said. “I think he has to have a strong year. He had a great summer, so there was some interest. He’s 6-8, he’s very athletic, he’s a great finisher. He’s a great student, so I think if he develops, there will be even more interest.”

Ayers, who grew quickly and weighs about 175 pounds “soaking wet,” Sherrill said, averaged 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds as a sophomore during BG’s run to a Region 4 title and state tournament appearance.

He shot 55.2 percent from the field – the highest mark on the team – while taking the eighth most shots for the Purples.

“He has to get better and get stronger,” Sherrill said. “He can’t help some being as thin as he is, so that’s not going to happen overnight. His physical strength has to get a lot better. He’s grown so fast. He could get a little more tenacious on defense, but he’s a great shot-blocker. He also needs a little more diversified offensive game. He’s a great free-throw shooter, so he’s got to be able to pull that 15-footer consistently.

“He already runs the floor very well and is a good on-the-ball guy, and he’s so intelligent that he p

icks things up very quickly. But the physicality of the college game is where he has room to grow.”

Ayers is the nephew of Randy Ayers, who played at Miami (Ohio) University and was later a head coach, most prominently with

Ohio State and the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers. He’s currently an assistant with the New Orleans Hornets.

Joseph Ayers will have the opportunity for some good exposure this season, as the Purples will be one of the favorites to win Region 4 again and will play in the prestigious King of the Bluegrass tournament in December at Fairdale High School in Louisville.

“He knows there’s a lot of work to do,” Sherrill said. “There’s a bright side for him if he can get things going the right way.”

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Lady Tops debut at Hilltopper Hysteria; Wright out at least six weeks

WKU freshman guard LeAsia Wright

WKU freshman guard LeAsia Wright

I had to miss Western Kentucky’s Hilltopper Hysteria basketball kick-off event tonight while I was covering high school football, but BGDN writer Chad Bishop was in Diddle Arena covering things, including the Lady Toppers.

The big news for the Lady Tops was that freshman guard LeAsia Wright is out for at least six weeks with an injured right thumb, coach Michelle Clark-Heard confirmed.

Heard told Chad Bishop that Wright, who had a sling on her right arm Friday night, had a pin placed in her right hand recently because of a thumb injury. Wright was active and participating on the first day of practice Oct. 1.

Wright averaged 9.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.2 assists per game during her senior season at Manual High School in Louisville. She was one of the Lady Toppers’ prime candidates to start at point guard.

Her absence leaves WKU with 10 healthy players on the roster, as sophomore guard Ileana Johnson was back from a sprained ankle that kept her out of practice early last week.

As for the Lady Toppers’ scrimmage, the Red team earned a 20-18 win over the Gray team. Sophomore guard Danay Fothergill led the Red squad with seven points, and freshman forward Mariah Sunkett had seven rebounds.

The Gray team was paced by nine points from sophomore Alexis Govan. Nine Lady Toppers scored in the game.

WKU opens its season Nov. 2 with an exhibition game against Harding University.

BG receiver Fant taking host of visits

Bowling Green junior receiver Nacarius Fant has been on a whirlwind recruiting tour in recent weeks.

Fant had a “good experience” on a visit to Ohio State last weekend, he said, as the Buckeyes logged a 63-38 win over Nebraska.

He also visited Illinois on Sept. 22 for its game against Louisiana Tech, as well as Kentucky on Sept. 15 for the Wildcats’ overtime loss to Western Kentucky.

“I’m just trying to make it to a few places,” Fant said. “Next year, I’ll get down to committing. This year, I’m just focusing on school and taking in everything.”

Fant has 665 receiving yards and nine touchdowns this season. He currently has scholarship offers from Illinois and WKU.

“They showed me around the facilities and I talked to coach (Tim) Beckman,” Fant said of his visit to Illinois. “With them offering me, it felt good to get up there and look around at things.”

Fant will also take a trip this weekend to Vanderbilt for the Commodores’ game against Florida, he said. He doesn’t plan to make any serious decisions until next season.

“I just want to see the coaches and the campus and the facilities, and see if they’ve got fans that really care about football,” he said. “It’s little things, actually, to see what fits me the best.”

Fant said he’s also expecting WKU coach Willie Taggart to be in attendance Friday as Bowling Green visits cross-town rival Warren Central.

Bowling Green vs. Warren Central: The Purples’ side

I visited Tuesday with the Bowling Green Purples (7-0) to talk about their cross-town showdown Friday at undefeated district rival Warren Central.

I spoke for a few minutes with BG coach Kevin Wallace and junior receiver Nacarius Fant. Their comments are available below.

KEVIN WALLACE, coach

Magnitude of BG-Warren Central rivalry: “The fun that has been my experience of being a part of the Bowling Green program – if you go back to my first few years in the early to mid-90s, there were huge games and huge rivalries when Franklin was really good. There were good rivalries with Hopkinsville and Owensboro. Now it’s Warren Central. I think the great accomplishment of this program is that we’ve always been a part of it. We haven’t had those down periods where we’re not a part of the marquee games in this area. I think when our coaches and players are done doing this, they’ll look back and really appreciate that, because there are very few public schools that can go through the longevity of success that we’ve been able to have.”

BG’s start to the season: “Do we have talent? Yeah, we’ve got talent. But to put that many new players on the stage and expect them to perform at a level that lets us conquer our schedule would’ve been an unrealistic expectation. I thought we came further quicker than I really thought we could. I said in the preseason at a function that Warren Central should be better than us when we start playing in August. It was my hope that we could get better to the point that in October, we have a chance to beat them. I think we’ve gotten there. We’ve got the chance.”

Central’s offense: “They’ve got five seniors on the offensive line, a three-year starter at quarterback, skilled athletes everywhere. At the high school level, it doesn’t get much better than that. If you had to add up ingredients that it takes to have a successful offense, I think they’ve got everything you need.”

Central’s defense: “Defensively is where they’ve got a lot of people back. They have a lot of experience and good size, guys that move really well. You don’t teach speed, and they’ve got guys that really attack the football.”

Keys to the game: “Games of this magnitude are often won or lost on turnover margin and mistakes in the kicking game. … If we’ll do a good job taking care of the ball, take it away from them and be sound in the kicking game, I like our chances. If anyone thinks one team’s offense is much better than another team’s defense, or vice versa, in this game, I think they’re wrong.”

Possibly playing again in postseason: “Chances are we’re going to play twice, and the other one’s more important. When we walk off the field Friday night, win or lose, we need to have an understanding that we’ve got to do it again and do it better.”

NACARIUS FANT, receiver

On Central game: “Winning or losing, we don’t look at this week as claiming our season. We just want to come into the game, play our hardest and try to get the win. If we don’t, we’re not going to put our heads down. We really just want to get to that last game at Western Kentucky, and this game’s another step toward that.”

The Dragons’ strengths: “They’re really good, I give them their props. They’re very athletic, and with them having more of a passing game this year, we’ll have to watch out for whatever they bring.”

Bowling Green vs. Warren Central: The Dragons’ side

Undefeated Bowling Green and Warren Central meet at 7 p.m. Friday in a highly anticipated district showdown at WCHS.

Both teams enter at 7-0 and are coming off bye weeks. I visited Warren Central on Monday to talk with coach Mike Rogers and senior quarterback Michael Bush about the match-up. Their comments are available below.

Tomorrow, I’ll have comments from the Bowling Green camp about the game.

MIKE ROGERS, coach

On implications of playing Bowling Green: “It’s a tough challenge, that’s for sure. It always builds up to be the biggest game of the year. People have been talking about it since June, and in my case, since last year’s playoff game. It’s a big moment, cross-town rival – probably the two best teams in 5A. It sure means a lot to the playoff implications. We want to go out and compete better than we did last year and compete for a district championship.”

On BG’s offense, including junior QB Devin Hayes: “He reminds me of (graduated quarterback) Scooter (Hollis) when he was younger, except they feature throwing the ball a lot more. They’ve got really good receivers. The Fant kid, we won’t see one better than him. They’ve got speed on offense, and the Hayes kid has grown up real fast and makes pretty good decisions with the football. They complement that with a good run game, so it’s a big challenge.”

On the success of the teams the last few years: “Everywhere I’ve been, we’ve had a huge rival that was in town. At Graves with Mayfield, and even back to Nelson County, we had Bardstown that was really good. I’m kind of used to it. I don’t get too wound up … so it’s good for the students and the fans, and it’s exciting for the coaches. I really enjoy preparing for such a quality opponent.”

MICHAEL BUSH, quarterback

On Bowling Green: “They’re a good team, obviously. They went 15-0 last year and won a state championship. We just have to come out with intensity for all four quarters.”

On playing in such highly anticipated games: “These are the best ones. These are the ones you’ve got to love. It means a lot with the district and homefield advantage. It’s all a big deal.”

On how the Dragons used the off week: “We’re getting everything together mentality. We’re resting, and for the people that are a little banged up, it’s good to get that off week. It’s a chance to get everybody right and prepared.”

Former Greenwood QB Jeff Witthuhn to travel with Kentucky on Saturday

Jeff Witthuhn, UK freshman quarterback

Jeff Witthuhn, UK freshman quarterback

Former Greenwood quarterback Jeff Witthuhn, now a freshman walk-on at the University of Kentucky, will travel with the injury-plagued Wildcats on Saturday for their game at Arkansas.

UK coach Joker Phillips, a Franklin native, confirmed during his Monday news conference that Witthuhn will join the team for the road trip.

Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith, the team’s starting signal-caller, is out after having ankle surgery. Freshman QB Patrick Towles, who played for the first time last weekend against Mississippi State, is out this week and now week-to-week with a high ankle sprain, Phillips told reporters Monday.

That leaves the Wildcats with two scholarship options – freshman Jalen Whitlow, the likely starter at Arkansas, and senior Morgan Newton.

In order to create some depth behind Newton, who’s had shoulder issues, Witthuhn will be along for the ride, Phillips said.

Witthuhn is the only other quarterback on the roster. He’s not available for comment, as it’s UK’s team policy to deny interview requests for freshman that haven’t played in a game.

“Again, (Newton’s) got to be the backup with us only having two – and then we’ll take, on the road with us, a young redshirt, or I mean a true freshman, another true freshman, Witthuhn,” Phillips said. “So we’ll have three quarterbacks there, three guys that, two that have played and one that has not played. But we just feel like we have to take Witthuhn with us to help us get out of the game, possibly.”

The 6-foot-3-inch, 235-pound Witthuhn threw for 1,527 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior at Greenwood in 2011 and rushed for 576 yards and 14 scores.

“He wanted to go to UK and give it a try, and he always thought he could compete at quarterback,” Greenwood coach Greg Cavanah said Monday. “I hope injuries stay away from them, but I’m tickled to death for him. It’s a great opportunity, and I know Jeff will take full advantage of it.”

But does Phillips think Witthuhn is ready for the opportunity? The coach answered that by poking a little fun at Witthuhn’s facial hair, which he donned as a full beard throughout his senior season at Greenwood.

“I know last week (offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach) Randy (Sanders) had three quarterbacks in his quarterback warm-ups, and none of them were shaving except for Witthuhn, and he had been shaving since the sixth grade or so,” Phillips said, laughing.

Kentucky kicks off at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday at Arkansas.

Lady Toppers complete first practice of the season

The Western Kentucky women’s basketball team held its first practice of the season Monday.

Women’s basketball teams can begin practicing 40 days before their regular season opener and can have 30 practices during that span. I watched the final 30 minutes or so of practice, during which the major emphasis was getting up and down the court and executing in transition offense.

The team has 11 players, 10 of which practiced Monday. Sophomore guard Ileana Johnson sat out with an ankle sprain, according to coach Michelle Clark-Heard.

We talked after practice with Heard, sophomore guard Alexis Govan and freshman guard Micah Jones.

A few of their comments are available below. I’ll have more in Tuesday’s Daily News and more on recruiting later this week.

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD

On the team’s fast tempo: “I impress it every day. We don’t walk anywhere in practice. We’re trying to put in a motion offense that’s not complicated for them, but lets us get up the floor in transition and score out of different sets.”

On her first practice at WKU: “I’m super-excited. I was just looking forward to today and working, and I was really impressed with our girls with our intensity and how hard we worked. This is one of the days I’ve been dreaming for, and I think the girls were just as excited as I was.”

Playing fast to make up for lack of size: We talk about energy, passion and the different things we want to get better at. You all look at the roster. You know we’re not tall. We don’t have a lot of size, so we’re going to focus on defense and things we can do and getting good at them.”

On Johnson sitting out: “We don’t need anybody to go down. We need all our bodies.”

MICAH JONES

On first day: “We’re working hard to get better every day. The upperclassmen are really leading us and showing us what to do. I think we worked hard and improved.”

On style of play: “We’re going to be a big defensive team, so we’re going to try to get steals and push the ball. We’re a bunch of guards. We’re going to be undersized, so we have to push the ball.”

ALEXIS GOVAN

On being a leader as a sophomore: “It’s going to be an adjustment, but we’re ready to take on any role. We just want to win games. It was energy out of nowhere today. Everybody was so excited and going hard, and we got better.”

“I loved seeing everybody have as much energy as me, or me feeding off them because they have more energy than me.”

“We’re going to get in people on defense. We’re not letting anything go by us. You’re not getting in the lane without getting roughed up a little bit. And we’re pushing, so you better be ready to run with us.”