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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Commentary: Walz-Richey, Creech notoriety should go beyond hoops

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Jenkins senior Whitney Creech (above video) and Highlands Head Coach Jaime Walz-Richey, shown at the top right in the above photo after Highlands won the 36th District crown this year, will forever be linked to the most hallowed record in Kentucky basketball history. But they should be known for their unselfishness first and foremost.
They know they'll forever be though of by the numbers 5,527 and 4,948 when people hear their names in this basketball-crazed state.

But Jenkins Lady Cavaliers senior Whitney Creech and Highlands Ladybirds basketball Head Coach Jaime Walz-Richey should be known for their unselfish characters first and foremost. It may be hard to see that because they come from two completely different parts of Kentucky both geographically and culturally unless you've had the honor of meeting them both like I have. But they've displayed it a number of ways throughout their lives.

Richey displayed it really well on Feb. 2 of this past season after Creech broke Richey's state record for the most career points in Kentucky high school basketball history with a career-high 71 points in a 90-87 victory at Paintsville. Richey was one of the first to text Creech to congratulate her and echoed the sentiments on Twitter.

"She was a great player from what I've heard," Creech said. "So it was an honor for her to take the time out of her day to text me and congratulate me."

Throughout the season, Creech took a humble approach toward the mark by focusing on team goals instead of the record. That even continued after Creech broke it and people wondered how many points she'd finish with.

A prime example came in the final regular season game of her career. She scored 42 points in a 65-60 loss at Betsy Layne. While many would be happy with that total, Creech said it was not a good game for her because Jenkins loss. She fouled out in the loss.

Jenkins Head Coach Ashley Addington cited another example of Creech's unselfishness. In doubleheader wins over Cordia, Jenkins seventh-graders Abigail and Ariana Bentley saw action and scored.

"I saw more joy in (Creech's) face when they scored than when she scored her 5,000th (career) point (at Perry County Central on Feb. 4 in an 86-82 loss)," Addington said. "She loves to see her team do well."

But the biggest display of unselfishness Creech showed came in a decision she and her family made before she hit high school. That was staying in Jenkins to play with friends she grew up with. Creech was one of six seniors on the team this past year.

While transferring to other schools often works out for some players, Creech will forever be remembered for helping Jenkins go places the program had not been in a while. The Lady Cavaliers finished 18-15, made the 14th Region Tournament for the first time since 2008 and made the 14th Region title game for the first time since 1997.

"It's the way that I was raised just to put others first instead of myself," Creech said. "(I have) that servant attitude. When I see my teammates score, it makes me feel a lot better. It takes the pressure off me. If they succeed, I succeed."

Richey had a lot of postseason success during her playing days. She had 1,354 assists for her career and helped Highlands to three straight 9th Region crowns in 1994, 1995 and 1996 respectively her sophomore, junior and senior seasons.

Richey's husband Bert gave a great example of his wife's unselfishness years ago. At the family home, Richey's 1996 Gatorade Player of the Year trophy is in basement. But pictures with former players grace the refrigerator.

Richey just completed her 14th season as the head coach at her alma mater. The Ladybirds are 276-148 during that time with five district championships. Highlands lost to Ryle in the region semifinals this past year. Richey and staff will soon start on next season.

"We lost three seniors that had a four-year record of 101-30," Richey said. "Izzy (Schultz) did not play her freshman year. We have a lot of work to do before next season. We will work on individual improvement for all players in all areas as we lost our leading rebounder and about 35 (points per game) to graduation. Everyone will have to improve their game and we'll need others to step up."

Richey continues to receive awards even though her playing days have been done for almost 20 years. She received her 13th Hall of Fame induction recently.

Creech is moving on to softball season before attending college at Western Kentucky University. Richey helped WKU to three NCAA Tournament appearances in her four years there.

But in addition to her basketball achievements, Richey has gone on to become a wonderful mother, teacher and wife. Creech will do well with those roles should they come her way one day as because of her unselfishness.

Regardless, the world could use a little more of these two.

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