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Thursday, December 27, 2018

Highlands Boys Hoops Has Shown Plenty of Promise

Bluebirds Coming Around This Year

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior Ben Sisson (30) goes up for a shot against Hamilton (Ohio) on Saturday.
Following the season-opening 77-28 win at Boone County, one huge thought went through the mind.

"That was the best I've seen them play in the seven seasons I've covered them."

The Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team ventured to Ryle and pulled off another win in two days. I told Head Coach Kevin Listerman my thought after the Boone County win that Friday night after the Bluebirds moved to 2-0 on the season.

When Listerman took the job in 2013, he stated his goal was for his enthusiasm for the game to rub off on the players. As a point guard, Listerman guided the Northern Kentucky University Norse to four consecutive NCAA Division II Tournament berths and back-to-back national championship game appearances in 1996 and 1997. Listerman wanted the Bluebirds to experience similar post-season successes.

It has taken some time. Highlands finished 13-15 last year for the best record in Listerman's six years as head coach. The Bluebirds came up just short of their first 9th Region Tournament appearance since 2014 in a 61-59 defeat to Newport Central Catholic in the 36th District semifinals.

The first six teams played hard. They unfortunately struggled with consistency. Last year's team missed several opportunities down the stretch thus falling short of their first winning record since 2010.

For different reasons, Highlands has had consistency in either the outside or the inside game, but not both. That allowed defenses to focus on one area and force the other to beat them.

But the balance has been there so far this year. Senior post Ben Sisson has been dominant averaging 18 points and just under nine rebounds per game.

But Highlands has also been consistent outside meaning teams can't double or even triple Sisson a lot. Sophomore point guard Sam Vinson averages 10.5 points per game and senior Ryan Leigh averages 8.4. A number of others such as seniors Will Salmon, Alex Starkey, Grady Cramer, Tristan Thompson, Jack Hegge and Nate Roberts have had their moments this year.

Highlands has recorded a huge win over Covington Catholic this year. The Bluebirds last beat the Colonels in 2010.

The thing that has eluded the Bluebirds lately in their losses to Newport and Hamilton (Ohio) is defensive lapses. But Listerman said a few days of practice should fix some things there.

Highlands still needs to prove it can make it out of the 36th District Tournament. The Bluebirds take on Newport Central Catholic at home on Jan. 22.

NewCath is struggling at 4-6 after losing its top seven scorers from last year. But the Thoroughbreds have three players averaging in double figures and have not lost to Highlands since 2010.

Highlands last won a district championship in 2008. The boys basketball team was the only one of seven 36th District teams at Highlands to not win a district championship last year.

They have four games in Florida before coming back to Kentucky. They get to play at BB&T Arena on Jan. 4 against Scott.

Editor's Note: G. Michael Graham has covered Highlands athletics for Fort Thomas Matters since the 2012-2013 school year.

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