Dunbar celebrates long-sought title
Paul Laurence Dunbar hoisted the big trophy and cut down the nets after winning the 99th Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen championship in Rupp Arena Sunday afternoon, and its celebration echoed through history.
Dunbar was battle-scarred as it survived a brutal post-season schedule. It beat Henry Clay in the 11th Region semifinals and Scott County in the finals to get to Rupp. Then it had to get through the gauntlet of Mercer County, Bowling Green and Newport Central Catholic to reach the championship game against Doss.
As it turned out, the last fight was the easiest. The Bulldogs delivered an early knockout punch. It rolled to a 26-7 lead over Doss and was never seriously threatened. It claimed the state title with its school-record 33rd victory in front of 10,091 fans, a large portion of whom were red-clad Dunbar faithful.
Dunbar became the fifth team from the 11th Region to win the state championship in the last 15 years, following Lafayette in 2001, LexCath in 2002, Scott County in 2007 and Madison Central in 2013.
Coach Scott Chalk said he implored his players before the finals, “How about we just go out there and start scoring well in the first quarter instead of waiting until the second half, and they all laughed. Sometimes coaching is simpler than you think.”
It’s simpler when you have talent, and everybody conceded that Dunbar had the most talent in the tournament.
Taveion Hollingsworth, a 6-foot-2 junior with an amazing calm about him, led the Bulldogs with 20 points against Doss. He totaled 86 in four games and earned MVP honors.
Does Hollingsworth ever get excited?
“Oh yeah, I get hyped,” he said. “But it’s all seriousness when we’re playing.”
Dunbar senior Darius Williams is an animated as Hollingsworth is stoic. Williams had 15 points against Doss, giving him 50 for the week. Nobody appreciated the Bulldogs’ title more than Williams, who has played varsity ball for them since he was an eighth-grader.
“I really never thought I’d be in this position,” he said. “It feels so good because we put in so much work to get here.”
Senior Jordan Lewis was an invaluable as Dunbar’s point guard. Senior Justin Kelley was the Bulldogs’ unsung hero on both ends of the court. And junior center Dontell Brown provided much-needed muscle inside.
Chalk, in his fourth year as Bulldogs’ coach, said he knew he had a team capable of winning a title, “but you really don’t think it’s going to happen. You’re just fighting through the doubt, wondering if it’s going to happen.
“But now that it has, it’s indescribable. It’s just amazing.”
Dunbar had been in the state finals before, but lost to Marion County in 1993 and Fairdale in 1994. Cameron Mills, who was a star on those runner-up teams, was among those celebrating in Rupp Arena on Sunday.
Mills said this championship “absolutely makes up” for not winning it in 1993 and ’94. He also said this championship is a tribute to the old Dunbar, too.
The old Dunbar, which was a powerhouse under Coach S.T. Roach, wasn’t allowed to compete in the KHSAA playoffs until after integration in the late 1950s. The Bearcats promptly won the 11th Region six times, and were Sweet Sixteen runners-up in 1961 to Ashland and in 1963 to Seneca.
Dunbar closed in 1965.
When the new Dunbar opened in 1990, Frank Watson, the first basketball coach, made it a point to tie the new Dunbar program to the old Dunbar program. The new gym was named after Roach, and Watson never missed a chance to honor the Bearcats.
“When we resurrected the Dunbar name and the Dunbar tradition in the early 1990s, I never felt we did enough because we didn’t win a state title,” Mills said. “Now that this team has done it, this makes up for it. This is for the old Dunbar, too.”
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