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Cooper’s team leader questionable one day before boys’ basketball rematch with CovCath

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

A doctor will decide if the leading scorer on the Cooper boys’ basketball team gets to play against Covington Catholic in the feature game of the Bluegrass-Buckeye Charity Classic at 8:30 p.m. Friday at Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena.

Cooper senior guard Adam Kunkel sat out his team’s last two games after having surgery to repair a broken nose. He has a doctor’s appointment on Thursday afternoon to see if the injury has healed well enough for him to return to action.

Cooper coach Tim Sullivan, center, hopes to have senior guard Adam Kunkel back in action for Friday’s game against CovCath.

Kunkel has a team-high 21.3 scoring average for the Jaguars, who were voted No. 1 in the latest Northern Kentucky coaches poll. CovCath started the season in the top spot, but the Colonels dropped to No. 2 after a 62-59 loss to Cooper during a holiday tournament game on Dec. 23.

In their first two games without Kunkel in the lineup, the Jaguars edged Boone County, 62-58, last Friday and lost to Simon Kenton, 60-58, on Tuesday.

“A lot of people think it’s just his scoring (we miss),” said Cooper coach Tim Sullivan. “It’s not so much his scoring, it’s his leadership, it’s his confidence on the floor, his ball-handling, as well as his defense. I don’t know if people know it or not, but he’s turned into a pretty good defensive player. We miss him in all phases of the game, we really do.”

Kunkel, a Belmont University recruit, did some light workouts during practice on Wednesday wearing a protective plastic mask over his nose. If he is given permission to play on Friday, it will bolster his team’s confidence for the rematch with CovCath that’s expected to draw a large crowd.

Cooper guard Adam Kunkel

The last time the two teams played at BB&T Arena, Cooper upset CovCath, 51-38, in the 9th Region championship game last March. The Colonels are looking for a payback after that loss and the one in December, but it won’t be easy whether Kunkle plays or not. The Jaguars play team defense so well that they’re allowing only 49.3 points per game, the third lowest average in the state.

“We know we have to sit down and guard them and we’ve got to win in the paint,” coach Sullivan said. “We know they’ve got the size factor so it’s a matter of winning (rebounds) on the glass for us. If we win on the glass, it gives us a chance to win the game.”

CovCath’s lineup includes 7-foot-1 center Jake Walter and 6-foot-7 junior Nick Thelen, but they had combined totals of just 10 points and six rebounds in a 47-46 loss to Winton Woods of Cincinnati on Tuesday. The team’s leading scorers were senior guards C.J. Fredrick and Aiden Ruthsatz with a combined total of 31 points.

Cooper’s veteran lineup includes seniors Chris McNeil, Braydon Runion and junior Blaine Walters, who are all listed as guards. Walters scored 20 points in his team’s win over CovCath last December.

“I joke a lot about both teams knowing what the other team does,” Sullivan said. “They know what our strengths are and we know what their strengths are, and both teams try to take those away.”

The other two games on the Bluegrass-Buckeye Charity Classic schedule for Friday will also be between teams ranked among the top 10 in the Northern Kentucky coaches poll. Holmes will take on Newport Central Catholic at 5:30 p.m. and it will be Scott vs. Simon Kenton at 7 p.m.

Advance tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students at each of the six participating schools. All tickets at the door will be $10. Parking at the arena will be $5. To purchase tickets on online, click here.

Proceeds from the 17th annual classic will be donated to charities on both sides of the Ohio River that serve our community — Ruth Lyon’s Children’s Fund, Neediest Kids of All, St. Elizabeth Foundation and Chicks & Chucks, a breast cancer support group.

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