Alex Matthews, Kendall Wingler and Whitney Hay sat there waiting for two names to be called.

And there is a simple reason why the trio were in that specific position.

They were great high school basketball players.

The Division I signees were in the hunt for Kentucky’s top basketball honor — Mr. Basketball and Miss Basketball.

Dayvion McKnight from Collins and Maddie Scherr fron Ryle were the winners, but don’t for one second think the three locals didn’t deserve to be there.

Matthews played four games as a John Hardin freshman and grabbed three rebounds.

That’s exactly a start one would expect from a Mr. Basketball candidate.

How did the three get to where they were sitting on June 28?

Hard work.

And lots of it.

There have been plenty of high school players who transformed their game throughout their careers, but what Matthews did from those three games and four rebounds to concluding his career with 1,747 points and 1,103 rebounds was rather amazing.

Thirty-six games after those four games as a freshman, he was nine points away from averaging a double-double as a sophomore.

Matthews shot better from the floor (150-for-230, 65.2 percent) than the free throw line (52-for-90, 57.8 percent) and he attempted four 3s.

His job for the Bulldogs rarely took him outside 15 feet.

Matthews took 125 more shots as a junior and hit 63.4 percent of his 355 attempts. His free throw shooting went to 63.3 percent (126-for-199) and upped his rebounding average from 10.1 to 10.7 per game.

Matthews took 20 3s and hit eight as Coach Jared McCurry counted on him a lot more as an offensive weapon and every opponent knew who Alex Matthews was.

His senior year, though.

He scored 44.7 percent of his career point total.

He took 23 more free throws than his junior year and made 57 more, jumping his average to 82.4 percent.

He shot 40 percent from 3 as a sophomore on 20 tries. He shot 41 percent as a senior and shot it 80 more times.

That improvement isn’t just because.

It isn’t through osmosis.

It’s through hard work.

Matthews took 10.14 shots per game as a junior and that increased to 13.97 as a senior. His points per game went from 17.5 to 23.0 as the Bulldogs went 65-5 those two years.

The University of Evansville recruit upped his free throw percent by 19.1 percent from his junior year to senior year and slowly lengthened his outside game to shoot 41 percent from 3, taking 100 of them as a senior after hoisting up four as a sophomore.

He was willing to take the shot.

He was willing to take the game over.

He was willing to fail.

He didn’t want to, mind you, but he was willing to.

If you’re not willing to fail in sports, go do something else.

You have to be willing to know that the game-winning shot or game-tying shot may not go in.

It doesn’t stop you from taking it because all those hours of hard work taking 3 after 3 after 3 after 3, shooting free throw after free throw after free throw means your confidence tells you the ball is going in.

• Wingler, who is headed to Eastern Kentucky, finished her senior year at Meade County holding a zillion records.

OK, not a zillion, but a bunch.

She is the leading scorer in school history, male or female, with 3,089 points. That puts her 21st on the state’s all-time list. She also poured in 355 3s in her career, good for seventh on the all-time list, and is in the top 10 in most 3s taken for a career with more than 890.

Wingler led the state in four categories through the suspension of the Sweet 16 — points (861), points per game (861), 3s (120) and 3s per game (4.3). She was second in free throw percentage (87.6, 155-for-177) and fourth in 3s percentage (44.8).

She took 37 more 3s as a senior from her junior year and made 33 more, going from 37.7 percent (87-for-231) to 44.8 percent (120-for-268).

She took 35 less free throws and made seven less, going from 76.4 percent (162-for-212) to 87.6 percent.

That can only be done through hours and hours of sweat.

That can only be done by basically living in a gym throughout the summer.

That can only be done because you put in the work.

Wingler averaged 25.1 points per game as a freshman and that went up to 30.8 as a senior.

Excuse me?

Her shooting percentage went from 43.8 percent as a junior (253-for-577) to 49.1 percent as a senior (293-for-597).

Not only was she willing to shoot it, she was also willing to learn from coaches about taking the crucial shots.

The bottom line is that shooters shoot.

It means that sometimes shots are forced and aren’t always the best decisions, but that comes with the package.

Wingler shot the ball more than 2,200 times as a member of the Lady Waves, made approximately 48 percent of those shots and somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 percent of those shots were 3s.

That’s confidence.

That’s also a lot of hard work.

• Hay left Elizabethtown as the program’s second-leading scorer behind Erin Boley and that’s saying something considering the amount of talent that has worn the name across their chest.

They are the only two to score more than 2,000 points.

She scored 63 points as an eighth-grader, played in 27-of-35 games and admittedly wasn’t the most confident person in the room.

That slowly changed and it did so with more hard work.

When she stepped on the court as a starter her freshman season, Hay proceeded to start the next 118 straight games until an injury the fourth game of her senior year.

Hay shot 31.1 percent from 3 as a freshman and that went to 42.4 percent as a junior.

That’s not by accident.

She shot 64.3 percent from the free throw line as a freshman and was a touch above 80 percent the next three seasons combined.

Hay scored 1,477 points her sophomore and junior years and shot 53 percent from the floor.

She had no problem taking a shot or two if the offense was stagnant.

She ran the floor, passed the ball, stole a pass or five and grabbed a rebound or 12.

The Belmont University signee played out of position here and there and did what was needed.

Not everyone does that.

She played the 1, 2, 3 or 4 and maybe the 5 a time or two.

Hay jacked a step-back 3, drove the lane and dished and buried a free throw here and there as the Lady Panthers were the team to beat.

She appreciated the fact the other team wanted nothing more than to beat her squad and she relished in the fact that few did.

Hay led the team in scoring her final three seasons as Elizabethtown went 91-14.

• The trio have left some big shoes to fill and the only way that may happen is through hard work, confidence and willingness to fail.

They deserved to be in the running for Mr. and Miss Basketball.

Matthews was a two-time Area Player of the Year, an award Hay won as a junior and Wingler as a senior.

That is only done through blood, sweat and tears.

Mostly sweat, though.

Mike Mathison can be reached at 270-505-1758 or mmathison@thenewsenterprise.com.

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