13th Region Kentucky High School Boys' Basketball Preview (2006-07)
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13th Region Kentucky High School Boys' Basketball Preview (2006-07)
By Les Dixon
Different year, same expectations.
Gone is last year’s Mr. Basketball Walt Allen, but returning is Notre Dame signee Ty Proffitt and sharpshooters Jordan Hammonds and Trey Smith.
And yes, many are already penciling the Cardinals (28-6 last season) in to represent the 13th Region at Rupp Arena in March, but Wright believes it’s way too early to think about the Sweet 16.
“Right now, things are going OK, but we have had quite a bit of sickness and we’ve been banged up a bit, so we’ve had to get over that first,” he said.
“The thing I like about this team is that they have goals set, but they are team goals,” he added. “I say this every year. It’s a different team from last year with different players. I think we can compete with anybody and
our guys know if we want to have the success that we have had in the past then they will have to work hard for it.”
South Laurel is coming off an Elite Eight performance from last season and is only two years removed from a state championship.
“I think that you have to put South Laurel at the top of the region until someone can prove things different,” Corbin coach Tony Pietrowski said.
“After South Laurel, there is a lot of room for debate on who has the second best team. I would think that on any given night teams one through 10 could beat each other, so it should make for a very interesting and exciting year for the team and fans.
“We still have a long way to go before we are a complete team,” Pietrowski added. “I think that it’s important that we maintain a focus throughout the year. We will need to improve each and everyday in practice and carry those things over to our games.”
The Cardinals return a solid nucleus with Proffitt, Hammonds and Smith returning along with players such as Mark Conley, Casey Hamm, Matt Gilbert, Matt St. John and Billy Jones and company that makes South Laurel the team to beat in the 13th Region heading into the season.
“We return some solid athletes,” Wright said. “The guys know what their goals are and they’re working hard in practice to reach them.
We’re going to miss Walt just like any senior that graduates, but the most thing we’ll miss from his absence will be his leadership,” he added. “The good thing is that we’ve got guys stepping up in that leadership role and we need that.”
Though South Laurel is the clear-cut favorite to represent the 13th Region for the second year in a row at Rupp Arena, other teams have different plans.
Eddie Whitaker’s Bell County Bobcats enter the season as one of the top teams in the 13th Region along with Jackson County, Corbin, Cumberland and Pineville.
Of course, you can’t count out teams such as North Laurel and Clay County either.
Jaguar coach Jim Conway believes his team might have a say in the end, if his team improves throughout the season.
“Considering our name hasn’t been mentioned at all as doing anything this season in the 13th Region, I guess we could be considered a sleeper in some people’s eyes or a jaguar in hibernation,” he said. “South Laurel will obviously be the favorite until they are knocked off by someone. Returning the trio that they have coming back from their previous teams will be hard to match up with. I look for Bell County to do well this season and make some noise,” Conway added. “I would also have to put Jackson County in the mix. As far as we go, I would have to put us somewhere in the top 10, but nowhere near the top three as of yet.”
But Conway believes his team can’t be overlooked or counted out.
“Our goal is to improve day in and day out and see how things unfold,” he said. “I expect my kids to go out and play hard night in and night out and if we can do that, then I think we will be successful. As a coach, you have to say that your team has a chance of getting to the state tournament. If you didn’t believe, then what would be the
motivation?,” he added.
Many people believe Brandon Elam’s Knox Central Panthers could be another sleeper team that might pull off an upset or two by the time district tournament play rolls around.
Elam seems to be a firm believer in his team.
“I have never went into any season not thinking we had a good chance,” he said. “I guess that is the competitor side of me. November 28th South Laurel will come in here into our brand new gym and everybody will plan on them drilling us just like they have the last two years. I will walk out on that floor planning on winning just like we plan to do every night.”
But with that said, the 13th Region is South Laurel’s to lose.
“The one thing we have going for us that we have several guys on the team that have been there,” he added. “That does help. That experience helps. We can dip down into that reservoir occasionally and pull out those past experiences. They won’t win games. You can’t not work and let your past experiences help you win a game, but you can use that occasionally to remind you of where you have been and what you have done.”
Wright believes the 13th Region teams have all improved. He thinks the district and region could be more competitive than it has been in a long time.
I think our district and our region will be harder than they were last year,” he said. “The teams have all improved. There will be a lot more teams in our region that will be more competitive than they were last year.”
1. South Laurel (28-6) - The defending 13th Region champions are the clear-cut favorites in both the 50th District and 13th Region this season.
With Mr. Basketball favorite and Notre Dame signee Ty Proffitt (13.0) returning along with Jordan Hammonds (14.1) and Trey Smith (11.6), many teams are going to find out that South Laurel is going to be tough to beat again this season.
"It’s a whole new team for us,” Wright said. “We got three guys back that played a lot, but it s totally different team. This team will play a little different and do things a little different.”
“I think it is easy to expect us to pick up where we left off last year, which is totally unrealistic,” he added. “This is a different team. Some of the same players have different roles. It is going to take us a while to get where we want to be. I think before it’s over we can have a really good team, but there is going to be some transition time to get us playing the
way we want to play just because it is a different kind of team.”
Wright said the Cardinals will continue to work and become a great basketball team like they have had in the past few years.
“We are going to take this first month and see what works and what doesn’t work,” he said. “Each team has to find its niche and its mode of operation.
We thought we saw it this summer, but it is probably going to take a while to find a rhythm with this new team.”
2. Bell County (22-8) - The Tigers could be the team that gives South Laurel a run for its money.
The Bobcats will be led by the Whitakers brothers, Ryan (17.3) and freshman Josh (3.1).
Trey Goins (10.9), Jordan Turner (10.1) and Shawnta Zachery (8.5) also return for Eddie Whitaker’s squad.
The key to the season might be if football players Brent Slusher and Kyle Nelson join the team.
3. Corbin (17-11) - If there is a team that has the best chance of knocking off South Laurel, then it could be Tony Pietrwoski’s Corbin Redhounds.
The two teams played each other three times last season and quite possibly could face each other four times this season.
The one advantage Corbin might have if the two teams meet in the regional finals is the fact that the Redhounds will be the host team.
Corbin returns one of the best players in the state in Josh Crawford (6-foot-4, 18.2). Crawford along with players such as Deke Barley (5.0), Josh Hamlin (4.7), Clint Cashen (3.1), Josh Smith (3.0), Rob Madon (1.0) and Lee Crawford (0.8) will try and lead Corbin back to the top of the 50th District.
4. Jackson County (15-14) - Yes, the Generals, not Clay County enter the season as the team to beat in the 49th District.
Jackson County’s 15 wins are the most the team has had dating back to 2002, when the Generals went 16-9.
One of the main reasons the Generals are favored to win the district is because of the return of junior leading scorer Nick Brumback (6-foot-5, 12.8 scoring average).
Juniors Jordan Whitehead (6.7), Nathan Adkins (6.6), Derek Cunninggan (6.4), Matt Creech (4.1) and Doc Fox (4.0) also return for Keith Hays’ squad.
The only negative thing coming into the season for the Generals is that the 49th District does a blind draw, so they don’t know who’ll they’ll end up with come district tournament time.
5. Pineville (22-6) - The Mountain Lions were considered one of the top teams in the region throughout the season, but were upset by Lynn Camp in the district tournament.
Pineville is looking to erase the memory of being eliminated at home this season with the return of 6-foot-6 junior center Dustin Day (17.2).
Sharpshooter James Strange (11.2) also returns along with Dustin Warren (6.4), Matt Combs (2.7) and Jared Jeffrey (2.4).
6. Cumberland (9-14) - The Redskins might have only won nine games last season, but they were good.
They’ll be even better this season.
Cumberland will be led by 6-foot-5 center Desmond Johnson (11.4) and senior guard Kyle Simpson (10.4).
Brock Leisge (6.4), Brooks Hogue (4.7) and transfer Garfield Wilson will play a big role in the Redskins’ success this season.
7. North Laurel (14-16) - The Jaguars will have to replace six of their top seven scorers from last season and their success will depend solely on one player - senior Shawn Asher (6-foot-5, 10.5).
He is healthy and we are expecting great things out of him,” Conway said of Asher. “We will probably go as far as he takes us. If he has a good season then I like the outlook on our season.
It all starts and stops with Shawn,” he added. “If he becomes a good leader on the floor, then our team will follow his example. If not, I’m not sure yet. That is putting some pressure on his shoulders isn’t it?”
Also returning will be senior Anthony Trabish (6-foot-4, 1.6), sharpshooting Nick Shannon (5-foot-10, 1.4), Luke Dalton (0.7), Justin Hubbard (0.5), Phillip Cottongim (0.0) and Josh Tiller (0.0).
8. Harlan (13-13) - We will get to see just how good John Smith is this year after the Green Dragons graduated four of its top six scorers.
Smith averaged 22.3 points a game before getting injured last season and looks to improve on those numbers during his senior campaign.
Senior Robbie Curtis (10.2) will try and shoulder some of the scoring load for Harlan.
9. Clay County (25-6) - Who would have thought the Clay County Tigers would drop this low? Clay County has a new coach in former Hazard coach Kevin Spurlock.
He’ll have to find a way to replace all five starters from last season’s 13th Region semifinalist squad. The Tigers averaged 64.4 points last season and graduated 53 points of it.
Returning to the mix will be Zach Lewis (5.6), who guided the Tigers football team to the first round of the playoffs this season.
Matt Dobbs (6-foot-4, 1.0) and Justin Hobbs (5.6) give Spurlock some much-needed experience along with Jeremy Sizemore (1.3) and Ryan Lee Smith (1.3).
10. Knox Central (6-20) - Since participating in the 13th Region finals in 2004, Brandon Elam’s squad has posted a dismal 13-36 record. Things are expected to change this season.
The Panthers return a solid nucleus of young talent, which will be led by junior Cory Williamson (12.3) and freshman Cody Miller (10.2).
“We have had some struggles playing these young guys for a couple of years,” Elam said. “We have depended on freshmen for two years now. Now were are in a position where we maybe have one senior on the roster. We are looking at some guys now that experience should not be a problem.”
“They have played some of the top teams in the state,” he added. “We feel like, although this team is still young, experience should not be a problem. We are very excited about what this bunch can accomplish in the next couple of years.”
Also returning will be Chad Messer (6.0), Jacob Scalf (5.7) and Seth Bingham (3.0).
11. Cawood (17-11) - Despite being hit hard by graduation for the second consecutive season, the Cawood Trojans hope to make a run at the 52nd District crown.
Adam Rhymer (5.8), Ryan Farmer (4.4), Josh Caldwell (5.0), B.J. Nolan (2.7) and Kyle Hatfield (2.2) will try to leads the Trojans back to their winning ways.
12. Barbourville (26-5) - The Tigers graduated four starters and 50 points off last season’s regional runner-up squad.
Dinky Phipps squad will have their hands full with senior Cody Messer leading the way with his 5.8 scoring average.
Derek Vanover (5.6), Jerry Smith (3.0) and Garrett Clark (1.9) also return for the Tigers.
Phipps said for his team to be successful this season, the Tigers don’t need to play from behind.
We have to play ahead, because we don’t have anyone to pull us out of a hole anymore,” he said. “Like I said, those kind of guys are gone and to be honest, I just don’t think this team can play from behind at all.”
13. Red Bird (12-14) - The Red Bird Cardinals could be the surprise team of the district. It will be the host team of the district tournament and we all remember the near-upset the Cardinals had against North Laurel in last season’s district tournament.
Long-range shooter Derek David (6-foot-1, 21.6) returns as the region’s top scorer along with teammate C.R. Berry (13.1).
Mark Fogleman (5.3), Andrew Hacker (3.1) and Brandon Roberts (2.8) also return.
14. Oneida Baptist (11-15) - The Mountaineers could be a hard team to figure out. OBI will have a 325-pound 6-foot-5 center manning the paint in Ben Early and not to mention athletic players such as the guard trio of seventh grader Shawn Arthur, Al Cyllah (2.9) and Amos Nagbe (9.6).
15. Whitley County (5-22) - After a four-year absence from coaching, former Greenville, Caverna, Corbin and Bowling Green coach Mike Deaton replaces Darrell Guffey at Whitley County.
Deaton has his hands full during his first year as the Colonels head coach.
The last time Whitley County had a winning season was back in 2003 when the Colonels went 13-12.
Returning this season will be freshman Jamie Lebanion (9.5), Jordan McCumbers (9.5), Cody Jones (8.4), Michael Storms (3.6), Jacob Lowrie (3.5) and freshman Michael Crawford.
16. Middlesboro (11-18) - The Yellow Jackets graduated the region’s top scorer in Stuart Miller, so look for Tyler Hatmaker (11.2) to try and fill Miller’s absence.
Daniel Griffin (9.2), Nick Smith (2.0), Josh Treece (3.2) and Will Harrison (2.9) return along with Ryan Phelps (2.0) and Nick Smith (2.0).
17. Lynn Camp (15-12) - Gone are Adam Bray, Cody Dixon and Joe Siler.
Between the three players, they averaged 35 of Lynn Camp’s 66.3 points per game average of last season.
The trio was also responsible for turning Lynn Camp’s basketball program around.
The Wildcats posted an impressive 15-12 record last season and 17-9 the year before. The back-to-back years seasons of winning seasons and double-digit wins was the first time those feats were accomplished by a Lynn Camp team since 2000 (14-12) and 2001 (12-12).
Anthony Pennington’s squad also returned to the 13th Region Tournament for the first time in 40 years, losing to eventual champion South Laurel, 97-71.
So with the three players graduated, Pennington is ready to rebuild, right? Wrong.
He believes this year’s Lynn Camp team could be the best in recent memory.
“Things are sometimes hard to gauge, but I really feel like this is going to be a special group,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I loved coaching every team that I have coached, but I’m having more fun this year.”
One reason Pennington is happy is because the Wildcats will have former Knox Central Panther Craig Bargo playing for the orange and black this season.
Bargo averaged 10.4 points per game last season and Pennington said the senior guard has fit in with the Wildcat program.
“We are returning some solid players that learned from the seniors we lost last year and I believe we’ll be fine,” Pennington said.
Pennington believes the strong point of his team will be the guard play.
“We have Eric Hibbard and Derrick Knuckles, who have really improved their game,” he said. “Eric is our lone starter returning and he has really worked hard and Derrick could be our most-improved player.
We’re going to run a fast-tempo type of game and we have the talent to do that,” Pennington added.
18. Williamsburg - Just when it seemed things were going to be OK at Williamsburg, former Mr. Basketball Rick Jones stepped down as head coach, leaving Yellow Jackets officials searching for their third coach in two years.
Former Williamsburg player Patrick Robinson replaced Jones with hopes of leading the Yellow Jackets to their first 50th District crown since 1998, when he played for the orange and blue.
Senior Michael McCray (13.8) returns to the starting lineup along with Brandon Conlin (3.8) and Aaron Cunningham (3.8).
Football players Thomas Frazier and Aaron Root are also suiting up for Williamsburg this season.
“I don’t see any team out there that we can’t look in the eye when we step on the floor and say 'we’re going to play with you. We are going to compete against you and we are going to play defense’. I am not going to be intimidated by any team. I can’t put a number on wins and losses, but I believe we can be in every game. We are always going to play 110 percent. We are going to hustle after every loose ball. I think we can outwork some people,” Robinson said.
19. Evarts (3-21) - The Wildcats just can’t seem to get on the winning track. Evarts is 8-41 during the past two seasons and hasn’t put together a winning season since 2002 (14-13).
The Wildcats graduated their top two scorers, so look for James Ledford (8.3) and Jarrod Fields (5.4) to lead the way.
1. Ty Proffitt, South Laurel, - Proffitt has already signed with Notre Dame, won three regional titles and one state championship. What’s next?
2. Jordan Hammonds, South Laurel, - Hammonds is one of the most underrated players in the state. He’s got great size and can shoot from long distance.
3. Josh Crawford, Corbin, - Has the talent and ability to carry Corbin to a region crown.
4. John Smith, Harlan, - Smith is one of the best shooters in the state.
5. Ryan Whitaker, Bell County, - If Whitaker can remain healthy, the Bobcats will contend.
6. Trey Smith, South Laurel, - One of the most versatile players in the region.
7. Dustin Day, Pineville, - Day’s size will give a lot of teams problems.
8. Shawn Asher, North Laurel, - If Asher can stay out of foul trouble, he’ll be a top-notch player.
9. Nick Brumback, Jackson County, Could turn out to be one of the top five players in the region.
10. Derek Davis, Red Bird, - Isn’t the most-athletic player around, but can shoot the ball with the best of them.