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It's safe to say that the 9th region will have a new representative at the state tournament this year. Boone County made a surprising run in 2011-2012 to claim the title, but they lost virtually everything to graduation. Coach McQueary will have them playing hard, but it may be a few years until they compete for another regional title. So, who will be on top when it is all said and done for 2012-2013? Who are the top players this year? Here is a look into the upcoming year.

9th Region Preseaon Rankings (Returning Player Lists Courtesy of KHSAA/Riherds)

1. Holmes (23-7 last year) - We are going ever so slightly out of the box on this one. Really, you can argue any of three or four teams in the top spot, but we will go with Holmes, and here is why: They have the best guard play in the region. High School basketball (at least in the 9th region) is a guard's game. Quan Palmer is a Top 10 talent. BJ Coston is also Top 10 talent. And James Bolden may be better than either of them. Bolden, a Sophomore, is a special talent. He's a lefty who will make many all-tournament teams before his time is done at Holmes. Many are saying, “Well, they won’t be able to play the other teams' bigs.” But it’s a two-way street. Other teams have to guard these three as well. And, it's not like Holmes has nobody on the inside. Quintin Chames (6’5” Jr.) will be a big help inside, after transferring from Holy Cross. He can play above the rim. Seniors Chris Engelmon and Desean Peterson are athletic inside players. 6’5” Marcus Hill (Jr.) will be counted on for inside help. Sure, there will be mismatches at times, but this is the year Coach Booher and staff get back to Rupp.

3 James Bolden Guard So.
Rashawn Coston Sr.
22 Daquan Palmer Guard Sr.
41 Jason Covington Forward So.
Kyreon Pennimon So.
32 Chris Englemon Forward Jr.
11 Dillon Strasinger Guard So.
20 Daequan Glover Forward Jr.
14 Fred Vickers Guard So.
33 Marcus Hill Center Jr.
12 Jamanti Wilson Guard Jr.
15 Armani Housley Guard Jr.

2. Newport Central Catholic (22-9 last year) - I really like this team. They have good size, with Drew McDonald 6’6” (Soph) and Jake Schulte 6’7”(Jr). They also have a good backcourt, with Michael Beuter (Sr) and Zach Pangallo (Soph). They also have a "do everything" wing in Nick Seibert (Sr). Seibert will be the player in the region who makes the biggest leap from virtual unknown/unsung to “Wow, he’s really good!” Depth appears to be an issue, but the starting five is rock solid. They are the clear favorite to win the 9th Region All "A" Tournament.

12 Michael Bueter Guard Sr.
34 Drew McDonald Center So.
23 Brennan Devoto Guard Sr.
4 Zach Pangallo Guard So.
32 Colin Dupont Guard Sr.
33 Jake Schulte Center Jr.
10 Mac Franzen Forward Jr.
20 Nick Seibert Forward Sr.
24 Jake Haas Forward Sr.

3. Cooper (16-15 last year) -The 33rd District should belong to Cooper this year. With four of their five starters returning, and a team that made it the farthest in school history (winning the first round of the 2012 regional) makes them one of the preseason regional favorites. The Jaguars return one of the better inside combos of 6’7” Louis Maniacci (Sr.) and 6’5” Drew Shelton (Sr.) along with guards A.J. Collins (Sr.) and Aaron Morgan (Jr.). Watch out for Zach McNeil (Jr.) to add even more firepower to an already strong team. McNeil moves in from Walton-Verona, where he made numerous 8th Region and 32nd District teams. Coach Sullivan and his staff have done an outstanding job laying the foundation at the region's newest school. Now they're going to reap the rewards. Hard first. It's tough not picking them as one of the top two teams and we would not be surprised to see them cutting the nets down at Bank of Kentucky center when it's all said and done. It will probably be January before we see the real Jaguar team, as there are a few key players still playing football.

21 Nick Brandel Guard/Forward Jr.
22 Blake McMahan Forward Jr.
31 A. J. Collins Guard Sr.
5 Shawn McNair Guard Jr.
33 Colin Hathorn Forward So.
3 Aaron Morgan Guard Jr.
24 Kyle Henderson Forward Jr.
11 Tyler Morris Guard Sr.
12 Spencer Holland Guard Jr.
32 Parth Patel Forward Jr.
42 Thomas Lawrence Forward Jr.
25 Cooper Pratt Guard, Forward Jr.
14 John Lykins Guard Jr.
45 Andrew Shelton Forward Sr.
44 Louis Maniacci Forward Sr.

4. Covington Catholic (17-14 last year) -
What a difference a year makes. At this time last year, Cov. Cath. was an afterthought in the region – unproven players, new coach, bitter feelings, "the email." Now, they are on the cusp of getting back on top in the region, and staying there. It all starts with the name "Ruthsatz." Take your pick: Coach Ruthsatz or Nick Ruthsatz (Jr). They both have invigorated a stagnant program. The Colonels have the pieces coming together to contend for the regional crown. They have a great point guard in Ruthsatz, who knows how to drive, dish, score and defend. The also have the most improved player in the region last year, center Zach Tobler (Sr.). Zach is very good around the bucket with either hand. Cov. Cath. will also field one of the best defenders in the region in Sawyer Pauly (Sr.). A combination of sophomore Bo Schuh and Jr. Mark Schult should be a huge plus inside. Nick Frederick (Sr.) will be counted on to hit the outside shot, along with junior Ben Heppler. Covington Catholic plays a great schedule this year. Should be fun times in Park Hills.

22 Nick Ruthsatz Guard Jr.
Trevor Bowman So.
Adam Ruwe So.
3 Nick Fredrick Guard Sr.
1 Bo Schuh Center So.
Noah Galvin So.
42 Mark Schult Center Jr.
24 Ben Heppler Forward Jr.
Matthew Shumate So.
Parker Keller Jr.
Cooper Theobald So.
Evan Lyons So.
34 Zack Tobler Center Sr.
15 Sawyer Pauly Forward Sr.
32 Nate Wichmann Guard Jr.
Grant Romes So.

5. Dixie Heights (20-11 last year) -
Dixie is still the team to beat in the 34th district. Everyone knows Brandon Hatton (Jr.). He has been nothing but consistent. When it's all said and done, he will go down as one of the all-time great players in 9th region history. After losing a strong group of seniors, along with Jordan Fox (transferred back to Jackson County), you would think it would be the Brandon Hatton show. Although Brandon will surely lead them, Coach Chevalier is excited about the rest of his upcoming players too. He really likes this sophomore class. Sophomores Niehaus, Strong, Rabe, Isbel and Schreck will all be important to Dixie’s continued success. Adam Daria (Jr.) PG stepped in as a sophomore last year and did an outstanding job. Ball handling shouldn’t be an issue, but size will when they go against the bigs in the region. It's going to have to be a team effort on the boards. Don’t count them out for a return to Rupp, but they are probably a year away.

30 Seth Caple Forward Jr.
20 Joe List Forward Sr.
00 Adam Daria Guard Jr.
23 Alex Milligan Sr.
43 Nick Niehaus Forward So.
33 Brandon Hatton Guard Jr.
35 Cameron Ruehr Forward Sr.
3 Nick King Guard Jr.
43 Matt Wehrle Forward Jr.

6. Holy Cross (28-3 last year) -
Holy Cross is in a tough spot – trying to get out of the 35th district and into the 9th region tournament. Many thought last year was their year, after capturing the state All "A" title. This year should prove to be harder than last year. After a lot of speculation – Did he transfer out? Transfer back? Is he at Taft? Holmes? Newport? – It looks like "he" is definitely back at Holy Cross. He is Tony Campbell (Sr.). Tony is the top player in the region and an Ohio University recruit. He is a game changer for Holy Cross. They will also rely heavily on Christian McClendon (Sr.). Christian should have a big year. Look for him to be more aggressive getting (and hitting) his shot. Markel McClendon (Fr.) logged many valuable minutes last year as an 8th grader. Burt Pouncy (Sr.) will likely be in a starting position after being in the rotation last year.

33 Antonio Campbell Center Sr.
23 Christian McClendon Guard Sr.
21 Nate Cox Forward Sr.
1 Burt Pouncy Guard Sr.
3 Travis Gabbard Guard Sr.
12 Nick Thiel Forward Jr.
12 Jacob Ketron Forward Jr.
12 Travis Webster Guard Jr.
22 Will Knochelmann Forward Sr.
12 Zach Wehrman Guard Jr.

7. Conner (9-18 last year) -
The Cougars have a great chance of making the Regional this year. If Sam Hemmerich (Jr.) returns strong from a knee injury, joining last year starters Brady Padgett (Sr.) and Drew Barker (Jr.), look for the Cougars to make a trip to NKU next spring. The big questions for them: 1. Will Barker play Basketball with a Div 1 football career ahead. Right now, it looks like he plays. 2. How well will Hemmerich return from knee injury? (We hear he is near 100%) 3. Who steps up at the point? Will Ruholt (junior transfer from St.Henry) could possibly fill the point. Andrew Way will return to the team and should bolster the backcourt. Last year, the Cougars were forced to use Barker as a primary ball handler. Although he did a capable job, that is not his strength. Landon Lamblez (Jr.) should make some plays with his all-out demeanor.

35 Drew Barker Forward Jr.
30 Brady Padgett Forward Sr.
45 Sam Hemmerich Forward Sr.

8. St. Henry (12-14 last year) -
St.Henry looks to get back to the Regional after a year off. If Zach Carr (6'7" Sr.) makes it back from ACL surgery, St.Henry could play with the better teams in the region. But, losing Carr really hurts them where they need it most – inside play. Carr was being counted on to defend the post and rebound. He was also a decent low post scoring threat. Jordan Noble (Jr.) will have to step up and be more of a force inside. Also on the inside, sophomore Connor Kunstek has a golden opportunity. No one will out-work him or go after the ball harder, but he will have to use his wits when playing against the region's bigs at the varsity level. The backcourt should be solid but small, with Ben Hils (Sr.), and Michael Best (Sr.). Most of the scoring should come from Darius Meiman (Sr.) and 6’4” Mitch Kuebbing (Sr.), but a balanced stat sheet is more typical of the Crusaders.

3 Michael Best Guard Sr.
32 Darius Meiman Guard Sr.
22 Zach Carr Center Sr.
44 Jordan Noble Center Jr.
15 Ben Hils Guard Sr.
31 Jake Plummer Guard Jr.
24 Mitch Kuebbing Forward Sr.
35 Nick Rechtin Guard Jr.
41 Connor Kunstek Forward So.

9. Highlands (10-19 last year) -
The Bluebirds come in at #9 on our list. At times, last year, Highlands looked like a Chinese fire drill. There were more substitutions made than room in the score book. As the season went on, this subsided and the team seemed to get into a better flow. In a district that doesn’t seed, they (like everyone else) are hoping not to draw NewCath in the first round of the district tournament. They should be led by Bailey Witte and Drew Houliston. Witte is a strong 6-2 guard who isn’t afraid to mix it up inside. His shot from deep looks good (he led the team in 3pt fg% last year) and he should improve on his numbers from last year. He will have to capably guard bigger players he faces. Houliston, at times last year, could take over a game. Drew is a heady player, who will be counted on for big things this year. The inside game will once again be lacking for the Bluebirds. Nick True (6'6"), will need to control the glass and be a defensive presence. Besides True, there isn’t a whole lot of size on this team. Outside shooting should be a strength, and getting to the rim shouldn’t be a problem with Houliston and Witte.

23 Luke Brockett Guard Jr.
42 Seth Hope Center Jr.
3 Brendan Buten Guard Jr.
25 Drew Houliston Guard Jr.
24 Zac Carter Forward Sr.
30 Kyle Ruehl Forward Jr.
35 Jenson Feggins Forward So.
31 Alex Shepherd Forward Jr.
5 Ryan Greene Guard Jr.
50 Nick True Center Jr.
44 Jake Gronotte Forward Sr.
20 Luke Turner Guard Sr.
32 Brandon Hergott Forward Jr.
12 Baily Witte Guard Sr.
10 Karl Hinkel Guard Sr.

10. Ludlow (14-14 last year) -
That's right; I said, "Ludlow." The Panthers should be Div. 3 favorite in NKY, with an outside chance of making the Regional. They have outstanding players in juniors Mitchell Cody and Jared Howard. Both players are in the 6’4” range. They will have solid guard play with Geoffry Thornsburgh. They beefed up the schedule and will take their lumps against some bigger schools, but things look optimistic in the river town. Opposing teams had better not take them lightly, as coach Hart will have his team firing from all over.

11. Ryle (7-19 last year)
- Ryle looks to improve on a dismal record last year. They once again play a solid schedule and should see a few more W’s. Drew Mays (Sr.) has always been one of the best shooters in NKY. With added strength, deceptive quickness, and a strong left hand, Mays should be among the region's scoring leaders. Will Stuhr (Jr.) has nice size and a good motor on the inside. Mark Fussenberger (Sr.) returns, along with Corey Ahern (Sr.) (who opted for wrestling the past few years) on the perimeter.

12. Newport ( 15-14 last year) - Newport is an intriguing team. You never know who is going to show up and play, so you can’t totally count them in or out. They do have talent in the Short brothers, and Head Coach Rod Snapp is one of the hardest workers in the region, but he's in a tough spot.

13. Boone County (27-8 last year) - The Rebels will look totally different this year. After graduating the majority of the varsity team that made it to Rupp last year, their most experienced player will be Brendan Stanley (Soph). Other players to step up this year may include Trev Patton (Sr.), Jet Williams (Sr.) and Matt Melzer (Sr.). No one is expecting much from them a good time to jump up and bite someone in the butt.

14. Beechwood (8-20) - The Tigers actually have a good nucleus in seniors Nussbaum, Maus (6’5”) and McKenzie (6’6”).

15. Lloyd Memorial (16-16 last year) -
Lloyd was a Cinderella story last year. They were District winner and made it to the regional semifinal game. Niko Carter (Sr.) returns to lead the Juggernauts.

16. Villa Madonna ( 11-17 last year) -
Just what I’d want: Spend $7,000 dollars a year to send my kid to school and they get an 8th grader from out of the school, who won’t go to high school there, to play for them. Go Blue Lightning.
17.Bellevue (14-16 last year) -
The Tigers lost All-Conference player and leading scorer Brandon Hoffman. They had a 14-16 record last year and return Seniors Zach Poinsett and Devin Myers. Top Underclassmen Austin Woodyard and Tyler Ackerson will likely be starters. Ackerson is the QB on the football team and has nice size. Poinsett and Myers are guards and will provide good senior leadership.

18. Heritage (5-21 last year) -
Look for Zac Smith (Sr.) to be the biggest player on the floor whenever they play. Heritage may just have the best concession stand in the region (Hey, that’s important).

19. Dayton (14-13 last year) -
Last year, Dayton was led by a big group of seniors. The only returning players with any Varsity experience are Seniors Jon Williams and Dejujuan Walker. They will take their lumps this year.

20. Covington Latin (7-19 last year) -
Returns the state's leading scorer in senior Mitchell Blewett at 27.7 ppg.

Top Players in the 9th Region

1. Antonio Campbell, 6'8" Sr. (Holy Cross) -
Campbell is the top player in the region. His ability to block and alter shots, along with his strong offense, takes him to this spot. He has a great knack for tipping the ball to himself and has a strong perimeter game. He isn’t the fastest guy on the court something he will have to work on for his college days at Ohio University.

2. Brandon Hatton, 6'1" Jr. (Dixie) -
Brandon is right there with Campbell as the top player in the region. He has multiple Div. 1 offers, and is a guard who has worked on getting quicker. He has always known as a great shooter, but his ball handling and passing is top notch. Look for him to lead the region in scoring this year.

3. Louis Maniacci, 6”7” Sr. (Cooper) -
Lou has made steady progress over the years. He always had the height, but now he's learning how to play with that height, and he's gaining strength. One of the areas defensive leaders last year, Louis looks to have a strong senior season after averaging a near double double last year. After high school Louis will play at Lincoln Memorial.

4. Nick Ruthsatz, 5'9" Jr. (Covington Catholic) -
Nick made a big splash in his first year at Cov. Cath. He is the ultimate high school point guard – he just competes. For his size, he has a great ability to get in the lane and get his shot off, or draw the big man to him and find his teammates for the assist. His outside shot is improving.

5. Quan Palmer, 6'0" Sr. (Holmes) -
Dequan hasn’t made a few of the other preseason top player lists, but he deserves to be on this one. A quick guard who is deceivingly strong, he can hit the deep three or drive to the rim. Quan has a strong handle. Look for him to have a big year in a three guard set. He had some strong performances over the summer, going up against Quinten Snider (Louisville commit), and Mike Smith (KY Jr. All-Star from Dunbar).

6. Drew McDonald, 6'6" Soph. (Newport Central Catholic) -
Drew had a great first year at Newport Catholic, but was set back by injury late in the season. He shows good patience with the ball in the paint for someone his age. He knows when to make a move and get to the basket or kick it back out. His numbers might not be as big this year though, as the rest of NCC’s starting cast is loaded.

7. Darius Meiman, 6’3” Sr. (St. Henry) -
Darius will be a starter for his 3rd straight year at St. Henry. He led his team in scoring the last two years. He has good size for a 2/3 position and is very good on the pull up/mid-range jumper. He's quick in transition and finishes well.

8. Zach McNeil, 6’1” Jr. (Cooper) -
Zach is new to the 9th region, but not new to those who follow NKY basketball or AAU. Zach had 998 varsity points at Walton-Verona, before transferring to Cooper this year. He can hit from deep and is very strong with the ball. He also knows how to draw contact and get to the line. Zach has seen it all; expect him to have a big year.

9. Jake Schulte, 6’7” Jr. (Newport Central Catholic) -
Expect a big year from Jake this year. At times last year, he was passive and seemed lost. But a very strong summer with The Bombers AAU team (playing up an age group), may have been the best thing for him. Look for a more aggressive, rim attacking, shot blocking player this year. That's bad news for the rest of the region.

10. Drew Mays, 6’1” Sr. (Ryle) -
Drew Might be the top shooter in the region. He could always put the ball in the basket. He has worked on his strength and is deceptively quick with the ball. Drew has a way of getting his shot off going to the basket, and has a nice left hand. He will be one of the leading scorers in the region.

11. Sam Hemmerich, 6’4” Jr. (Conner) -
Sam is one of the best shooters in the region, and a mismatch with his height on the perimeter. Sam was a member of the Northern KY Coaches Association Division 1 team last year.

12. Michael Beuter, 6’1” Sr. (Newport Central Catholic) -
Michael is not a flashy player – he just does a lot of things well. He's solid with everything he does. He has a nice stop and go/change of direction. Although he's solid with the ball in his hand, he will play off the ball a little more this year.

13. A.J. Collins, 6’1” Sr. (Cooper) -
A.J. had some great games last year, and helped lead Cooper to their first regional appearance. He's a long range bombe, and a gritty performer. If you need one guy to step up and make a shot, it would be A.J.

14. Niko Carter, 5’9” Sr. (Lloyd) -
Possibly the fastest player in the region. Niko was the 34th District Tournament MVP last year. His outside shot has improved immensely over the last year.

15. James Bolden, 5'11" Soph. (Holmes) -
Check this list next year and Bolden may be one of the top two players. He has a ton of potential, but now he has to do it at the varsity level.