2012-2013 Kentucky High School Basketball Preview - 15th Region Boys
In the grand scheme of Kentucky High School Basketball, the 15th region (like it's mountain brethren) is often overshadowed by the traditional Louisville, Lexington, and NKY power regions. However, when it comes to passion for high school basketball, the 15th region and its fan bases are hard to top. Night in and night out, gymnasiums across Pike, Floyd, Johnson, Lawerence, Magoffin, and Martin counties are packed with loyal followers. And the good thing about November is that everyone still has a shot. Last year, it was the Johnson Central Golden Eagles, led by standout Shane Hall, who came out on top. For the past decade though, the region has only crowned four champions: East Ridge ('04), Paintsville ('08), Johnson Central ('12), and of course, Shelby Valley. After the 2000's were primarily dominated by Shelby Valley (who finally culminated all of their Rupp Arena trips with a state championship in 2010), the region once again looks to be wide-open. Last season, every team that entered regional tournament play had a legitimate shot to cut down the nets and advance to Rupp Arena. This season, although there are a couple of heavy favorites at this point, it's still anybody's game. Let's take a look at some of the top teams heading into this season.
15th Region Preseason Rankings
1. Johnson Central – It's no surprise that last year's champion comes in as our preseason #1. Coach Tommy McKenzie’s team cut down the nets last season at the East Kentucky Expo center, and they return the entire core of the team the team that did it. Leading the Golden Eagles is D1 prospect Shane Hall, who stole the show during last year’s Regional Championship game – with Indiana coach Tom Crean in attendance. Hall (a consensus top 100 recruit) figures to be one of the best college prospects to come from the area in recent memory. So it's no mystery, the kind of impact he will make for Johnson Central. In a region that is generally devoid of D1 talent, having a player like Hall goes a long way, and it will go a long way for Johnson Central's hopes of repeating this year. Also not a mystery is the fact that Hall scored twice as many points and had three times as many rebounds as anyone else on the Johnson Central roster. At a legit 6’7’’+, Hall uses his great length and agility to grab rebounds out of his area, while capitalizing on put back opportunities. His presence in the middle, and in transition running the floor, will help guards such as Braxton Blair and Dalton Adkins. Last season, Blair averaged 8.1 points per game and Adkins averaged 7.4 to go along with Hall’s 16.8 ppg. Also figuring to play a role for the defending champs are Truman Salyer, and Slade McPeek. The most significant thing about this team is their youth. These guys still have a couple of years left together before moving on. After making a trip to Rupp last season, the sky is the limit going into this season. Dare I say, "next season," as well?
2. Shelby Valley – As much as the University of Kentucky is a blueblood in college basketball, the Wildcats are every bit the blueblood in the 15th Region. Shelby Valley has won two thirds of the Regional Championships over the last 12 seasons. But they looked to fade into the middle of the pack for a couple of seasons after Mr. Basketball and future Louisville Cardinal Elijah Justice led them to their first ever State Title in 2010. Graduating with Justice was a group that had been together since grade school, and had won a lot of games together. Flash forward a couple of years: a new group of young Wildcats are poised to make a big leap, and they're coming along much ahead of schedule. After being an afterthought following the State Championship and mass exodus, Valley’s young team shocked everyone by knocking off Pikeville in their 2011 Regional matchup – earning them a spot in the State Tournament once again. As shocking as that run was, it wasn't much more shocking than Shelby Valley missing the regional tournament last season for the first time in well over a decade. Normally, that would have been the most head scratching thing in the 15th, but the Wildcats youth gave them a free pass for missing the tournament. This was the inexperienced team we thought we would see the year before, but with another year under their belts, the young Wildcats are once again ready to fight at the top of the 15th Region. Before the transfers of Justin Johnson from Sheldon Clark and Ray Kasongo and Tony Wolter from East Ridge, I had Valley a few spots lower in the rankings. But now that the region has been shaken by those transfers, a bump for the Wildcats was in order. All of the main contributors from the last couple of seasons are coming back and that includes top scorers from a season ago: Cody Belter (16.3 ppg), Dalton Richardson (10.4ppg), and Andrew Newsome (8.2ppg). Not surprisingly the same three also lead the team in rebounding and should help anchor the team defensively as well. Other guys to keep an eye on this season include Cory Hamilton, Cody Bentley, and Logan Lucas.
3. Betsy Layne – After his last couple of talented teams fell a little short of reaching the Sweet 16, Coach William (Jr.) Newsome is ready to contend again this season, but must do so without the help of one of last year's leading scorers: Andrew Roberts. If the team wants to better last season's 23-6 mark, they will have a lot of work to do. Fortunately, the team does return junior guard Dylan Meade, who was the team’s leading scorer last season at 13.9 ppg. Sophomore Peyton Case (11.7 ppg) and big man Charles Daniels also look to help the team reach the Sweet 16. Reports from over the summer were that Daniels looked good and with more minutes, could be a nice breakout contributor for the Bobcats. One thing Newsome has capitalized on his last couple of seasons is a little bit of size – something that most 15th region teams are without. Thus, he is hoping to capitalize one more time with Daniels down low. Big man Dylan Hamilton may also be called upon to help with rebounding duty, now that last year's leading rebounder, Andrew Roberts is gone. The Betsy Layne Bobcats have put some good teams on the floor the last couple of seasons, but will this be the team that finally gets over the hump? Only time will tell, but based on potential and where they sit right now, I have them at #3 on our list.
4. Belfry – I almost would have ranked Coach Randy Casey’s Belfry Pirates at either two or three had it not been for the football overlap. Since it is a preseason list, I had to slot the Pirates at number four; although, I could clearly see them in the top three at season’s end. The big returnee for the Belfry Pirates, and I do mean big, is Tony Messer. Messer has great size for a 15th region post player, and held his own last season against the likes of Shane Hall and Ray Kasongo. His double-double average of 16.7 points and 13.1 rebounds were more than enough to lead his team in both categories. Now Coach Casey can only hope Messer leads his team in another direction – the KHSAA Sweet 16. As good as Messer is on the basketball court, he is a football standout as well. Of course, when you're playing football over at Pond Creek, you're usually getting a pretty late jump on basketball. Since this is the case for a lot of Belfry’s players, I don’t look for them to reach their full potential until late in the season; however, the potential is obviously there. Outside of Messer, the Pirates can hope to rely on Josh Robinson (9.8 ppg), and Brett Charles (8 ppg) for added scoring and rebounding. If those guys can stretch the floor and take some of the double teams away from Messer on the inside, it may turn out to be a championship season for Belfry – and this time, not on the gridiron.
5. East Ridge – This is a team that I would have ranked almost as "1B", alongside Johnson Central (or #2 at worst) had it not been for a series of transfers and other shake-ups affecting the team. Last year’s Regional Runner-up not only lost their first year coach, Preston Lemaster, they may have also lost arguably two of the three the best players, not only on their team, but in the entire region: Canadian transfers Ray Kasongo and Tony Wolter (return questionable). Returning to his native Pike County, former Pikeville College and Elkhorn City head coach Randy McCoy will have his hands full with his first 15th region team since the 90’s. After riding the success of an All-"A" Regional Championship and Regional Championship at Elkhorn City, McCoy eventually left to find success at Pikeville College. While there, he led the Bears to a NAIA Final Four, before eventually making his way to Scotty Hopson and University Heights. After winning an All-"A" state title there, he now returns home to an Elkhorn City that is consolidated into East Ridge high school. McCoy can only hope to transform this team and experience the magic he once shared, just a few miles down the road, at the now defunct Elkhorn City High. It cannot be stated enough how damaging the loss of Kasongo, and potentially Wolter, is to this team's Regional Championship hopes. Had they both returned, East Ridge could have been riding shotgun with Johnson Central in the chase for Rupp. Now the team must rely on talented guard Johnny Miller more than ever. Miller, a sophomore, was a very adept outside shooter for the Warriors and his scoring ability will be highly valuable to Randy McCoy’s young team. If Wolter returns to East Ridge, they could boast the best backcourt in the region. Without Wolter, it will have to be “Miller Time” on the ridge. Michael Fields, Christian Hagy, Josh Thacker, Patrick Coleman, and Jacob Skeens are some players who may be ready to step in and fill the void left by the departures. One thing is certain though without even watching the first game; this team should be more disciplined and prepared than last year’s squad. Even with all their talent, first year coach Preston Lemaster couldn’t seem to keep a steady flow on offense, and the team didn’t really buy in on the defensive end. Like most young teams, they often looked lost or out of sync, while at other times they would look great. Randy McCoy should at least provide the kind of steady consistent presence that can go a long way with such a young squad.
6. Magoffin County – Although they lost a little from last season, Neil West’s Magoffin County Hornets still return 15.3 ppg. scorer Cory Pitts, who should at least have them in the hunt. Even though they are outside of the top five for the preseason rankings, much like last season, teams two through ten could almost be pulled out of a hat at random, as parody reigns supreme in the 15th. Almost every team on the list will have a shot to not only make the Regional Tournament, but cut the nets down as well. The Hornets will also send out Nathan Howard, Caleb Hall, Jeffery Bolen, and Dalton Keeton in an effort to replace the loss of two of their three leading scorers from last year: Colton Hawes and John Kazee. Howard returns as the second leading scorer to Pitts, with over 10 ppg. last season. Cory Pitts led the team in both scoring and rebounding – averaging a double-double for the season. Understandably, Pitts will be relied on the most, if Magoffin County is to make some noise in the region. If they're going to get over the hump, however, they will need the help of some of the other guys mentioned as well. One thing’s for sure, with all the players gone to graduation, the opportunity will be there for some new break out players as well.
7. Paintsville –The folks in Paintsville are not used to seeing their Tigers out of the top five in the 15th region. Making matters even worse is the fact that crosstown foe, Johnson Central is coming off a trip to Rupp Arena and, at #1 in the preseason rankings, is poised to do so again. Traditionally one of the region's powers, the Tigers have been on a steady decline (for Paintsville standards) since their trip to Rupp Arena in 2008. Once producing State Champions, All-Staters, Mr. Basketballs, and Regional Champs, Paintsville is now just hoping to crack the regional tournament field. Good thing for them, one of the faces of the past returns to their sidelines this year, hoping to help bring back the tradition. Bill Mike Runyon has more wins than almost anyone to coach basketball in the state of Kentucky. Now his job is to win some more. He inherits a team that lost a lot of talent, but luckily, still has key returnee Trevor Tiller. Tiller is one of the region's best and should give Coach Runyon a valuable weapon to build his team around. The biggest problem for Runyon though, will be managing such a young team – one of the youngest in the region. Other than Tiller and Colby Burchett, who are seniors, the Tigers will have only two juniors on the roster, and will suit up numerous freshmen. This year's success will depend very much on how well these young guys come along and buy into the coaching of Runyon. If the past is any indication though, you mix BMR with Paintsville basketball and your likely going to have a winner. Could they be the dark horse this season? Very possible. As stated above, teams two through ten are basically interchangeable at this point. So, if Paintsville can compete with crosstown rival Johnson Central, they have as good a chance to cut down the nets as anyone.
8. Pikeville – Coach Bart Williams and standout guard Ethan Rowe are ready to keep the Panthers heading in the right direction following a 20-12 season. But the task becomes much harder now, with graduating players and a recent eligibility ruling that will have them reeling. Williams was ready to pair former East Ridge talent Ray Kasongo with Rowe to give Pikeville arguably the best inside out combo in the region. But those plans were dismantled this week. News came out that Kasongo was ruled ineligible by the KHSAA, after moving from East Ridge to Pikeville Independent earlier this school year. Now, after losing almost 18 ppg. scoring from graduating Will Branham, not to mention other key players, such as Jared Tackett, Pikeville will have to rely on Ethan Rowe and his near 20 ppg. more than ever. Regardless of what some may think, Rowe will not have to do everything on his own. Jacob Hamilton returns after scoring 7.3 ppg last season, as well as other key returnee’s such as Wes Anderson, Chase Hall, and Rich McAnallen.
9. Prestonsburg – Coming off a .500 season last year (16-16), Coach James Derossett hopes to be on the winning side of the equation come February. Joe Jamerson and his 11.4 ppg is gone, but Prestonsburg will still have leading scorer Jarredd Jarrell as one of their key returnee’s. Jarrell averaged 12.8 ppg last season and looks to improve upon that mark this year. Bryson Williams and his double figure scoring also returns for the Blackcats. Much like the Belfry Pirates, this Prestonsburg team will be fighting a different adversary early on – playoff football. The football Blackcats look poised to make a deep playoff football run, which will keep a lot of their guys off the hardwood while other teams around the region are getting their time in. Once everyone gets in from football though, this team should start playing catch-up and by season's end, be a team looking to make a run. Other players to watch for this season include Trey Stapleton, Jarrin Hall, Grant Anderson and Derek Newsome.
10. Sheldon Clark – The Sheldon Clark Cardinals, a 26-7 team last year, were one of the favorites to win the region, but now they're limping into this preseason, still licking their wounds from losing standout Justin Johnson to transfer. Johnson will be playing his ball for Perry Central and former coach Kevin Spurlock – both of which equal bad news for Sheldon Clark. In fact, the news is so discouraging that it's the main reason I have Sheldon Clark as a fringe top 10 team instead of a top three team. As far as college prospects go, Johnson Central’s Shane Hall is the better of the two players. However, one could argue that Justin Johnson was the better high school player, and his loss is a tough one to take. A guy that can do it all for your team (14.6 ppg/12.8 rpg) is going to be hard to replace, but new coach Frankie Smith seems up to the challenge. Players most likely to step up in an effort to fill the void left by Johnson’s departure include Chase Kirk, David Slone, Mark Tiller, and Jonathon English.
11. Pike County Central – What was once a formidable contender in the region is now trying to find its place again among the region's best teams. If Coach Kelly Carwile's Hawks are going to be a threat this season, they need their inexperienced team to grow together and use their youth as a jumping block for the seasons to come. Only four upperclassmen represent Pike Central – two seniors (Blake Clark, Cody Coleman) and two juniors (Damon Adkins, Gage Ray). Lucky for them, their three leading scorers from last season are all a part of their young mix of players. Owen Caudill (12.8 ppg), Ethan Blackburn (7.3 ppg), and Tyler Burnette (6 ppg) are three core players who can build their Pike Coounty Central team into a contender before their time there is done. Will it be this season?
12. Lawrence County – After a 7-18 season last year, it’s easy to see why Lawrence County didn’t sniff the top 10 in the rankings. Then again, that was last year. This season, the Bulldogs plan to have a little more bite in their bark and will do so coached by Josh Cook. We have talked about young teams a lot thus far, but it will be hard to match the youth put on the floor by Cook's Bulldogs. AJ Cyrus returns as the leading scorer from last seasons team, so that will help a little bit. Barring something unforeseen, I look for this to be a season full of growing pains for the young Bulldog squad.
13. South Floyd – After a 6-21 record last season, there’s a lot of room for improvement. Coach Barry Hall hopes he can get that improvement from veterans Dakotah Justice, Douglas Newman, Baylen Branham, and Jacob Crager.
14. Allen Central – The Running Rebels completed a .500 season last year (15-15). Coach Brad Short hopes to hang some more wins, and if the chips fall the right way, a banner. But the chips are going to have to fall a long way in Floyd County, for Allen Central to have the season they want. After losing four of their top scorers from last season in Braxton Tackett, Jake Prater, Michah Harlow, and Tyler Cole, only Junior Handshoe returns as a player who played a significant role for the Rebels. The exodus of players due to graduation will leave plenty of opportunity for the next crop of Allen Central players to step up.
15. Phelps – The Hornets are coached by Bobby Varney, and after coming off a 10-22 season last year, are among the teams looking for that glass slipper at the ball this season. This will be a tall order though, as they lose their four biggest scorers in Tommy Stiltner, Paul Rayburn, Colby Hatfield, and Dakota Smith. The Hornets are young, but they will always play hard and try to live up to their underdog persona.
Top 10 Players in the 15th Region
1. Shane Hall (Johnson Central) – – Size and Athleticism is a deadly combination in the 15th Region. Coming in at a legit 6'7''+, Hall has all the tools to dominate the region. He is a national top 75 recruit and has drawn attention from the likes of Tom Crean at Indiana and Brad Stevens at Butler. He's at his best when he's getting out of area rebounds, running the floor, and dunking the basketball. He needs to work on his mid-range and handling a little bit, but overall, Shane is as good of a prospect as you will ever see come out of the 15th.
2. Trevor Tiller (Paintsville) – A scoring guard who will have to do it all in order to get Paintsville back to the promised land. Incoming coach Bill Mike Runyon is no stranger to success at Paintsville or to coaching talent. His addition should help round out Tiller's game. Look for Trevor to have a big season.
3. Tony Messer (Belfry) – A scoring big man who is the most dominant post presence in the region. Messer is one of the true big men in a traditionally size-lacking 15th region and a solid all around player: rebounds, good post game, defensive anchor. He will get a late start due to football season, but by season's end should be among the most productive and hard to stop players in the region. Look for a lot of double teams in the post on Messer.
4. Johnny Miller (East Ridge) – A young guard who can score, score, score. Overshadowed last year by Kasongo and Wolter, Miller is a player who can come off screens, spot up, and put points on the board quickly. Cameron Justices' former running mate, Miller now gets to be the feature guy. Look for coach Randy McCoy to get him involved in lots of different ways and rely on him to make this team go.
5. Cory Pitts (Magoffin County) – An all around player who averaged a double double last season. Cory will provide rebounding and scoring for a Magoffin team that needs both. Arguably one of the most important players to their team in the region, take Pitts away and Magoffin Co. is hurting. He could have actually been higher on the list, and has potential to be near the top when all's said and done. Look for a big season from Cory Pitts.
6. Ethan Rowe (Pikeville) – Now the lead man, after running mate Will Branham's departure. Rowe will be relied upon to lead this Pikeville team and do most of the work. He will be called upon to score, get everyone involved, and try to keep the Panthers competitive. He scored close to 20 ppg. last season. Look for him to put up around the same figures without Will Branham.
7. Cody Belter (Shelby Valley) – It cannot be stated enough, how important size is to a traditionally small 15th Region. Belter gives the young Shelby Valley team a viable big man, and if they are going to make it back to the regional tournament, Glory will have to get a big effort from him. Cody Should be a defensive presence and a solid rebounder. If he can add to his scoring average from a season ago, this team could be dangerous.
8. Dylan Meade (Betsy Layne) – An all around player who, it can be argued, is too low on this list. Dylan will be called upon to do a lot for Jr. Newsome's Bobcats. He has the potential to have a huge season. Meade took the second most free throws on the team last season, and with the departure of Andrew Roberts, will now carry more of the scoring burden.
9. Bryson Williams (Prestonsburg) – Although teammate and fellow top 10 player, Jarredd Jarrell scored more points for their Blackcats, Williams could be the most important for the teams success. Williams will be asked to do a little bit of everything if Prestonsburg is to have the kind of season they want. Bryson will have to rebound and provide a calming veteran presence.
10 Jarredd Jarrell (Prestonsburg) – The young Jarrell scored a lot of points, hit a lot of three's, and made it to the free throw stripe last year for the Blackcats. He should be one of the region's top scorers once again.
Other Top Players in the 15th Region
Ray Kasongo (Pikeville/ineligible) – Kasongo once would have been at the top of the list, along with Shane Hall. Now he doesn't even know if he will play high school basketball. The 6'7''+ Canadian has a power game that, when he uses his physical gifts, can make him the most intimidating player in the region. The problem for Kasongo has always been his motor and his basketball IQ. All the physical tools are there, but you cannot just rely on that – especially when you're trying to be a D1 prospect. Ray is ranked as a top 150 national recruit.
Tony Wolter (East Ridge?) – A speedy point guard who could, or could not benefit from new coach Randy McCoy. The Canadian has been an enigma thus far. Some say he is nowhere around EKY; others say he will still play for East Ridge this season. He's not the best shooter, but when it comes to quickness and pushing the ball, Wolter has it.
Dalton Richardson (Shelby Valley) – Young Richardson is the outside threat to inside Cody Belter's punch. Dalton led the team in 3's last season and will continue to grow as a scorer and outside threat opposite Belter.
Peyton Case (Betsy Layne) – Like his teammate, Meade, Case will provide a lot of scoring for Betsy Layne. Peyton will do a lot of his work from outside.
Jacob Hamilton (Pikeville) – Will Branham and Ethan Rowe had a nice 1-2 punch for the Panthers last season. With Branham out, it's possible Hamilton slides into the sidekick role.
Braxton Blair (Johnson Central) – Blair, who could perhaps be a top 10 player in his own right, gets overshadowed by Shane Hall. He is the guy who will get Hall involved and provide that perimeter threat opposite of him.
Last edited by spindoc; Nov 24, 12 at 03:30 PM.