by Ron Harrison
The face of the 11th Region changed this season with West Jessamine and East Jessamine leaving for the 12th Region and Scott County entering the 11th Region from Region Eight. This makes the 11th Region, and especially the 42nd district, even tougher with state power Scott County entering the competition.
The region consists of 17 teams divided into four districts (41st, 42nd, 43rd, and 44th).
The 41st District consists of Frankfort, Franklin County, Western Hills, and Woodford County.
The 42nd District consists of Bryan Station, Henry Clay, Sayre, and Scott County.
The 43rd District consists of Lafayette, Lexington Catholic, Lexington Christian Academy, Paul L. Dunbar, and Tates Creek.
The 44th District consists of Berea, Madison Central, Madison Southern, and Model. The information included in this preview comes from coaches as well as personal observations from last season and over the summer.
Top Ten Teams
1. Henry Clay (31-4): Veteran Coach Kirk Chiles guided the Blue Devils to the quarterfinal round of the state tournament last season and is gunning for a repeat trip this year.
Henry Clay has a lot of talent returning, led by 6-2 Sr. Aaron Dunaway, a candidate for Mr. Basketball who is capable of lighting up the scoreboard.
6-2 Sr. Aaron Miller is athletic, runs the floor well, and can score.
The Blue Devils have a good junior class consisting of 5-10 Travis Bowman, 5-11 Stephon Burton, and 5-11 Chase Minnifield. Bowman is a key component for Henry Clay as he is expected to take over point guard duties.
6-4 Aaron Boyd and 6-4 Victor Moses are two talented, athletic sophs who will create problems for opponents.
Other players expected to help include 5-7 So. Brian Nichols, 6-3 So. Ryan Brightwell and 6-3 So. Michael Gardner.
The 11th Region is absolutely loaded this season, but the Blue Devils possess the talent and experience to earn a repeat trip to Rupp Arena.
2. Scott County (27-4): Coach Billy Hicks’ Cardinals may be the new kids on the block but don’t expect anyone to kick sand in their faces.
7-2 Sr. Jared Carter graduated and now plays for the University of Kentucky, but the cupboard is hardly bare.
The Cardinals will be led by their dynamic junior duo of Matt Walls and Rodney Haddix.
6-3 Matt Walls is a combo guard who handles well and has excellent shooting range. 6-3 Rodney Haddix is an athletic swingman who can score in the paint or with a jump shot. 6-3 So. Bud Mackey is a rising star who excels in the open court.
Scott County has a very talented soph class which includes Mackey, 6-6 Jordan Lee, 6-3 Cam Hundley, Adrian Givens, and 6-4 Tyler Portwood. 6-3 Jr. Chris James and 6-1 Jr.
Jimmie Warren should also contribute, while 5-11 Sr. Jesse Thompson should provide veteran leadership.
Scott County jumps into a competitive region but they should not only compete but challenge for the title.
3. Bryan Station (24-8): Coach Champ Ligon’s Defenders were runner-up to Henry Clay last season in the region, and despite graduating three starters should compete for regional honors again this season.
The Defenders play an up-tempo style and tend to press from all five positions. 6-2 So. Shelvin Mack is expected to run the point this season and is an excellent ballhandler and passer.
6-5 Jr. Jaron Jones is an athletic wing player who should have a big season.
Other players expected to contribute include 6-2 Sr. wing Kearney Demus, 6-1 Jr. wing Courtney Embry, 6-3 So. power forward Terrell Combs, and 6-5 Sr. Justin Jones.
Coach Ligon always appears to have an endless pipeline of young talent and this year it includes freshman Montell Morones. Bryan Station brings a mix of talent, athleticism, and defensive intensity which will make them a tough opponent for any team.
4. Tates Creek (11-16): Coach Joe Pat Covington’s team returns most of their talent from last season and could challenge for the regional championship if they achieve team chemistry and consistency.
5-10 Sr. Jaron Thomas returns after sitting out a year and is a penetrating point guard who could ignite the offense.
5-11 Sr. Greg Combs transferred from Lexington Christian Academy and this very capable performer can play either guard position.
6-4 Jr. John Watkins is a long-armed athletic defender who runs the floor well and rebounds. 6-3 So. Michael Sparks is one of the rising underclassmen in the state and possesses an excellent shooting touch.
5-8 Sr. Nash Baldwin and 6-2 Jr. Chris Floyd provide outside shooting and speedy 5-11 Sr. Dyron Carter also returns. 6-6 Pete Nochta and 6-5 Patrick Workman are two seniors who provide size inside for the Commodores.
Tates Creek usually has young talent coming up capable of helping out during the season. This team has all the components in place to be greatly improved this season.
5. Lexington Catholic (23-8): The Knights will have a new head coach but a familiar face in Brandon Salsman. Salsman was an assistant under former Lexington Catholic head coach Danny Haney, but was head coach at Bourbon County the last three seasons.
The Knights return long-range bomber 6-3 Sr. Brian Hewitt and versatile 6-0 Sr. Cornell Burbage. The Knights also return 6-6 Sr. Reid Brown, 6-3 Sr. Justin Burke, 6-3 Sr. Mike Heissenbuttel, and 5-10 Sr. Arian Green.
6-2 Jr. Zach Newton appears ready for a breakout season.
Lexington Catholic has an excellent group of sophs which include 6-5 Nathan Novosel, 6-6 Jordan Smart, and 6-5 Taylor Stewart.
Expect other players to step up and contribute as Coach Salsman will utilize a pressing running style that will allow them to play 10-12 players per game.
6. Lafayette (10-18): Coach Damon Kelley’s Generals should be improved this season and could be a dangerous foe down the stretch.
6-1 Sr. Pete Gifford averaged 15.4 ppg last season and has downtown range on his jump shot. 6-8 Sr. Tyler Wilkerson has the potential to be a dominating player in the paint.
Other key performers this season are expected to be 6-2 Sr. forward Greg Leslie, 6-2 Sr. center Daniel Burke, 6-2 Sr. forward Ryan Yates, 6-3 Jr. forward Darrin Williams, 5-10 Jr. guard Scott Bauman, 5-10 So. guard Dante Stewart, and 5-11 So. Tommy Gifford.
The Generals have the potential to compete with anyone in the region if they achieve consistency and defensive intensity.
7. Madison Central (11-16): Coach Allen Feldhaus Jr. returns a lot of talent from last year’s district champions, but the Indians still have a relatively young team.
5-9 Sr. Andrew Mathis is a quick point guard who will be expected to score more this year. 6-2 Sr. Matt Lowery has the ability to knock down the three point shot.
6-3 Sr. Junior Skepple is a very athletic defender. 6-0 Sr. Will Reynolds missed most of last season with an ACL injury and should be a dependable outside shooter this season.
6-4 Jr. Rob Newman is a dependable post player who has improved his footwork over the summer. 6-3 Jr. Duane Fields can score as well as defend. 6-5 So. Aaron Morris has improved his strength, has nice moves in the paint, and is developing a nice mid-range shot.
Coach Feldhaus has some nice young players entering the program including 6-2 Fr. Keshawn Simpson. Madison Central should be a good defensive squad, and if they achieve consistent perimeter shooting, could make some noise in the region.
8. Franklin County (17-14): Coach Scott Chalk appears to have the Flyers headed in the right direction and this year’s team features depth and size.
This will be a veteran group, returning with nine players logging significant varsity minutes.
Franklin County should get good play in the paint from 6-7 Sr. Paul Chambers (9.0 ppg) and 6-5 Sr. Chase Straw (12.8 ppg). Versatile 6-4 Sr. Houston Hardy has the ability to play anywhere on the floor.
6-5 Jr. Cy Hines is an aggressive rebounder and 6-3 Jr. Michael Scott adds defensive intensity. 5-11 Sr. Matt Harris averaged 10.4 ppg last season and has the ability to stroke the three point shot. 6-0 Sr. Cameron Conner (8.0 ppg) is also a key returnee.
5-11 Sr. John Meyer adds three point range and 6-0 Jr. Eric May is a hard-nosed defender. Coach Chalk could also get contributions from 6-2 Jr. Demetrius Hicks and star football QB 6-1 Jr. Kaelin Ammons.
9. Madison Southern (19-10): Coach Shane Buttry’s team returns eight seniors and, once everyone gets their basketball “legs” after football and soccer, the Eagles should have a very competitive team.
They still have the ability to nail the three point shot but should have a nice inside game led by 6-6 Sr. Luke Stocker, who has committed to play football at the University of Tennessee.
6-2 Sr. Zach Sigmon is an athletic swingman and 6-0 Sr. Justin Marcum excels on defense. 6-0 Sr. Bradley Johnson shoots the three ball while 5-11 Sr. Michael Day and 6-0 Sr. Casey Hatcher are also in the mix to start.
Other players expected to be key contributors include 5-9 Jr. Josey Cruse, 6-0 Jr. R. B. Browning, 6-2 Jr. Ty Robinson, and 6-6 Jr. John Lake.
10. Woodford County (12-16): Coach Bob Gibson’s Yellowjackets have the talent to contend for the district championship this season. They have size, experience, and offensive firepower.
Woodford County will be led by 6-5 Sr. guard/forward Chris Williams, an excellent all-around player who averaged 20 ppg and 9.3 rpg last season. 6-2 Sr. Jake Pennington is an excellent outside shooter.
6-1 Sr. Travis Mosher is a point guard who is a good passer and defender.
The Yellowjackets have good size in 6-4 Sr. Ben Tuttle, 6-3 Jr. Graham Watts, and 6-3 Sr. Chris Denney. Other key contributors include 5-8 Sr. point guard Kyle Nickerson and 6-2 Fr. Cameron Mattingly. Denney and Nickerson return to the Yellowjackets after sitting out last season.
…and the rest of the field
11. Lexington Christian Academy (18-13): Coach Jason Seamands has some talent returning from last season but suffered two major blows when 5-11 Sr. guard Greg Combs transferred to Tates Creek and 5-11 Sr. Chris Wade decided to concentrate on baseball.
The Eagles should have an excellent frontline with 6-6 Sr. Andre Henderson, 6-6 Sr. Seth Lawless, and 6-4 Sr. Clay Turner. 5-11 Sr. point guard Rich Ludka is also a key returnee.
Other players expected to contribute include 6-2 Sr. Tyler Rogers, 6-0 Sr. Blake Morris, and 5-11 Sr. Zach Sanders. 6-3 So. Patrick Nevitt is a promising underclassman.
LCA could move up in the regional rankings with consistency and if players step up to offset the loss of Combs and Wade. Coach Seamands team has experience (seven seniors), will play hard, and has excellent team size.
12. Paul L. Dunbar (18-9): Coach Carl “Red” Hutchinson takes over as head man this year at Dunbar after Eddie Oakley resigned to move into administration.
The Bulldogs lost seven seniors to graduation and face a huge rebuilding job.
Dunbar returns an excellent young point guard in 5-10 So. Dion Johnson. 6-5 Sr. forward Brandon Sok should be a key contributor and 5-10 Fr. Nick Hudson should provide some help this season.
Coach Hutchinson will get maximum effort from his players and other players should step up to help this season.
13. Sayre (18-8): Coach Gene Kirk’s Spartans were put into one of the toughest districts in the state due to re-alignment. Sayre returns four starters but lacks size in the paint.
6-2 Jr. Trae Cunningham is a good outside shooter who has steadily improved in other phases of his game. 5-10 Sr. Chris Scott adds quickness and 5-7 Jr. Dee Smith is a good shooter and defender. 6-1 Sr. Bush Gess is a hard working rebounder and 5-10 Sr. Will Campbell is an excellent passer.
Other players expected to help include 6-0 Sr. Ben Gess, 6-3 Jr. Alex Lloyd, 6-1 Jr. Eric Bunning, 5-10 Jr. Matt Waldman, 5-10 Sr. Colin O’Rourke, 5-9 So. Lee Hagin, and 6-3 So. Callis Chambliss.
The Spartans are talented but they are in a district with Henry Clay, Bryan Station, and Scott County—potentially three of the better teams in the state.
14. Western Hills (6-21): Coach Enoch Welch takes over as head coach after Brian Gossage departed after one season.
This will be the fourth coach in four years but Coach Welch has been at the school the last four years in some capacity and should bring added stability to the program.
Western Hills lost six seniors but returns four out of five starters. 6-2 Sr. Charles Keene is an outstanding athlete who averaged 12.5 ppg and 8 rpg last season. 6-5 Jr. forward Kris Toles is a good finisher with a nice perimeter shot. Toles is also a capable defender. 5-11 Jr. Tyler Combess is a quick guard and excellent on the ball defender.
Coach Welch expects an improved Wolverine squad this season.
15. Berea (12-16): Coach Mike Key’s Pirates have a lot of experience and hopes to utilize their run and gun style to improve their record this season.
5-10 Sr. Chris Quinley averaged 20.5 ppg last season. 6-0 Sr. Craig Dollins (13.0 ppg) and 6-2 Sr. Jaaron Johns (12.9 ppg) are also key returnees.
Other players expected to contribute this season include 6-2 Sr. Keith Ruxer, 5-11 Sr. Trevor Yosick, 5-11 Sr. Steven Combs, 6-0 Sr. Kyle Johnson (returns after sitting out last season with a football injury), 6-1 Sr. Tyler Hazelwood, 5-9 Jr. Justin Engle, So. Ben Flara (transferred from Ohio), 5-9 Sr. Justin Broughton, and 5-11 Sr. Anthony Logan.
16. Frankfort (19-10): Coach Brad Mefford faces a major rebuilding job this season as six seniors graduated, including 6-5 Tory Robertson and 6-0 Will Current.
5-11 Sr. Matt Anderson will give the Panthers excellent outside shooting as he connected on 100 three point baskets last season. Anderson set a King of the Bluegrass Tournament record for most three pointers made in the tournament, earning him a spot on the all tournament team.
5-11 Sr. Alonzo Tillman and 6-3 Jr. Josh Smith also saw substantial playing time last season. All but three players participate in football and/or soccer so the Panthers will have to play catch up at the beginning of the season.
Coach Mefford states that while this team is young, it is athletic and they will play hard. Although there are a lot of unknowns with youth, some of the young players will have the opportunity to step up with the graduation of six seniors.
17. Model (5-19): The Patriots struggled last season after a 17-13 record the previous year. Matthew Yates departed after one year as head coach and for the fourth time in four years Model will begin the season with a new coach.
Kent Miller will take over as head man this season after serving as head coach of the girls program at Madison Central.
Model only had three seniors on the roster last season and Coach Miller’s teams always play hard.
Top Fifteen Players
1. Aaron Dunaway (Henry Clay) 6-2 Sr. shooter with range
2. Chris Williams (Woodford County) 6-5 Sr. scores and rebounds
3a. Matt Walls (Scott County) 6-3 Jr. good all around game
3b. Rodney Haddix (Scott County) 6-3 Jr. athletic swingman gets it done
5. Pete Gifford (Lafayette) 6-1 Sr. can light up scoreboard when “on”
6. Aaron Miller (Henry Clay) 6-2 Sr. nice game, can score
7. Jaron Jones (Bryan Station) 6-5 Jr. athletic wing player
8. Tyler Wilkerson (Lafayette) 6-8 Sr. big man could dominate inside
9. Shelvin Mack (Bryan Station) 6-2 So. excellent floor leader
10. Victor Moses (Henry Clay) 6-4 So. athletic up-and-comer
11. Bud Mackey (Scott County) 6-3 So. great in transition
12. Brian Hewitt (Lexington Catholic) 6-3 Sr. excellent long-range bomber
13. Luke Stocker (Madison Southern) 6-6 Sr. tough inside player
14. Aaron Boyd (Henry Clay) 6-4 So. athletic forward has all the tools
15. John Watkins (Tates Creek) 6-4 Jr. athletic defender, versatile
Several but not all of the coaches in the 11th Region responded to my request for information, and the consensus was that the region will be absolutely loaded this season.
It was generally agreed that Henry Clay and Scott County will be co-favorites this season. However, several other teams garnered a lot of respect and even some of the teams that have struggled of late approach the season with optimism.
The top ten this year was difficult to rank because several of the teams were hard to separate and there were legitimate arguments to be made for teams not ranked there to be considered.
One coach commented that several of the teams would be challenging for the top spot all year. Several teams have very talented squads and as usual the champion will probably be the one who achieves team chemistry and peaks down the stretch.
It was even more difficult to submit a list of the top 15 players. Other players that have to be considered include Travis Bowman (Henry Clay), Jordan Lee and Tyler Portwood (Scott County), Justin Jones (Bryan Station), Michael Sparks and Greg Combs (Tates Creek), Duane Fields, Aaron Morris, and Andrew Mathis (Madison Central), Paul Chambers and Chase Straw (Franklin County), Andre Henderson (Lexington Christian Academy), Dion Johnson (Paul Dunbar), Trae Cunningham (Sayre), Charles Keene (Western Hills), Chris Quinley (Berea), Matt Anderson (Frankfort), Zach Newton (Lexington Catholic), and a fine soph. trio from Lexington Catholic: Nathan Novosel, Jordan Smart, and Taylor Stewart.
The crystal ball is extremely cloudy in the 11th Region this year considering that Bryan Station, Henry Clay, and Scott County are all in the 42nd District. This means that one of the potentially top teams will not even advance to regional play.
The Lexington public schools have a history of beating each other up in the Lexington city wars. Several teams in this region could catch the proverbial “lightning in the bottle”, peak at tourney time, and make the trip to Rupp Arena in March.