Enter the Tigers - again
Paintsville is Paintsville and the Tigers are again favored to win a 15th Region basketball title. After finishing runner-up to Johnson Central in the 57th District last season, the Tigers pushed Shelby Valley to the limit in the 15th Region Tournament's opening game.
Paintsville, top rival Johnson Central, Belfry, Shelby Valley, South Floyd and Betsy Layne all return talented teams in a 15th Region that will most likely feature level competition throughout the next three-plus months. And don't out some of the other squads.
Here's a closer look at all of the 15th Region boys' basketball teams.
1. PAINTSVILLE (14-15): Led by sophomore Landon Slone, who averaged over 20 points per game last season as a freshman, Paintsville returns nearly everyone from a 57th District runner-up team.
Sophomores J.D. VanHoose, Shane Grimm and Blake Bundy, all starters last season, return along with senior center Kevin Williams.
VanHoose led Paintsville one season ago in both three-point field goal percentage and free-throw percentage. He led in both categories after missing some time due to an injury.
Senior guard Daniel Pugh has returned to the Tiger basketball team after a one-year absence.
The Tigers have several different scoring threats.
2. JOHNSON CENTRAL (19-10): Enter Mark Starnes is the new Johnson Central High boys' basketball coach. He takes over for Les Trimble, who was not hired back to guide the Eagles.
Starnes is a former Mason County assistant coach who also spent some time in the Boston Celtics organization, working under Rick Pitino.
Johnson Central junior guard Jamie McCarty (6-2) is a proven scorer and one of the region's top basketball players. He returns along with senior forward Kyle Rice (6-3).
Senior Tyler Whitaker (5-11) will take over the point guard duties following the graduation and departure of Nick Music.
Other seniors back for Johnson Central are Ryan Fannin and Sean Music.
Juniors Coty Conley, Justin Blanton, Jessie Meek and Tommy Taylor are other returnees.
3. BELFRY (18-10): Last year's regional runner-up may have enough to make a regional hardwood title run.
Randy Casey is entering his second season as Belfry High boys' basketball coach.
Senior point guard Matt Maynard (14 ppg, 6 apg) and shooting guard Jamie Case (8 ppg) both return in the Pirate backcourt.
Forwards Zack Bowman (Sr.) and Dustin May (So.) and center Chad Steele (Jr.) are others back that enjoyed playing time last season for the regional runner-up squad.
Casey expects his team to be particularly strong come tournament. As with many Belfry teams of the past, this year's squad also includes some student-athletes that also star on the gridiron.
4. BETSY LAYNE (16-10): The year of the Bobcats? Quite possibly. Veteran head coach Brent Rose and his coaching staff are looking for good things throughout the 2005-06 campaign.
It's been a while since Betsy Layne played its way out of the 58th District, let alone made noise in the 15th Region. This year's edition of the Bobcat basketball team is looking to change that.
Brandon Kidd (16 ppg) leads the way for Betsy Layne. He returns along with fellow seniors Brandon Thacker, Derek Case and Patrick Stapleton. All four started last season.
The Bobcats also have a new addition in the person of a 6-5 foreign exchange student.
5. SOUTH FLOYD (16-15): Barry Hall is back for a second go-around as Raider head coach. He had success in his first season, guiding the Raiders to the 15th Region All "A" Classic.
Two of five starters are back for the Raiders.
Senior guards Ryan Johnson and Mason Hall, both starters last season, return in the backcourt.
Senior forward Ryan Little and junior Ethan Johnson also return. Ethan Johnson is another talented shooter for the Raiders.
Seniors Justin Slone and T.J. Hall will also contribute for South Floyd.
6. SHELBY VALLEY (26-6): No doubt, the Shelby Valley Wildcats won't be so willing to let go of the 15th Region crown.
The departure of talented seniors Patrick Tackett, Kelsey Friend and Kris Bentley, among others, hurt head coach Jason Booher's program. But look for these Wildcats to reload. Booher is entering his second season as Shelby Valley boys' head basketball coach.
Senior forward Mitchell Riddle and junior forward John Johnson are the leading returnees for the Wildcats. Both played key roles last season on the regional title team.
All the players returning for Shelby Valley know what it takes to win. The feeder systems that lead to Shelby Valley supply talented players from the middle school ranks year-in and year-out.
7. EAST RIDGE (18-11): James Hurley is out and Denny Paul May is in. That's the scenario at East Ridge.
Hurley coached East Ridge to the 15th Region title two seasons ago in just his first season as head coach.
May inherits an East Ridge team that will look to put together its own successful run.
Hurley stepped away from the program at the end of last season.
May's new squad is led by senior forward Kyle Fletcher, a longtime contribute to the Warrior basketball team. Tyler McCoy is another key returning player.
8. PRESTONSBURG (18-11): The Blackcats just may be able to reload instead of rebuild, following a graduation that took away one of the most athletically-gifted senior classes in school history.
Prestonsburg senior guard Michael Stephens and senior forward Sean Leslie are returning starters.
Seniors Brooks Herrick, Nick McGuire and Lewis Barnette also return. Barnette helped the Blackcats tremendously on the inside last season.
A talented junior class includes guard Lincoln Slone and center Trevor Patton.
Starters lost to graduation included point guard Trevor Compton and center John Mark Stephens.
In the 15th Region, Prestonsburg is the only boys' basketball team to make it into the regional tournament semifinals each of the last three years.
9. SHELDON CLARK (6-19): Last season's Sheldon Clark boys' basketball team was far better than its schedule would indicate. Look for the Cards to again make noise during the 2005-06 season, similar noise as the kind they made last winter when they knocked off Shelby Valley in the 15th Region All "A" Classic.
Senior Brandon May, one of the top athletes in school history, returns for Sheldon Clark. May played with a traveling team over the team.
May (18 ppg, 9 rpg, 3 apg) and sophomore point guard Jaryd Crum (8 ppg, 4 apg) are returning starters.
Others who'll contribute for Sheldon Clark include Sheldon Clark include seniors Shawn Johnson (6-2, F), Jarrett Robinson (6-3, G) and Juan Carlos Lomeli Torres (6-1, G), junior Matt Hayes and sophomores Steven Goble, Damon Hensley, George Shimko (6-4) and Brad Lafferty.
Freshman Justin Porter (6-4) is another rising player for the Cards.
10. PIKE COUNTY CENTRAL (16-11): Pike County Central and head coach David Rowe seem to always be around come tournament time.
Despite the players lost via graduation last season, Pike Central will return a quality group of talented players.
Senior guard Brad Lowe leads the way for the Hawks.
Pike Central ended the 2004-05 season with a loss to 58th District runner-up Prestonsburg in the opening round of the 15th Region Tournament.
11. MAGOFFIN COUNTY (4--22): Neil "Nehi" West is entering a second season as Magoffin County boys' basketball coach. The Hornets won just four games last season. Over the summer, however, West had time to rebuild and reload as Magoffin County basketball looks to make a run a 57th District, that with the addition of Lawrence County, suddenly become even more competitive.
West, before taking over the Hornet boys' basketball coached the Lady Hornets, vows to move the basketball up and down the floor.
Wes Helton, Brandon Shepherd and Eric Arnett are three leading players that return for the Hornets.
12. PHELPS (17-9): The Phelps community is rather excited about its high school boys' basketball team. And rightfully so. The Hornets reeled off 17 wins last season.
Four of five starters return for Phelps.
Six-foot-two senior center Mikey Dotson (10 ppg, 10 apg) returns in the middle for the Hornets.
Other starters back are juniors Robert Gannon (12 ppg) and Ryan Dotson (6 ppg) and sophomore Charlie Hunt (16 ppg).
Phelps, coached by Clay Campbell, will field a quick, athletic basketball team.
13 ALLEN CENTRAL (3-23): Longtime Allen Central head coach John Martin has his team headed back in the right direction.
Things are definitely looking up for the Rebels.
Starters back for Allen Central include juniors Ryan Collins and Josh Martin and freshman Josh Prater.
There's senior talent back for the Rebels, too.
Seniors returning include starting point guard Nick Music, Josh Bailey and Justin Jacobs.
Junior Tyler Slone has returned to the Rebel hoops program after some time spent at nearby Garrett Christian Academy.
Others expected to contribute include Corey Little and Alex Hammonds.
14 LAWRENCE COUNTY (22-6): Bulldog head coach Randy Anderson is set to get an up close and personal look at the 15th Region.
Lawrence County may face somewhat of a rebuilding project in its first season.
The Bulldogs had the 16th Region's second-best record last season.
Forward Shawn Thomas is back for the Bulldogs. The losses were sizable, though.
Big man Derrick Endicott and guard Thomas Lewis were each lost to graduation.
15. PIKEVILLE (9-20): Longtime Pikeville High assistant coach Bart Williams is the new coach and is looking to get Panther basketball headed in the right direction. Williams takes over for longtime Pikeville head coach Dave Thomas.
The Panthers lost four seniors from the 2004-05 team.
Two part-time starters - senior forward Tim Champlin (3.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and sophomore forward Tim Honaker (7.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg) return.
Senior guard Jacob Sword (5.5 ppg) is another player back.
16. PIARIST SCHOOL (N/A): The Piarist School is back in the 15th Region. This time around, the Knights are in the 60th District with Pike County teams and coached by new head mentor Greg Friend.
The Piarist School, which is located in Martin in Floyd County, had previously fielded a team in the 58th
District - an all-Floyd County district.
Preseason had the Piarist School boys' team fielding an eight-man squad. The Piarist School is also a member of the Three Rivers Conference.
17. DAVID SCHOOL (N/A): Prestonsburg Attorney Ned Pillersdorf has guided the Comets through
a junior varsity schedule each of the past two seasons and is leading the school into its first season of varsity competition.
The David School will play out of the 59th District - the same district that's home to each of the last two regional championship teams.
In the preseason, the David School featured 10 players on its roster.
Top Players in the Region
1. Landon Slone, Paintsville, So. 6-3 G
Entering his second season and is already among the Tiger greats.
2. Brandon May, Sheldon Clark Sr. 6-4 F
One of the region's top players each of the last three seasons.
3. Jamie McCarty, Johnson Central Jr. 6-2 G
One of the region's top shooters on one of the region's top teams.
4. Ryan Johnson, South Floyd Sr. 6-0 G
Proven floor leader who can score and dish it off.
5. Matt Maynard, Belfry Sr. 6-1 G
Fresh off the football field and still one of the region's top basketball players.
6. Daniel Pugh, Paintsville Jr. 6-1 G
Returns to the hardwood following a one-year hiatus.
7. Brad Lowe, Pike Central Sr. 6-1 G/F
Will lead his team on and off the court. Proven scorer who knows how to win.
8. Brandon Kidd, Betsy Layne Sr. 6-4 F
Plays bigger than his size; one of the region's most underrated players.
9. Kyle Rice, Johnson Central Sr. 6-3 F
Another one of the region's most underrated players.
10. J.D. VanHoose. Paintsville So. 6-2 F
With a full healthy season, will establish himself as one of the region's top players.
11. Shane Grimm, Paintsville So. 6-1 G/F
Another Paintsville player who is making his mark in the storied Tiger hoops program.
12. Mitchell Riddle, Shelby Valley Sr. 6-3 F
Has the experience of a regional champion.
13. Kyle Fletcher, East Ridge Sr. 6-3 F
Helps lead an East Ridge team that knows that championship feeling.
14. Michael Stephens, Prestonsburg Sr. 5-11 G
Gritty player who makes things happen for the Blackcats as he pushes the basketball.
15. Jaryd Crum, Sheldon Clark So. 5-11 G
Ball-handling wizard who will only get better with time.