1. University Heights (32-5) – The Blazers advanced to the semifinals of last year’s Sweet Sixteen and return their spark plug – Mr. Basketball candidate Joshua Mack.
The 5-11 point guard averaged 18 points and five assists last year, proving to be a tough player to guard because of his quickness.
Mack showed off improved shooting range from the outside, which added to his slashing ability to score.
His ability to score points in bunches, combined with his quickness on defense makes him a legitimate Mr. Basketball candidate.
While the Blazers graduated some size, they return a solid nucleus that should prove to be much quicker than last year’s squad, which go play fast or big.
Longtime Blazer assistant coach Phil Keller takes over the head coaching duties from Marty cline, who left after two seasons for the Madisonville girls’ job.
Keller, who served as an assistant for state title teams Hopkinsville (1985) and UHA (1991), will have three other returning starters to craft around Mack.
6-2 junior Chris Evans is one of the more underrated players in the region after averaging six points and five rebounds, but must improve on his shooting numbers.
5-11 senior Phillip Whitaker (4.4 ppg.) and 6-3 senior Carson Rager (6.5 ppg.) will be expected to pick up some of the scoring slack from the outside.
Inside, Patrick Metcalfe proved to be a solid force in the paint when he wasn’t on the bench in foul trouble. The 6-3 senior averaged 10.2 points and 7.3 rebounds last year.
Coaches are high on 6-4 sophomore Scotty Hopson, who averaged three points in limited time off the bench as a freshman. Hopson could prove to be a key component to the Blazers’ success by season’s end.
While not blessed with the size of teams past, the Blazers should be able to overcome that shortfall with a bevy of athletes that have played as a unit for several years.
2. Trigg County (20-10) – Many coaches in the region feel the Wildcats have the team that could challenge the Blazers for the region title – something Trigg hasn’t won in nine years.
And the Wildcats would love nothing more than to be the team that ends UHA’s two-year reign atop the region. The Blazers defeated Trigg County in both the All-A and Second Region Tournament last year.
Bill Chumbler’s Wildcats return the same five starters that began the season last year.
Many people will be watching the progression of 6-6 junior Russell Mackins, who was averaging 20 points and 13 rebounds before a torn ACL ended his season at Christmas.
Without Mackins and his ball-hawking abilities on the glass, the Wildcats lost some aggressiveness that was glaring in their two losses to UHA.
Mackins was cleared to begin practicing in October after missing a summer of camps that would have boosted his stock among colleges.
However, Mackins isn’t the only source of firepower on a team that averaged 70 points a game last year.
6-3 senior Jeremy Jones established himself as one of the elite players in western Kentucky after scoring 18 points a game to go with six rebounds and nearly six assists a game.
He will be joined in the backcourt by 5-10 junior Rodney Davis, who is in shooting range once he steps through the front doors of the gym.
Davis had an excellent summer, making the all-star teams of several national camps, and should compliment Jones in what could be the region’s quickest backcourt.
Like Evans from UHA, 6-3 senior Jamaal Boyd may be one of the most underrated players in the area – a player who gets you 14 points and eight rebounds nearly every game. Boyd could get a chance to show off his game with opposing defenses focusing on Mackins.
Trigg’s depth features size in 6-6 senior T.J. O’Hara and 5-11 guard Devin Tejada, allowing the Wildcats to play big or quick.
A lot of people have been pointing to this senior class as the one that could get Trigg County back to Rupp Arena. And Chumbler has put together a schedule that will allow most of the state to see his team.
The Wildcats will play in Lexington twice during the season and in Louisville once, as well as playing in the Marshall County HoopFest for a third straight year.
Playing on a statewide stage is something Chumbler hopes his team embraces.
“It brings much needed respect for our program. I'm hoping the players will take pride and try to live up to our ranking,” Chumbler said. “It also shows how far we have come in the last three years when we were picked 13th in our region.”
3. Caldwell County (16-15) – After years of being one of the premier programs in the Fifth District, realignment shifts the Tigers to the Seventh District which includes the Madisonville schools and Dawson Springs.
However, Caldwell won’t be anyone’s kickball in their new district.
Head coach Michael Fraliex returns four starters from last year’s team that lost to Trigg County in their final Fifth District championship appearance.
The Tigers will be led by the coach’s cousin Matt Fraliex. The 6-4 junior showed off his versatility last year, averaging 22 points and shooting 50-percent from the field.
Fraliex hit over 60 3-pointers last year, but also showed he could post up smaller players on the block.
6-1 junior Levi Glover needs a full season of action under his belt after averaging 11 points in just over 20 games. His quickness and ability to penetrate gives the Tigers one of the better guard tandems in the region.
6-3 senior Allen Wadlington (13 ppg.) and 6-4 senior Rob Heaton give Caldwell some size in the middle.
The Tigers were expected to challenge Trigg County for the Fifth District title before they were moved to the Seventh. If Caldwell can get a favorable region draw opposite the favorites, they could make a serious bid for Rupp as a dark horse in March.
4. Christian County (9-15) – The Colonels failed to reach ten wins for the first time in 40 years, but Kerry Stovall’s team should have no trouble surpassing last year’s win total.
“We had to play a lot of young kids that had never played varsity previously,” Stovall said. “I would hope last season and a busy summer will have them ready and confident for a very tough schedule that starts with scrimmages at Marshall County and Lexington Catholic and then opening up the season at Warren Central.”
Christian County brings back four starters, led by 6-0 senior Keith Tandy, who set several passing records for the football Colonels this year. Tandy was the lone Colonel to average double figures, tallying 11 points, four rebounds, and three steals.
6-2 senior Montreal Dillard (7 ppg., 3 rpg.) and 6-4 Rodney Manning (6 ppg., 3 rpg.) offer a little size and quickness on the inside, while 5-9 Walter McCombs (6 ppg., two assists) should play alongside Tandy in the backcourt.
“This many returning players definitely makes us as deep as we have ever been and as experienced as we have ever been,” said Stovall, who said developing a team-first attitude will be the key to a successful season.
5. Henderson County (22-8) – Henderson County has posted 20+ wins in four of the last five seasons, but with one returning starter, head coach Phil Gibson has his work cut out for him in 2005-06.
5-8 senior Darius Haygen is the top returning scorer at just over six points and three assists a game, while Antione Lightfoot will be expected to run the point for the Colonels.
Always one of the top defensive teams in the region, the Colonels have depth in the backcourt with 5-10 Walker Brunner (1.9 ppg.) and 6-1 Steven Haile (1.3 ppg.) and could be able to press more this year to create some easy buckets at the other end.
6-3 junior Jarrod Crowder (5.8 ppg., 3.3 rpg.) and 6-2 sophomore Josh Terry will provide some size in the paint.
“We are very young without a lot of experience,” Gibson said. “Hopefully at the end of the season, we will have an opportunity to be competitive with the top teams in the region.”
6. Madisonville (13-14) – A team that was picked by some to challenge for the region title last year didn’t even make it out of their district.
The Maroons return three starters and have added a transfer in their bid to challenge district newcomer Caldwell County in the Seventh.
Twin seniors Patrick and Justin Waddle each scored 229 points last year in the backcourt, while 6-4 center Nick Russell (13.5 ppg.) is the top returning scorer.
The Maroons also added sophomore transfer Darnell Moore from Providence, who should help take some of the heat off Nelson on the inside.
7. Hopkinsville (11-16) – Not even Mr. Basketball candidate Curtis Pulley could rescue the Tigers from their first losing season in four years.
Head coach Terry Hayes has a talented group of juniors poised to challenge UHA and Christian County for the Eighth District title.
“Curtis certainly has left some big shoes to fill,” said Hayes, who expects junior Chad Brown to try and step into those shoes this year. “Only time will tell if Chad can fill those shoes. He does have the capability. It's just going to take time, and he must want to do it.”
The 6-4 junior was dominant at times last year and missing in action at other times.
Juniors Zach Hayes, Antwain Loving, and Greg White will all see plenty of court time as will senior Josh Ladson.
“We may have more depth this year simply because we are a year older,” Hayes said. “I think if we can continue to work hard, we could be a contender by tournament time.”
8. Union County (19-7) – The Braves recorded the school’s first winning season in five years and fell a bucket short to UHA in the first round of the region tournament.
Antonio Davis (6-1, Sr.) can play inside or outside for Union County, who should also have the services 5-11 senior guard Ryan Fowler, who led the team in assists.
6-6 senior Jake Marshall and C.H. Price, the team’s leading rebounder, are also slated to return.
9. Webster County (17-10) – After 21 years of coaching and 305 wins at Bethlehem, Bev Hart made the move west to Dixon where he inherits two starters from last year’s 17-10 team.
LaBradford Rollins (6-2, Sr.) and his slash-to-the-bucket style led the Trojans last year by putting up 13 points and six rebounds a game.
Senior guard Charlie Hust returns to run the offense after chipping in nine points and four assists a game.
“I would prefer an up-tempo style, but we will have to see how well our personnel matches that scheme,” Hart said.
10. Hopkins Central (13-18) – With four starters and the region’s premier big man returning, Hopkins Central was supposed to make a serious run for the region title.
However, chemistry issues and the inability to feed a 6-10 center led to a 13-18 record – the school’s most losses since their first year of existence in 1997.
Matt Bell took over as head coach after three successful seasons at Webster County, but found out in August he would not have the services of 6-10 senior Albert Jackson, who decided to enroll at Oak Hill Academy.
Jackson, who gave a verbal commitment to Georgia, averaged 15 points, nine rebounds, and set the single-season state record for blocked shots.
Without Jackson, Bell expects the Storm to be much quicker with a younger lineup.
“We are lacking size and experience, but should be able to overcome that with our speed and tenacity,” Bell said.
5-9 senior T.J. Martin is the lone returning starter for the Storm, although senior Dee Stafford, and juniors Zack Arnold, Allen Alvarez, and Luke Menser all saw considerable action last year.
11. Fort Campbell (18-9) – Fort Campbell set a new school record for wins under first year head coach Amy Gammons, the only female to lead a boys’ team in the Kentucky.
However, Gammons must replace several key components of last year’s successful team.
6-3 senior Larry Robinson and 5-11 junior Robert Rogers both averaged in double figures last year and will be the centerpiece of the Falcon attack this year.
12. Providence (11-15) – Changes are abound for the Providence basketball team in 2005-06.
After coaching the Bulldogs to the Seventh District title, Aaron Etherington left as head coach after three years to take an assistant coaching position at Danville.
Todd Whitsell’s first head coaching job at the high school level will revolve around the return of three starters and will come as the school moves back to the Sixth District with Henderson, Union, and Webster County.
Steven Hutcherson (6-1, Sr.) averaged 18 points and six rebounds for the Bulldogs and should be joined in the backcourt with JaMarckus Jackson (5-8, Sr.), who averaged eight points and five assists.
Travis Frazier (6-4, Sr.) and Andrew Hill (6-3, Sr.) give the Bulldogs some size but little mobility.
“I believe that we have a very talented team that can win many ballgames,” Whitsell said. “We have to be a better defensive and rebounding team in order to compete with this district.”
13. Dawson Springs (7-19) – Dawson Springs hasn’t posted more than seven wins since 1999, but could make a run for the .500 mark with the return of forward Derek Scott.
The 6-3 senior averaged 21 points and 13 rebounds in topping the 1,000-point mark for his career.
“Derek is a very special player. He is one of the best to play here at Dawson Springs in many years, and I expect him to take a bigger leadership role this year,” said Panther head coach Wayne Simpson.
While the Panthers aren’t picked by anyone to win the Seventh District, the addition of Caldwell County to the district gives them a new border rivalry and something extra to play for this year.
“They are going to be a tough opponent for the Seventh District, and it makes it tougher for us being the smallest school in the district, but people shouldn’t forget about us,” Simpson said.
14. Crittenden County (14-11) – The winds of change are howling through Marion as the Rockets adjust to life after Tim Hill and coach Jimmy Croft.
Hill graduated as the school’s all-time leading scorer, and Croft stepped down as head coach after ten seasons, including the school’s only district championship in 1998.
Former Rocket player Rob Towery takes over a team that returns just one starter from last year’s 14-11 team that seemed to underachieve at times.
6-2 junior Jacob Courtney (4.5 ppg., 3.5 rpg.) is the lone returning starter, although guards Austin Berry (6-0, Sr.) and Jordan Wallace (5-9, Sr.) saw plenty of action last year.
“Everything is a question mark at this time,” Towery said. “I have quite a few kids that have come out for the team that didn't play last year and a few others that played a limited role, so everything is up for grabs.”
15. Livingston Central (10-15) – The Cardinals have not produced a winning season since 1994-95, and this year is likely to add to that streak.
But Livingston Central Mike Johnson athletic director Mike Johnson has now added head basketball coach to his list of duties, and that streak should end in a couple of years.
Johnson, who formerly served as an assistant coach at Caldwell and Livingston, turned the Cardinal baseball team into a consistent region challenger by teaching fundamentals and work ethic.
With just one starter returning, Livingston could use a little of both.
6-2 senior Kurt Riley averaged eight points a game and will see more time on the wing or on the block with the maturation of guards Will Wright and Cole Bebout.
“Our progress will be slow this year, but we hope to move forward and continue to build for the future,” said Johnson, who looks to employ an aggressive style of play.
16. Lyon County (5-20) – The Lyons struggled to the school’s first 20-loss season in seven years and must replace four starters.
Second-year coach Jimmy Johnson plans a more deliberate approach with his squad this year in hopes of utilizing his team’s strengths.
“We are short on experience, and we’re putting in the Princeton system that in coming years will allow us to compete against the larger and more athletic teams,” he said.
Senior guard Rocky White is the lone returning starter, while Chad Estes (6-3, Sr.) and Kenton Glass (6-2, Sr.) all saw considerable time last year.
Johnson is also high on 6-5 sophomore Eddie Smith and 6-2 forward Mitchell Peeler, who he calls the best freshman player in the region.
Top Players in the Region
1. Joshua Mack (University Heights) – One of the most explosive players in the state. Can beat you from the outside, off the dribble, and on defense.
2. Jeremy Jones (Trigg County) – Can play either guard spot and can create off the dribble or shoot from the outside.
3. Russell Mackins (Trigg County) – Forward who can jump out of the gym can be a dominant player once he is fully healed from an ACL injury.
4. Matt Fraliex (Caldwell County) – One of the region’s top shooters from the outside and off the dribble.
5. LaBradford Rollins (Webster County) – Will be the focal point of the Trojans’ offense. Quick moves around the basket make him tough to defend.
6. Antonio Davis (Union County) – A player similar to Rollins with a better outside shot.
7. Keith Tandy (Christian County) – Lightning quick guard who should put up some impressive numbers this year with a more experienced supporting cast.
8. Derek Scott (Dawson Springs) – Maybe the best player in the state you’ve never heard of. Averaged 21 points and 13 rebounds last year with little help.
9. Chris Evans (University Heights) – Good moves inside and on the break. Should benefit from an up-tempo style and Mack feeding him on the move.
10. Chad Brown (Hopkinsville) – Will be expected to fill the void left by Curtis Pulley. Defense is ahead of his offensive game at this stage.
11. Darius Haygen (Henderson County) – Quick guard who is one of the best defensive stoppers in the region.
12. Steven Hutcherson (Providence) – Quick moves off the dribble and gets bunches of points by staying around the basket.
13. Larry Robinson (Fort Campbell) – 6-3 frame makes him tough to defend on the inside.
14. Nick Russell (Madisonville) – Leading returning scorer on a Madisonville team that returns some experience in 2005.
15. Jamaal Boyd (Trigg County) – Quietly gets you 13 points and seven rebounds every night while playing against taller opposition.