By Mark Mathis, Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro
1. Elizabethtown (27-5)
The Panthers are considered a top 10 team in the state along with John Hardin, so the 17th District is loaded.
"E-town is the top team, with everybody else chasing," said Artie Braden, coach at John Hardin.
Steffphon Pettigrew is one of the best all-around players in the state. The 6-foot-4 junior is versatile. One coach in the region called Pettigrew a “man among boys in this region.”
A trio of seniors, Charlie Baldwin, Zach Jenkins and Chase Richardson, are working to replace 6-5 center Zipp Duncan.
E-town has 10 seniors in all who will vie for playing time, but that depth is a good problem to have.
2. John Hardin (27-5)
Maze Stallworth had a strong impact inside last year for Coach Artie Braden’s team, scoring 19 points and pulling down eight rebounds a game. He is considered one of the best talents in the state and was the regional Player of the Year last season.
John Hardin will have to find some scoring to replace two graduated guards who combined to score 22 points a game. The school does have seven seniors coming back and three starters.
Brandon Bland transferred from Fort Knox and should also help Braden’s team. Brandon Johnson is a backcourt leader who scored eight points and had two assists and three steals a game.
3. Bardstown (21-6)
Bardstown is the most experienced team here with eight seniors back from a 21-6 squad.
"Team speed and experience is our strength," Bardstown coach David Clark said.
Guard Brian Calhoun averaged 20 points, five assists and five rebounds a game last year and is one of the top five players in the region.
Kurtis Neel, a 6-3 forward, averaged 12 points and five rebounds a game. Elliott Mattingly was good for eight points and four rebounds a game. Josh Payne, a 5-11 guard, is the defensive stopper.
4. Campbellsville (20-10)
Campbellsville has three starters back from a 20-10 team that was a regional semifinalist.
Josh Parrott, a 6-4 senior, scored 17 points and pulled down eight rebounds a game. Bubba Lawless and Chance Harker combined for 14 points and seven rebounds a game.
Junior Dion McClain will play point guard and could emerge as one of the best backcourt players in the region. Shumari Bridgewater, a sophomore, returns as top substitute.
Nick Holmes is a 6-5 center who has committed to play baseball at the University of Louisville and will provide depth.
“We are not the level of E-town or John Hardin, but we should be able to compete with everyone else in our region,” Campbellsville coach Tim Davis said.
5. Central Hardin (13-12)
Shasheem James is one of the best players in the region around the basket as he averaged 15.5. points and 10.2 rebounds a game last year.
Senior front line players Colby Larkin and Eddie Sandfer averaged 14.6 points and 9.1 rebounds a game between them last year.
6. North Hardin (18-11)
North Hardin has won 12 regional titles under Coach Ron Bevars. For them to contend this year, they will have to stop Elizabethtown and John Hardin, which are considered the two best teams in the region in the preseason.
North Hardin will be led by 6-6 junior forward James Sykes, who averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds as a sophomore. Nathan Adcock, a 6-6 senior, returns after a 2-year absence from the hardwood. Adcock’s rebounding and toughness will be key for the Trojans.
In a 3-guard lineup Andre Autry, a 6-3 junior, will fill one guard position. Autry returns after averaging 14 points and seven rebounds as a sophomore. Autry draws the toughest defensive assignment on the other team.
At point guard will be 6-1 senior Jared Yates. Rounding out the starting five will be 6-1 guard Tony Byers, a lightning quick guard who could be a real defensive stopper for this North Hardin team.
7. Caverna (18-9)
Carrington Maxey and William Bradley combined to score 25 points a game for Caverna last year. Bradley was a good shooter at over 50 percent from the field.
Avery Curry, Curtis Adams and Bartley Weaver also return for Caverna, and the other coaches in the region have noticed that depth.
8. Green County (7-20)
Green County returns seven players who started much of last season.
Mickie Ray is a 1,000 point scorer that returns for his senior year, while senior guard Alex Compton was All-District last year.
Freshman Clint Henderson started at the point last year as an 8th grader and will be
counted on heavily again this year.
Several others return who saw significant action last year and Green County coach Toby Curry is hoping that experience begins to pay off.
9. Adair County (15-12)
Adair County has one senior back from last year’s 15-12 team. James Flatt, a 6-2 senior, averaged 14 points and eight rebounds a game.
Joseph Willis (5-10, junior guard) and 6-3 junior forward Chris Lewis started last season. Darren Ballou, a 6-7 freshman, will start at center and 5-8 freshman Nick Fudge will start at the point.
Adair County is looking to get better defensively and share the ball more on the offensive end.
10. Larue County (7-19)
Five starters return for the Hawks. Senior Alex Watts brings his all-around game back for one more season. He led Larue County in most statistical categories last year.
Watts should get help from Tony Carouthers, Jesse Benningfield and Chris Sanders.
11. Washington County (13-15)
Washington County returns 6-1 guard Lake Reed and 6-2 inside player Daniel Brown. They combined to score nearly 19 points a game last season. Michael Goatley and Paul Terrell should move into starting roles this year.
12. Taylor County (8-19)
Matt Rigsby, Jeff Gumm and Evan Cox were good for 30 points a game last year. David Smith, Jordan Reynolds and Dustin Anderson will also go for playing time in two open starter spots.
13. Hart County (20-8)
This team will be plugging some holes after a 20-win season.
14. Nelson County (10-15)
The entire starting lineup had to be replaced in Nelson County.
15. Fort Knox (3-21)
Fort Knox is very inexperienced for Coach Barry Cox. Seniors Andre Morton and
Anthony English have never played high school ball before, but must contribute for the Eagles to be successful. Senior guard Danny Rodrigue is an exceptional shooter, but is small and has little varsity experience.
Starters Mike Key and Ron Slay are athletic but also have little experience.
Lateef Frye is a senior who will be at point guard. Troy Meno and Terry Walker should also contribute rebounding and scoring.
16. Bardstown Bethlehem (2-24)
Bardstown Bethlehem needs to handle the ball under pressure to improve on a two-win season last year. Blake Stanley returns as point guard after starting near the end of his freshman season.
Ryan Samuels is the team’s most versatile player.
Mike Sneed got hired as head coach in July and the players are learning on the go.
Top Players in the Fifth Region
1. Steffphon Pettigrew, Elizabethtown, 6-4, junior, forward. An all-around talent who is called a man among boys in this region.
2. Maze Stallworth, John Hardin, 6-4, senior, forward. One of the best talents in the state can score from anywhere and can play inside.
3. Brian Calhoun, Bardstown, 6-foot, junior, guard. Calhoun can score, pass and rebound.
4. Shasheem James, Central Hardin, 6-3, senior, forward. Strong player who can score and rebound.
5. James Sykes, North Hardin, 6-6, junior, forward. One of a few players to average a double-double in the region last year.
6. Brandon Bland, John Hardin, 6-2, junior, guard. Should help his new team out front.
7. Josh Parrott, Campbellsville, 6-3, senior, forward. Should score more both inside and outside.
8. Andre Autry, North Hardin, 6-2, junior, guard. Very good defender who scores in double figures.
9. James Flatt, Adair County, 6-1, senior, forward. Will likely be even more of a scoring threat this year.
10. Alex Watts, Larue County, 6-1, senior, forward. Can do it all for the Hawks.
11. Quinn Harris, Elizabethtwn, 6-foot, senior, guard. Is the player who gets Pettigrew the basketball.
12. Kurtis Green, Bardstown, 6-3, senior, forward. Came off the bench to average double figures last year.
13. Darren Ballou, Adair County, 6-7, freshman, forward. A raw talent who has some experience.
14. Luke Reed, Washington County, 6-1, senior, guard. An experienced backcourt player who could score more.
15. Terry Walker, Fort Knox, 6-3, junior, guard. A bit of a sleeper who can do a lot of things.