by William Gardiner
Over the past 20 years, the Seventh Region has been one of the toughest basketball regions in the state to win each year.
Normally, three or four teams are ranked among the top 20 with a handful of others that can win the title each season.
Well, that’s exactly how it looks this winter.
There’s Ballard Jeffersontown, both should be ranked among the top 10 in the state, and Male is not far behind. Manual is also going to be loaded, while Moore played solid this summer and Fern Creek has a bunch of talent.
But that’s not it.
Trinity has been solid in recent years and won’t drop off as far as some folks think, St. Xavier will be much improved and Eastern and Seneca will be in the mix.
Here’s a look at the regional teams:
1. Jeffersontown (29-5): Sure, the Chargers lost Mr. Basketball Domonic Tilford to the University of Cincinnati. But he wasn’t the lone bullet in coach Jeff Morrow’s gun.
Morrow believes the Chargers could be better this season because there will be no ones shadows for anyone to get lost in.
Now, it’s time for these players to shine.
Thomas Coleman is a 6-foot-7 junior center that turned in a solid summer and has become one of the state’s best prospects. Coleman averaged eight points and six rebounds last season in limited playing time.
Forward Dale Easley averaged nine points as a junior and might be the best player on the team, while guard Ceedrick Ware will make the team go.
Buddy Rice, Rashad Basey and Nick Gagel are other players capable of turning in double-digit performances on any given night for Morrow.
2. Ballard (29-3): The defending regional champion Bruins have now won the title two of the past three seasons and are highly ranked again this campaign.
But coach Chris Renner has a long way to go with this bunch.
Ballard has two of the state’s best players – Antiquwan Beckham and Johanne Hamilton – but must replace 10 seniors off last year’s stellar team.
Beckham was solid down the stretch last season and averaged eight points and six assists a game for Ballard. He’s a 6-5 guard who can play inside or out.
Hamilton is a 6-3 guard and has the potential to average more than last season’s 5.2 points and 3.2 assists marks.
Senior guard Garnett Phelps is one of the top athletes in the state, while juniors Jamal Crook, Paul Dowell and Chris Gowers will play a lot.
Luke Allison, Josh Chiles, TJ Pryor David Stanley and Andrew Gardner are members of Ballard talented sophomore class.
One question mark is Jonathan Gholson, who is a transfer from Moore. He’s currently ineligible but appealing the decision and the decision won’t be known for a couple of weeks. Gholson is one of the region’s top juniors and would give Ballard another big-time scoring threat if he can play.
3. Male (16-15): Tom Crews had become one of the state’s best coaches in recent years, turning DeSales into one of the Sixth Regions kingpins.
Now, he’s switching regions in Louisville.
Crews takes over at Male for Bryce Hibbard, whose Male teams won regional titles the first three years he was there and lost in the regional finals the next two years. His final record at Male was 142-59, including disappointing early exit last season when the team ranked high early in the season lost a first-round regional game to Trinity.
There’s plenty of talent at on Preston Highway.
Forrest Smallwood has signed with Butler University and is perhaps the best player in the region. The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11 points last season and is expected to have more freedom outside the three-point line this season.
Beaumont, a 5-9 junior guard, is one of the state’s top athletes. He averaged 11 points last season and is also one of the state’s top football players.
Senior center Ross Herman will be solid in the post, while sophomore Dexter Heyman has a lot of potential. Heyman’s brother, Earl, is a football player at the University of Louisville and also prepped in football and basketball at Ballard.
Kris Career, Corey Gainey and Wes Miller are other players that Crews expected to log quality minutes and help the Bulldogs get back into title contention.
Crews finished 123-52 at DeSales, including 25-6 last season.
4. Manual (24-7): It could be a banner season for coach Dave Zuberer and the Crimsons, who won the 25th District title last year and return a lot of experience and will be one of the quickest teams in the region.
Zuberer has enough talent to get the ball up and down the floor and play with just about any team in the state of Kentucky.
Tra’h Moore averaged eight points and five rebounds last season and showed over the summer that he’s one of the best players in the region.
Parnell Minter averaged seven points a game and is a solid shooter, while Marcellus Hargrove is another solid senior guard. Drew Smith could also be one of the leaders for the Crimsons.
Zuberer should also unveil one of the state’s top freshmen in Jacob Jenkins. The young shooting guard has drawn rave reviews and is considered by several scouting services as the top player in the Class of 2009.
5. Fern Creek (14-15): The Tigers slipped under the .500-mark last season after being one of the regional powers for several years under coach Gary Shourds.
Look for the Creek to rise again this season.
Shourds has one of the best players in the state – Terrance Britt – and could have one of the state’s surprise teams with a load of athletic ability.
Britt averaged 18 points and nine assists a game last season, despite some injury problems. The Tigers were much more successful when he was in the region and Shourds hopes he can keep him there all season.
Senior Tim Rankin also averaged double figures and could be an All-Region performer. Carlos Mitchell and Steve Clark are also top returnees.
Shourds will also count on KJ Black, the school’s standout quarterback. The 6-4 Black will provide some needed muscle in the post.
6. Moore (8-18): Coach Larry Miller had the most talked about team in the region after the summer. The Mustangs looked solid in several statewide tournaments, including a strong showing in the Derek Smith Shootout.
But two of Miller’s top players left before school started and enrolled at Ballard. Gholson is still at Ballard, hoping to get ruled eligible.
Gholson would have been the Mustangs top players returning, but there’s still plenty of talent and hope left on the Outer Loop.
Jazzmar Ferguson is back after being ruled ineligible at Ballard and was a standout over the summer. The 6-foot junior averaged eight points a game last season.
Marcus Burks is the leading scorer returning at 10.5 points, while also back is Derek Brown and Ricky Booker.
Miller’s bunch went 24-4 over the summer.
7. Trinity (29-4): The senior class that helped put the Shamrocks on the basketball map in the state has graduated but the expectations are still around.
Coach Mike Szabo has won 81 games in his first four years and the former Northwestern University assistant has things rolling in St. Matthews.
Chad Byron is a long-range bomber and the top returnee for Trinity. His father, Ray, was an All-Stater at the school in the 1970s and Chad Byron should standout for the Shamrock faithful this winter.
Tanner Jacobs will provide the Shamrocks with some inside muscle, while sophomores Rob Giltner and Matt Chambless are drawing rave reviews.
8. St. Xavier (9-15): Things can’t get much worse on Poplar Level Road, so Tigers’ fans should be smiling a little more this winter.
Veteran coach Joe Bergamini has six seniors with a lot of varsity experience returning and a lot of untested talent in the younger classes.
Chris Wiedmar is the top returnee after averaging 10 points and hitting more than 50 three-pointers last season. Joe Grisanti averaged about seven points a game before injuring his knee early in the season and missing the rest of the way.
Daniel Vollmer is a 6-foot-9 junior, while fellow junior Aaron Robson, who is 6-7, could join him on the frontline.
9. Eastern (14-15): It’s been two years since the Eagles made a lot of noise but that could end this winter with three starters back on the roster,
Robert Buckner led the way a year ago with 19 points a game and is set to have a stellar senior season. James Carney and LeBrandon Manning are other top players.
10. Waggener (10-16): Former Male assistant coach Danny Edelen is steadily improving the Wildcats program and this year the win total could climb higher.
Edelen has one of the best unknown players in Louisville – Antonio Gilkey – and several other key players back in the fold.
Gilkey is a 6-1 guard who averaged 17 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals a game as a junior. Dexter Wilson is a top junior for Waggener.
11. Christian Academy (18-8): The Centurions have a senior-laden team and should be the best smaller school in the region again this season, although they won’t be eligible to play in the All “A” Classic for the first time because of an increased enrollment.
Jake Peterson is a 6-7 senior who averaged a double-double last season and senior Jon Hornback led the team with 16 points a game a year ago.
12. Seneca (10-20): New coach Steve Sargent has a lot of quickness and athleticism and is hoping for a turnaround from last year’s dismal season.
Sargent, a former college coach at Spalding University, replaces Tony Brach who had 69 wins in five years at Seneca but is now an athletic director in Indiana.
The RedHawks are young but talented. James Johnson is the lone senior starter back and he averaged 10 points a game last season.
Julian Brown, Dexter McAtee and Bilal Davis are the other top players.
13. Atherton (3-25): The Rebels have won just nine wins the past two seasons but could reach that mark this winter alone with seven key returnees.
Zach Coral is the leading scorer back after he averaged about 12 points a game. Tashad Meyers and Deandre Dickerson are the other top scorers back, both averaged around seven points a game.
Coach Brad Bixler is in his third year and it should get better.
14. Kentucky Country Day (12-14): Zain Rahman is one of the top scorers returning in the region and 19 points a game. The 6-foot-5 senior guard can score from the outside or slash to the basket and should help the Bearcats to double digits in wins.
Terronce Adams is a top athlete (he also stars in football) and will be another scoring threat, while 6-5 Eric Cohen gives KCD some more size.
The Bearcats just don’t have a lot of depth or post presence.
15. Collegiate (11-16): The Titans lost nine of their final 11 games and their two top scorers are gone, but coach Tim Williams returns four players with varsity experience.
Max Kommor and Jack Galloway averaged about five points a game, while Rashad Masri is a solid point guard and Will Cary is also back.
Things would have looked much brighter for Williams, but one other senior returnee isn’t eligible this season and a junior is out with an injury.
16. Whitefield Academy (11-15): Coach Mike Doig has just six players back off a team that could manage only 11 wins last season, so don’t expected much more.
Jason Woodworth averaged 13 points a game and is the top returnee.
*Walden: The small school in St. Matthews isn’t fielding a team.
Top Players in the Region
1. Antiquawn Beckham, Ballard: At 6-5, probably will be the most recruited junior in the state by the colleges because of his ability to play the point.
2. Forrest Smallwood, Male: Will need to be more consistent this season, but a solid all-around player and he can light it up from outside.
3. Thomas Coleman, Jeffersontown: He came into his own in the summer and with the height can dominate most teams on game night.
4. Terrance Britt, Fern Creek: Sensational point guard could make a run for All-State honors if he stays healthy the entire season.
5. Tra’h Moore, Manual: A bruiser in the paint, Moore has developed some perimeter skills and will lead the Crimsons.
6. Dale Easley, Jeffersontown: Isn’t the tallest – or biggest player on the floor – but is as strong as an ox and can get it done all over the floor.
7. Antonio Gilkey, Waggener: The big unknown outside of the Louisville-area, Gilkey is smooth and can flat play. He averaged 17 points last season.
8. Douglas Beaumont, Male: The football standout can hoop it up also. Beaumont is too quick for most guard to handle when he heads to the basket.
9. Chris Widemar, St. Xavier: A long-range bomber for the Tigers, Widemar had more than 50 three’s as a junior.
10. Chad Byron, Trinity: Will get plenty more shots this season with graduated seniors and you can bet the smooth-stroking Byron will fill it up.
11. Johonne Hamilton, Ballard: Not as hyped as teammate Beckham, but by year’s end could mean just as much to his team.
12. Jonathan Gholson, Ballard: If he were eligible, would be much higher. If he gets, eligible, it will take a while but will prove to be one of the top players around.
13. Ceedrick Ware, Jeffersontown: A little spark plug, Ware can slash with the best of them and is the Chargers’ top defender.
14. Jake Peterson, Christian Academy: Peterson is 6-7 and just an all-around solid player.
15. Tim Rankin, Fern Creek: A nice compliment player to Britt, he could help the Tigers do great things this season.