The 13th Region is going to be quite interesting this season.
Knox Central ended its 40-plus year drought last season and cut down the nets at The Arena, so who will it be this season?
Can the Panthers do it again? Or will it be between 49th District powers North Laurel and Clay County? Many are tagging those two as the teams to beat.
You also canít forget about tradition-rich teams South Laurel and Corbin, and always keep an eye on upstart Williamsburg along with Harlan County, Middlesboro and Bell County
1. North Laurel (2018-19 record: 23-12 overall, 11-7 vs. 13th Region opponents)
The Jaguars have a new coach in former LCA head coach Nate Valentine.
Valentine takes over one of the most talented teams in the mountains with freshman Reed Sheppard and senior Cole Kelley returning.
Sharpshooter Isiah Alexander returns as well. Keep an eye on Sheppardís cousin, 6-3 freshman Ryan Davidson, who is expected to be one of the best players in the region by seasonís end. Heís going to contribute right away.
Key Players Returning: Reed Sheppard (16.4 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game), Cole Kelley (16.1, 4.2), Isaiah Alexander (12.5, 2.0), Isaiah Elmore (1.7, 1.9) and Nate Bruner (2.1).
2. Clay County (22-7, 10-4)
The Tigers havenít reached the 13th Region Tournament the past two years, but return a roster thatís full of talent, so a third-year absence doesnít look likely.
Junior Connor Robinson returns along with Connor Farmer, Jacob Curry and seniors big man Evan Langdon.
Clay County has enough talent to win the region this season.
3. Knox Central (30-5, 14-2)
Gone are four key starters from last seasonís 13th Region championship squad, but the cupboard is far from bare.
Coach Tony Patterson returns players such as Zach Patterson, Kevionte Turner and Jevonte Turner, who I believe could very well be one of the best secrets in the region.
Key Players Returning: Zach Patterson (13.3, 3.5), Jevonte Turner (4.8, 2.6), Kevionte Turner (Injured; Did not play this past season), Isaac Mills (2.1, 2.6) and Andrew Sizemore (2.6, 0.9).
4. South Laurel (28-4, 18-1)
The Cardinals missed an excellent opportunity last year to win the 13th Region championship for the first time since the 2015-16.
But with that said, South Laurel coach Jeff Davis returns enough talent to make another run at the 13th Region crown.
Seniors Matt Cromer and Brett Norvell return to lead the Cardinals. Depth will be key for South Laurel this season.
Key Players Returning: Matt Cromer (19.1, 5.1), Alex Hostettler (5.9, 1.4), Brett Norvell (12.6, 4.6), Micah Anders (3.5), Zach Allen (1.3, 0.3) and Weslyn Wright (0.9, 0.6).
5. Williamsburg (16-14, 9-14)
Could this be the season Williamsburg gets back to the 13th Region Tournament?
The pieces of the puzzle are there with the high-scoring duo of both Slaht Hunter and Caleb Rose returning.
Keep an eye on this team, Williamsburg has a chance to make some Josie this season.
Key Players Returning: Caleb Rose (19.9, 7.3) and Slaht Hunter (19.5, 6.2), Dalton Ponder (6.7, 3.8), Devonte Powell (4.0, 5.1), Jason Bray (2.8, 1.2), and Mason Manning (0.6, 0.6).
6. Corbin (21-9, 13-7)
The Redhounds have been hit hard by graduation the past few years, but that doesnít mean theyíll not be regional contenders by the end of the season.
Matthew Taylor returns to the mix along with Alex Byrley. Theyíre a lot of unknowns currently with Corbin, but one thing everyone knows by now, never count out a Tony Pietrowski-coached team.
Key Players Returning: Matthew Taylor (14.2, No rebounding averages are on Corbin's KHSAA team page), Alex Byrley (8.1), Josh Hibbits (5.7), Cole Hicks (4.6), Grant Morton (1.7), Max Barnett (1.2), Abe Barnes (1.0), Gavin Allen (1.0), and Micah Engle (0.7).
7. Middlesboro (17-14, 12-11)
The Yellow Jackets finally put an end to Harlan Countyís domination in the 52nd District last season and are looking to repeat as champions. But itís not going to be easy with six seniors graduating off last seasonís squad.
Top-notch guard Jabari Kyle returns along with Trey Brock and T.J. Patterson.
Key Players Returning: Jabari Kyle (15.1, 3.1), Trey Brock (7.6, 5.0), Jordan Davis (1.5, 0.3), T.J. Patterson (3.1, 2.7), Eric Helton (0.4, 0.4), Ethan Barton (0.8, 0.1), and Bryson Barnard (0.9, 0.1).
8. Harlan County (19-8, 8-6)
The Black Bears could be ranked a tad bit too low, but right now Iíve got them at the eight-spot.
Itís gonna be interesting to see what Taylor Spurlock and company can do. Donít be surprised to see Mike Jonesí squad make a lot of noise this season.
Key Players Returning: Taylor Spurlock (11.1, 5.0), Tyler Cole (8.4, 3.7), James Smith (6.5, 2.2), Jacob Wilson (5.5, 3.2), Josh Turner (1.6, 2.3), and Jackson Huff (4.2, 1.8).
9. Bell County (18-12, 11-11)
Former North Laurel coach Brad Sizemore takes over the the Bobcatsí new coach, and itís not going to take him long to turn them into a regional contender.
The Bobcats could start off a tad bit slow due to most of their players still playing football, but Sizemore will have them clicking on all cylinders by the time 52nd District tourney play begins.
Key Players Returning: London Stephney (12.8, 3.6); Cameron Burnett (5.3, 3.9); Dalton Stepp (2.1), and Dawson Woolum (2.1)
10. Harlan (20-13, 11-12)
The Green Dragons reached the 13th Region Tournament for the second straight season, but boy, theyíve taken a hit thanks to graduation. Harlan will have to replace three starters and six seniors off last seasonís 52nd District runner-up squad.
But with that said, Harlan does return one of the best players in Jordan Akal.
Key Players Returning: Jordan Akal (17.2, 3.9), Jon Eldridge (9.6, 8.4), Jaedyn Gist (1.3, 2.0), Kaleb McLendon (1.8,1.2), Charles Morton (0.7, 0.1), and Johann Gist (0.6, 1.4).
The Best of the Rest
11. Barbourville (21-10, 16-7)
Shawn Vaughn and his team-best 12.2 scoring average returns as the Tigers look to unseat Knox Central as the best team in the 51st District.
12. Oneida Baptist (9-16, 4-10)
A lot of new faces will be seen on the court this season for coach Kenneth Woodsí Mountaineers. Oneida Baptist is my wild card team that could surprise, especially with senior leading scorers Sochi Onouha (19.1 scoring average) and Elijah Woods (17.2)returning.
13. Whitley County (17-14, 4-11)
The Colonels are young, but talented this season.
Itís going to be interesting to see what coach Jerry Overbey does with his team this season after graduating five seniors from last yearís 17-win squad.
Returning will be junior Hagan Hart along with a heavy dose of sophomores and freshmen ó Peyton Anderson, Trevor Downs, Gray Estes, Jack Estes, Garrett McNealy, Byron Lawson, Seth Mills, Brayden Mahan, Ethan Keene, and Jamie Fuson.
14. Jackson County (8-22, 2-16)
Greg Parretís Generals surprises last season and reached the 13th Region Tournament. Jackson County has hopes of doing the same thing this season with senior Logan Rose (16.3) returning.
15. Lynn Camp (15-14, 10-8)
Coach Dinky Phippsí Wildcats most some key players from last seasonís squad, but still returns talented players such as Max Burd (13.1) and Maison Prater (13.1).
16. Red Bird (9-21, 4-27)
First-year coach Brad Marsee is ready to lead the Cardinals to success this season.
The Cardinals return nine seniors including Deagon Finley (14.6) and Austin Napier (12.5).
17. Pineville (10-19, 3-16)
The Mountain Lions strugglers throughout last season, but have high hopes of being much-improved under first-year coach Brady Levy.
Pineville has eight seniors on its roster, including Dalton Mason (10.1) and Bell County transfer Sean Phipps (6.8).
13th Region Boys Player Rankings
1. Matt Cromer, South Laurel, Sr., G, 6-2
One of the best shooters in the region and hits the boards hard, too.
2. Connor Robinson, Clay County, Jr., G, 6-3
Can light up the scoreboard and is ready to lead the Tigers to Rupp Arena.
3. Reed Sheppard, North Laurel, Fr., G, 6-1
Could turn out to be the best player in the region by seasonís end. Can score with the best of them, but also is one of, if not, the best defender in the region.
4. Cole Kelley, North Laurel, Sr., G, 6-4
Can score from any where on the floor, and can also hit the boards as well.
5. Jordan Akal, Harlan, Soph., G, 6-0
One of the most-athletic players in the region.
6. Slaht Hunter, Williamsburg, Sr., G, 6-0
A solid scorer and rebounder for the Yellow Jackets.
7. Jabari Kyle, Middlesboro, Sr., G, 6-0
Top-notch guard that can score with the best of them.
8. Caleb Rose, Williamsburg, Sr., F, 6-1
One of the most underrated players in the region.
9. Zach Patterson, Knox Central, Sr., G/F, 6-3
Versatile player thatís ready to guide the Panthers to another deep postseason run.
10. London Stephney, Bell County, Sr., G, 5-10
Remains in football mode currently, but will soon be ready to guide the Bobcats on the basketball court.