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Defending Region 2 Champions: Madisonville North-Hopkins

Last Year was the first year in a very long time a team from District 8 didn’t win the Region 2 Championship. This will be the first time in a long time that a District 8 team didn’t sit a top the preseason standings. In fact, it has been a while since there was so much separation between first place and second place.

Madisonville North-Hopkins is the team to beat hands down this year. If they do not win the Region 2 championship, it will be considered a big upset. After that it gets really tricky on the rankings. Some teams have quite a bit of experience, but they don’t have the talent to go with that experience. Other teams have a good deal of talent, but its raw and immature so there are a lot of unknowns to go with it. District 8 in particular has always been a powerhouse district, but this year there are no stand out players, no top 20 state teams, and quite frankly, not a lot of buzz like in the past.

That being said, these rankings will most likely shift quite a bit throughout the season, but these seem to make the most sense at this time.

1. Madisonville North Hopkins - Coach Matt Beshear
2018-19 record: 30-6
Key Losses: Cade Cunningham, JD Gilbert
Key Returners: Ksuan Casey, Kenny White

Last year was an excellent year for the Maroons. They had one of the best seasons in Madisonville history winning 30 games, including 23 in a row. They also won the district and region championships and the opening round of the Sweet Sixteen. They were eventually topped by Warren Central 66-62 in the second round.

This year they hope to continue their dominance from last year although they will be without two important pieces, guards Cade Cunningham and JD Gilbert. Both averaged more than 10 ppg last year and were an integral part in both the offense and defense. This year the Maroons will have one of the strongest frontcourts in the state with Casey and White. Both will be candidates for Region 2 Player of the Year. Casey at 6’9” and White at 6’6” should dominate the boards in region 2. Not many teams in Kentucky will be able to match up well in the front court. The backcourt is where the Maroons are inexperienced, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Coach Beshear expects Marquis Parker and Deljuan Johnson to step up and fill those roles. While they will not be able to replace Cunningham and Gilbert, they should be able to hold their own.

Defense is where Madisonville hopes to focus their attention this year. The goal of Coach Beshear and the team is to be one of the best defensive teams in Kentucky. They believe if they can play great defense, they have the weapons on the offensive side of the ball to win games, win region, and advance deeper into the Sweet Sixteen than last year.

2. Henderson County - Tyler Smithhart
2018-19 record: 16-14
Key Losses: Corey Stewart
Key Returners: Daymian Dixon, Myekel Sanners, Holden Raley

Last year was a tough year for the Colonels as they were young and inexperienced. They found themselves in an unfamiliar position. They didn’t win the district championship for only the second time in 6 years. This year everyone has gotten older and they only lose one piece of the pie, but its significant. Corey Stewart has moved on, and while he is tough to replace, there is good news. Stewart only averaged 8 ppg his junior year, but being the leader in the system he averaged 17.5 ppg while setting the Henderson County three point record his senior year. Coach Smithhart is really good at getting the best out of his players. Lots of guys were able to get significant playing time last season while they were young. That will translate into better players this season.
Look for Daymian Dixon to lead the charge for the Colonels. Last year he averaged almost 10 ppg and has the ability to increase that significantly. He should be the team’s most dangerous offensive player. Holden Raley will be the team’s best outside threat. He is the only player that hit a significant amount from behind the arc that is returning, however he will need to be more efficient than 30% this season. Myekel Sanners will also be relied upon to step up his offensive numbers this season. Last year Sanners got just over 9 ppg. Smithhart would like to see that increase at least 3 or 4 points per game. Edmund Brooks is someone to watch too. He shot 67% from the field last season while averaging 8 ppg. If he keeps that efficiency and gets more shots, watch out.
Coach Smithhart knows that one player won’t replace Stewart, however he does believe that the group effort of improvement can more than overcome the loss on the offensive side of the ball. The focus through the preseason has been rebounding and getting to the free throw line, something they struggled with last season.

3. Christian County - Coach Kerry Stovall
2018-19 record: 15-17
Key Losses: Fred Tandy, Eric Brody
Key Returners: Stephon Bussell, Damikeon Mathis

It has been quite a few years since we have seen both Hopkinsville and Christian County struggle, but that is exactly where each program is at right now. The Colonels limped to a 15-17 season last year after losing a ton of talent the previous season. This year, they lose their top two scorers from last year in Tandy and Brody. Just like Hopkinsville, Christian County has a lot of raw talent and athleticism, but not much experience or maturity.
There are two major contributors returning for CCHS. Stephon Bussell averaged 11.5 ppg and was second on the team in 3 pointers. However he shot under 30% from that range. He will need to be more efficient from behind the arc. Mathis averaged just under 10 ppg, but he to also shot less than 30% from three.
Two big problems from last season was their awful free throw shooting (57%) and lack of rebounding. Not one Colonel averaged more than 5 rpg. Someone will have to step up and take control of the boards, and the they will have to get better from both three point land and the charity stripe if they want to have a chance at the region tournament. Good thing is this is most likely the worst district 8 as a whole in the 21st century, so whichever team improves the most, will likely win the district.

4. Hopkinsville - Coach Larry Miller
2018-19 record: 16-14
Key Losses: James Nicholas, Jamarion Sharp, Jacarius Burks
Key Returners: Don Victor

Last year Larry Miller took over a Hopkinsville team that was in disarray the previous season. He goal was to get things back on track and create a vision under his tenure. The Tigers had been on one of the most dominating runs in the state winning the region all but 2 years under Tim Haworth. Hopkinsville managed a winning season last year, but it still wasn’t the same powerhouse teams Hopkinsville had been known for.
A lot of talent, especially underneath the basket, graduated last season. This is has left a void of leadership and experience. Talent, is one thing that District 8 teams seem to always have an abundance of. However, turning talent into winning on the court is another thing. Coach Miller will again have a lot of raw talent on this squad. It will be a very young team, so he has the chance to mold them into what he envisions.
Don Victor will be the key this season. He can score from anywhere on the floor, but his biggest asset will be his leadership. If he can stay poised and lead the team, Hopkinsville has a fighting chance of being competitive and giving the top teams a run for their money. If he struggles to lead, and no one picks up that leadership, we may see the Tigers struggle. They have lost almost all their size, but they will be extremely quick and athletic and can cause havoc on defense. Their offense will have to progressively get better throughout the season. Look for Jamarcus Burks and Cabiness to play down low and McKnight and Rudd to fill out the backcourt.

5. Caldwell County - Coach Daniel Kukahiko
2018-19 record: 19-11
Key Losses: Derrin Boyd, John Davis
Key Returners: Cayden Fraliex, Tripp Branch

Add Caldwell County as another team who lost their top two scorers from last season. Derrin Boyd was one of the most prolific scorers in the region as he averaged 24 ppg and 7.3 rpg. He, like Tandy from UHA, will not be able to be replaced. Davis averaged 12.4 ppg and was one of the leaders on the floor.
Cayden Fraliex at 11.5 ppg, will be the team’s top returning starter. He is a 44% three point shooter and a 84% free throw shooter. If he can keep up that efficiency, his ppg will soar as he will take a whole lot more shots this season. Boyd attempted 413 fg to Fraliex’s 224 fg last year. Add in Davis 145, and Fraliex will be looked upon to make up some of those. Tripp Branch will also be needed. He averaged 8 ppg last year and also hit 43% from deep and 82% from the stripe. It’s obvious these two can shoot, but they will now be team’s focus, so the Tigers will need others to step up.
Coach Kukahiko is excited because many of those guys had significant minutes last year. He said his job is to help each of them defined their roles for this season. He is looking for Jamarius Blaine to handle the point while Cole Smiley crashes the boards. The Tigers strength will be their shooting and teamwork. If things click right, the Tigers can be in for a big season!

6. Union County - Coach Shane Smith
2018-19 record: 19-9
Key Losses: Elex Dunford, Cade Duncan
Key Returners: Kale Gaither

Union had a solid season last year almost winning 20 games and the 6th district championship. They did not lose their top scorer, however they did lose their second and third top scorers in Dunford and Duncan. Duncan was also the teams best big man and leading rebounder.
Union’s season will depend on how Kale Gaither is surrounded. Gaither is arguably the most prolific scorer in region 2. He averaged 23 ppg last year as a sophomore on a new team. With a year under his belt with the Braves, look for him to increase that even more. Gaither is not a huge threat from three point range, although he will take it if you give it to him. He hit 30% from behind the arc. His specialty is driving into the lane and either finishing at the rim, or pulling up for a short jumper. He is quick, agile, and very athletic. He can’t do it on his own however, and how his teammates respond to helping will be the biggest factor in their success this season.
Look for juniors Kaleb Kanipe, Iverson King, and Eli Wilkes to step up for Union. All three average about 6 ppg last season and all gained valuable experience at sophomores. They all should improve and contribute more on both sides of the ball. The glaring weakness now for the Braves is the lack of size and the inability to consistently knock down the three.
Union plays a much more difficult schedule this season than they have in the past, which is good. Their out of region foes are Owensboro, Owensboro Catholic, Bracken County, Fleming County, Ashland, Paducah Tilghman, Apollo, and Davies County. Good prep for the region 2 tournament.

7. Webster County - Coach Jon Newton
2018-19 record: 16-14
Key Losses: Malachi Douglas
Key Returners: Tyler Camplin, Hunter McNaughton

Webster County didn’t have quite the season they hoped for last year, but this season looks very promising. The Trojans return two of their top three players from last season. Tyler Camplin led the team scoring almost 18 ppg and Hunter McNaughton averaged almost 13 ppg. They did lose their second best scorer and outside shooter in Douglas.
Destin Allen will be called upon to step up and add to the 8 ppg he averaged last season. He is not the outside shooter Douglas was, so someone else will have to step up to hit from deep. The team doesn’t want to become one dimensional with Camplin only from the outside. Teams could focus on him and squeeze the middle and make everyone else shoot from an uncomfortable place, so getting better from the outside is very important.
One of the big knocks about Webster over the years is the lack of a competitive schedule. This year proves much of the same. The only significant opponents outside region 2 is Davies County and McLean County, and both of those have not be as competitive lately. This makes it tough to know how good Webster really is. It will be tough for Webster to get the experience necessary when Union is learning about pressure playing the schedule they are. They will have to get their experience playing the better teams in Region 2.

8. Lyon County - Coach Jeff Embrey
2018-19 record: 21-10
Key Losses: Gabe Board
Key Returners: Travis Perry, Jackson Shoulders, Kade Blackburn

Lyon County surprised a lot of people last year with their 20 win season, especially their early wins against Caldwell, Webster, and Union Counties. While they could not keep up with the top tier teams, they proved to be one of the better mid-tier teams. They only lost Gabe Board and Gabe Defew from their starting lineup. Board was the leading scorer his junior year and second in scoring last season as a senior. Defew played a supporting role as the teams 5th best scorer.
Travis Perry took over last year and became the teams leading scoring threat at almost 21 points per game. Look for that to continue this season. He can score from almost anywhere including from behind the arc. He led the team in threes and free throws. Jackson Shoulders shores up the glass. He averaged 12.5 ppg and 7.5 rpg. The was second in free throw attempts as well. Shoulders is really good within 12 feet of the basket, outside of that he is out of his comfort zone. The other outside threat for the Lyons is Kade Blackburn. He 40% of his threes last season and should continue to play that role this season.
The level of competition in the 2nd region has increased because so much talent left last season, however, look for Lyon County to play a similar role as last season. They should be one of the better mid-tier teams, but won’t be able to hang with the top teams.

9. University Heights - Coach Grant Shouse
2018-19 record: 30-5
Key Losses: DeKeyvan (KyKy) Tandy, Drew McGowan, Taquan Hollowell
Key Returners: KJ Crump

Expectations were so high last year with Mr. Basketball candidate KyKy Tandy senior campaign and a cast that had played together for a few years. They were coming off a Region 2 championship and planning on another. Madisonville derailed that dream in defeated them in the region finals. Gone now are the Blazers top 3 scorers in Tandy, McGowan, and Hollowell. Between the 3 of them is 53 ppg that will have to be found somewhere this season. That is a tall order from a team that will not have a ton of experience returning. In fact all those returning combined averaged less than 20 ppg last season.
KJ Crump, who is a junior, will step up to lead the Blazers this season. He averaged just over 8 ppg last season and will have to be in charge of a very young and inexperienced team. While UHA may not have the talent they had last year, they are young. Only two seniors on this team. Lots of freshman and sophomores will need time to allow them to grow and learn. This team should be much improved as the season progresses. They have enough talent where they still will be favorites to win the region 2 all A Classic and advance to the state. Depending on how things develop, they still may have a chance for the district 8 championship as well.

10. Crittenden County - Coach Denis Hodge
2018-19 record: 11-19
Key Losses: none
Key Returners: Gabe Mott, Preston Turley, Hunter Boone

Crittenden increased their season win total by 4 last year. A small but important improvement. This season could be Crittenden’s first winning season since the 2014-15 season when they went 16-12. The reason for the optimism is that the Rockets return almost their entire starting lineup. They lose Sawyer Towery, but return their top 3 scoring threats in Mott, Turley, and Boone.
Gabe Mott led the team last year with 14.5 ppg. Preston Turley was second in scoring with 11.6 ppg and led the team in rebounding with 7.5 rpg. Hunter Boone was third in scoring with 8 ppg. Mott and Boone both were scoring threats from the outside, while Turley tended to stay around the basket. That trend will continue this season. All three guys are only juniors this year, so look for continued improvement as they mature further and become more comfortable in their roles.
Crittenden is a team that could make some noise again in the 5th district. It should have some great competition with most of the teams returning a lot of starters. Big question for the Rockets will be can they get over the .500 mark this year. Looking at their schedule, it can happen, but they will have to improve their play from last year to accomplish it.

11. Hopkins County Central - Coach Michael Fraliex
2018-19 record: 12-15
Key Losses: Tylan Mann
Key Returners: Blasin Moore, Adrian Stringer

Hopkins County Central didn’t lose as many players to graduation as other teams, but the player they lost really hurts. Tylan Mann was the leading scorer on the team with 22 ppg, and second in rebounding at 6.5 rpg. While he will be missed, there are two players who have the opportunity to step up, and together, they may be able to make of some of that. Adrian Stringer averaged 10 ppg last year, but he led the team in rebounding at 8.2. The Storm will need a double/double out of him this season. Look for 13 ppg/10 rpg. Blasin Moore averaged 11.5 ppg and 6.5 rpg. Look for him to improve closer to 15 ppg/7 rpg. Neither Moore or Stringer are a great outside shot. They do most of their damage within 12 feet of the basket. They will need guys like Sam Almon to step up and hit more consistently from the outside to keep teams from crowding the middle.
When talking to first year coach Michael Fraliex, he express how his focus is currently on working together as a team, and keeping the team focused on today. He already recognizes one of the strengths of this team is hard work. If they can continue to work hard and play together, things will work out, and that is the message he is trying to relay as he gets to know the team, and the team gets to know him.

12. Trigg County - Coach Chad Burgett
2018-19 record: 11-17
Key Losses: Kyron Grubbs
Key Returners: Kendric Adams, JaKobe Bridges

Trigg County is another district 5 team that is not losing much from last year and will return their starting 5 pretty much in tack. However the big change is at the top. Coach Croft left and went to Mayfield, and Chad Burgett has taken over for the Wildcats. The guys will have to learn a new system while continuing growth from last year. This is young talent here with their leading scorer Adams only being a sophomore.
Kendric Adams led the team in scoring and rebounding as a freshman. He averaged 13 ppg and 7.5 rpg. He should continue to improve as he matures and gets more experience at the high school level. Trigg lost their second leading scorer in Kyron Grubbs, but JaKobe Bridges the teams third leading scorer last year hopes to pick up some of those numbers.
The Wildcats will have some growing pains under a new coach, but there is some good base talent there to work with. The development of Adams will be key in the success this season. District 5 will be very competitive, full of good mid-tier teams. Trigg’s schedule isn’t anything super difficult, so they can come away with an above .500 season if things go their way.

13. Dawson Springs - Coach Chad Burgett
2018-19 record: 9-20
Key Losses: Ethan Huddleston
Key Returners: Skyler Clark, Landon Pace, Dylan Dawson

Dawson Springs had a rough season last year, but they also had a lot of room to grow because they were so young. So this year, they are ready to take on more challenges. They only lose one contributor on offense. Their top 2 scorers return. Senior Skyler Clark will lead the Panthers into year as last year’s leading scorer. He averaged over 18 ppg and can score off of driving or from deep. Dylan Dawson averaged 7 ppg but 9 rpg. He will need to improve his scoring for Dawson to be competitive. Landon Pace was the second leading scorer for the Pathers. He averaged 13 ppg and 5 rpg. If Dawson can come together and keep their poise and continue to improve this year, there is a good chance they get to .500.

14. Livingston Central - Coach Chris Green
2017-18 record: 15-14
Key Losses: Cameron Head, Kobe Ringstaff, Bryce Stein
Key Returners: Max Downey

A pretty good season last year for the Cardinals, although it didn’t meet expectations. The window for the district championship closed at the end of last season, without one. Now unlike all the other district 5 teams, Livingston Central loses almost everyone out of their starting lineup. This looks like it will be a tough year.
Max Downey looks to be the only returning starter. He averaged 7 ppg and 4 rpg. He is the only person with any significant experience on the roster. And as of right now, there are only 8 listed on the roster.

15. Fort Campbell - Coach Stacey Harrell
2017-18 record: 5-21

It is tough to have a basketball program where not only do you lose player consistently to graduation, but also to families being transferred. As of right now, Ft. Campbell has 9 on their roster right now including a 7th grader. It is tough and almost unfair for this school to play in district 8, one of the most talented districts in the state.

Top 10 Players to Watch

1. Ksuan Casey, Madisonville North-Hopkins
Casey help lead Madisonville to the Region 2 championship, finally ridding district 8’s hold on it. He stand 6’9” and is the frontrunner for region 2 POY and has a great chance of playing at the next level. He averaged 15.3 ppg and 9.6 rpg. Both those numbers will go up this season, maybe even as high as 20/12. He is the premier big man in region 2, and one of the best in Ky

2. Kale Gaither, Union County (Guard), Junior
Gaither average 15 ppg as a freshman, he increased that to 23 ppg as a sophomore. He maybe the most talented and athletic player in the region. He is the top player in the junior class. He still needs to get better at shooting from the outside, but he has an amazing knack at getting to the rim, and he is a great finisher. Look for more 25 ppg out of him this season.

3. Kenny White, Madisonville North-Hopkins
White plays along side Casey and will be his competition of Region 2 POY. He averaged 14.2 ppg while pulling down 8.4 rpg. His numbers are expected to go up as well. He could see 16/10 this season or better. Imagine two guys averaging a double/double on the same team.

4. Travis Perry, Lyon County
Perry is a huge part of why Lyon County has been successful. He averaged almost 21 ppg last season. He is dangerous from both inside and out, hitting 36% from three point range. He also is great from the foul line shooting 80%, which is big considering he took almost 200 free throws last year.

5. Tyler Camplin, Webster County
Camplin averaged almost 18 ppg last season while shooting 48% from the field including 33% from three. He could improve on his free throw shooting since he took 200+ last season. He has nice touch, just needs better efficiency and needs not force the shot.

6. Don Victor, Hopkinsville
Victor wasn’t the leading scorer on his team last year and only averaged 8.4 ppg. This ranking is more about potential and leadership. He has worked hard and will most likely vastly increase those numbers this season. He is smart, a hard worker, and very talented.

7. Stephon Bussell, Christian County
Many things that can be said about Victor can also be said about Bussell. He is the new leader for the Colonels and a lot is expected of him. He averaged 11.5 ppg last season and his coach expects that to increase 3 or 4 ppg. He really needs to improve his outside shooting as he prefers to drive to the basket.

8. Skyler Clark, Dawson Springs
Clark is a very good all around player with a weak surrounding cast. He still manages to score 18 ppg. He hit around 32% of his threes, but only 65% of his free throws. He will need to work on both of those to really open up his game.

9. Gabe Mott, Crittenden County
Mott led the surprise that was Crittenden County last year. He averaged 14.5 ppg and hit 32% of his threes. He is another who struggles from the free throw line. He has been working to improve that this off season.

10 Kendric Adams, Trigg County
Adams is the only sophomore on this list. He led the Trigg County Wildcats in scoring last season as a freshman. He poured in 13 ppg and pulling down 7.5 rpg. Look for both of these to improve as he matures and gets a better understanding of how to play the game. Very talented young man.

Honorable Mention
Myekel Sanners, Henderson County
Holden Raley, Henderson County
KJ Crump, University Heights
Jackson Shoulders, Lyon County
Cayden Fraliex, Caldwell County