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2017-18 8th Region Boys Preview
By: Colonelmike &
8th Region Warrior

If there’s one thing we should have learned by now about the 8th Region boys basketball tournament, it’s this advice, borrowed from perhaps, from a horse racing handicapper: Don’t bet the favorite. For the last five years, the mantle of “favorite” has been a curse to the team wearing it…

Last year, Oldham County entered the tournament as the prohibitive favorite – and promptly lost in the first round to eventual champ Collins. Two years ago, Owen County was the overwhelming choice – and they also lost in the first round to the eventual champs, the South Oldham Dragons. Oldham County (2015), Collins (2014), and Oldham County (2013) also all entered as the top picks – but none went to Rupp.

In fact, the last favorite to actually win the title and go to the Sweet 16 was the 2012 Oldham County Colonels. Jason Holland’s most successful OC team went 31-6 that year and advanced all the way to the Sweet 16 semi-finals. Since then, well…

So, in a season where no clear frontrunner has established themselves in the 8th – and with apologies to Tom Hanks and “Forrest Gump” - picking a favorite is a bit like “…a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get!”

We still have a few suspects that appear to be a bit above the others, but each appears to have a wart, a flaw, a question that must be answered before they can punch their ticket to Rupp.

Defending champ Collins must replace their top two scorers and top two rebounders. South Oldham – winner of three of four titles from 2013-2016 – lost four starters, including 2017 8th Region Player of the Year Jo Griffin, now playing at Louisville. Oldham County returns a lot of experienced players, but lost four guards to graduation, including leading scorer Ismail Jones, one of the region’s most consistent and versatile scorers. In Lawrenceburg, can Cobe Penny follow the footsteps of his older brother and lead Anderson County to one more title for 8th Region coaching dean Glen Drury? Can Walton-Verona take the “next step” one year after winning 26 games? And will Simon Kenton bounce back from a disappointing season when the talent just didn’t come together?

In short, this may simply be the most wide-open boys’ 8th region in recent memory. And I’ve been an 8th region regular since 1976… The top three, in particular, could be ordered and re-ordered….

Confused yet? With that in mind, let’s head to the box of chocolates and try to find a favorite, anyway…

#1 Walton-Verona (27-6, 32nd district champs, lost in Region 8 Round 1 to South Oldham, 76-64) - The 8th Region is blessed some tremendous coaching talent. From the veterans to the younger guys, the talent on the sidelines is amazing. But has anybody had the impact on a program in as short a time as Grant Brennan at Walton-Verona?

Prior to Brennan’s arrival as head coach in 2013-14, the Bearcats had been a solid, if unspectacular, program in the 2000s. In the 13 seasons preceding Brennan’s arrival, the Bearcats had seven winning seasons, including a 22 win season in 2003-4 and a 20 win season in 2009-10. Success in the post-season, however, had been a different story. It seemed that there was always a Grant County or Simon Kenton team in the 32nd District that was just a little better, and the Cats’ only District title since 2000 had come in 2010-11, when a 15-13 Walton squad got hot at the right time and beat both on the way to the title.

Brennan’s first squad finished with the region’s worst record at 4-20 in 2013-14, but each successive team has done better: 14-14 in 2014-15, 18-11 in 2015-16, and last year, it all came together in a magnificent 26-7 season in which Walton finished tied for the most wins in the region, and won their district for the first time in six years, and just the second in sixty-five seasons. Along the way, they claimed the 8th Region All-A title.

This year, nobody should be surprised that the Cats are one of the favorites. Though the coaches voted Walton-Verona a close third in our sample poll, the Bearcats collected more first-place votes than anyone (6). And it’s easy to see why; there’s an awful lot to like about this team. It’s a veteran W-V squad that enters the 2017-18 season; a team that knows how to win. The top five scorers return from last year, including Zach Clinkenbeard, a 6’5” senior who averaged 11.2 ppg and 6.9 rebounds. Dieonte Miles, a 6’9” junior, averaged 12.0 ppg, 6.1 rebounds, and nearly 5 blocks a contest. Both are likely all-region performers this year and give Walton a 1-2 punch on the inside that will be hard to match up against. Austin Lay (7 ppg last season) may be the team’s best defender. And the rich sometimes get richer; during the off-season, Williamstown star Brennan Stanley, who averaged 18.6 ppg in leading the Demons in scoring last year, transferred to Walton, giving the Bearcats scoring punch on the perimeter that they lacked last year.

The Bearcats will test their abilities early and often with an aggressive schedule that features Gallatin County, Oldham County, South Oldham, Simon Kenton, and Anderson County, as well as trips to two of the better Kentucky holiday tournaments, the King of the Bluegrass and the Traditional Bank Tournament.

If there’s a question mark that exists for Walton-Verona, it’s whether the Bearcats can deal with the tempo of some of the fast-paced teams in the region, such as Oldham County, South Oldham, and others. Last season, their worst loss was a 23-point defeat at the hands of the highest-scoring team in the 8th, South Oldham, and the Dragons bested the Bearcats again in the Region 8 Tourney. Conventional wisdom suggests that the addition of Stanley may help alleviate that concern, as the Cats will have one of the region’s premier guards handling the perimeter.

Strengths: Just about everything. Experience, size, scoring ability, “momentum” from 2016-17.

Weakness: Ability to handle up-tempo teams will be the question mark that will be answered early; the schedule features Anderson County and lightning-fast Cobe Penny on 12/8/17, and Walton travels to face Oldham County and the Colonels’ pressure D on 12/15/17.

Key Returnees: Zach Clinkenbeard, Austin Lay, Dieonte Miles.

Key Addition: Brennan Stanley, perhaps the most “impactful” off-season transfer in the 8th this year.

Key Losses: None

#2 Oldham County (26-6, 29th District champs, lost round 1 8th Region to eventual champion Collins, 62-59) – No team in the 8th region has been as successful as Oldham County over the past four years, in terms of wins and losses. Since Coy Zerhusen took over as head coach in the 2013-14 season, Oldham County has gone 99-27, a winning percentage of .786(!) During that time, the Colonels have won four straight 29th District titles and finished as the 8th region runner-up once. But the region title has eluded Oldham despite this dominance, as the Colonels have gone 4-4 in region tournament play and been bounced from the tournament three times by four points or less. Still, the Colonels – if not #1 – have to be considered as one of the pre-season favorites again.

The Colonels will rely once again on Zerhusen’s trademark pressure defense, fueled by waves of defenders. But this year, thanks to a group of players who have played together for a long time and experienced a lot of success together on the hardwood, Zerhusen feels that the team may be more skilled offensively than recent Oldham squads, meaning that the Colonels could be able to rely a little less on having to turn over opponents in order to win.

Oldham returns a fairly balanced group, with three returning starters and a veteran guard corps. Jackson Gibson (senior guard) and senior forward Zach Larimore were both all-region in 2016-17, and figure to be the primary scorers early on, as both averaged 12.9 ppg, last season. Gibson, who was one of the most consistent scorers in the 8th Region last year, is capable of putting up 30+ points on any given night. Larimore, who emerged as one of the region’s premier offensive rebounders last year, returns as the team’s top rebounder at 6.6 per game and will get a lot of baskets on putbacks. Travis Henderson, a 6-4 senior center, returns on the inside, where he averaged 9.0 ppg / 5.2 rebounds. A good shooter, Henderson hit 54% from the field overall – and also over 39% of his threes. 5’11” senior guard Andre Brewer will almost certainly play at one guard spot; Brewer made a name for himself last year as Mr. “Instant Defense” off the bench.

The final starting spot is up for grabs, but could be filled by a number of very different players. Senior 6’1” forward Brandon Dewitt played in 17 games last year and has an outside shooting touch; he may turn out to be one of the best three point shooters on the team this year. Junior 6’3” forward Christian Harper saw action in 22 varsity games and provides more of a low post presence and is quick off his feet. 6’3” junior forward Matthew Teague is also in the mix. Cole Mesker and Dylan Benson, a pair of junior guards, provide experienced depth, so Oldham should be able to go at least nine deep, with all nine players able to play the up-and-down pressure defense Zerhusen demands.

The question for Oldham remains the inside, where Henderson and Larimore need to establish more of a presence in a region that is full of big men. Henderson sometimes likes to float outside, away from the basket, and showcase his outside shooting skills. Though a gifted jump shooter, Oldham is more likely to need him to become a dominant rebounder to compete with the bigs that populate the Simon Kenton, Walton-Verona, and other region rosters. Likewise, Larimore sometimes finds himself hanging around outside, when he has a great gift as an offensive rebounder – perhaps the best in the region.

Oldham’s demise in the region last year came when the Colonels struggled to hold down the offensive strength of Collins big man Dominique Turner.

It may well be that the unknown fifth starter – Harper, Teague, or Dewitt – may be the one who shows the greatest willingness to work down low to get the rebounds.

Offensively, the Colonels will have to transition somewhat. Last year, Gibson handled the point, while 2-guard Ismail Jones worked without the ball, often getting it from Gibson on powerful drives to the basket that fueled his team-leading scoring. This year, Gibson would seem to be the natural choice at point – but if he handles that role again, will it impede his opportunities to score? Gibson is an explosive scorer and is particularly adept at driving the paint and hitting the short pull-up.

Defensively, Oldham remains one of the elite squads in the region – perhaps the best. The Colonels will win a lot of games simply because many teams won’t be able to contend with the constant pressure defense, combined with the fact that Oldham can constantly keep fresh legs on the court to make it work.

Strengths: Coaching, experience (including two all-region performers), pressure defense, possible player of the year in Jackson Gibson.

Weaknesses: Ability to create offense against bigger, more physical teams.

Key Returnees: Jackson Gibson, Travis Henderson, Zach Larimore

Key Losses: Ismail Jones

#3 Anderson County (21-12, 30th District champs; lost in 8th Region finals to Collins, 53-54.) This team comes in as a lot of people’s choice as the 2018 regional champion, and why not, they have been in the regional final the last 2 seasons, and were a last second shot away from heading to Rupp Arena last season.

It’s not too hard to make a strong argument on behalf of the Bearcats as the favorites. They have the longest tenured coach in the region in Glen Drury, who will be in the hall of fame one day for all his accomplishments, and he has a staff that compliments him very well. Coach Drury is always dangerous come tourney time. They return the pre-season selection for POY in Sr. Cobe Penny (23ppg, 7reb) per contest. Cobe has the ability to beat you off the dribble and knock down the 3 point shot making him a very good offensive player. Cobe is best in transition and can get from one end to the other really quickly. Cobe also plays hard nose defense, and had almost (200) FT attempts last season, connecting on 72% of those.

A player that came on for the Bearcats around tourney time was Senior 6’5 Christian Gritton who averaged a double-double last season (12ppg, 10reb) and was a force on both ends of the floor. Gritton has the ability to be an all-region player for the Bearcats. You also have to mention Senior Dylan Pittman as well. Dylan averaged 10ppg last season and almost made 40% of his 3 point shots. Dylan made some huge shots in the tourney last season.

For the Bearcats to win this regional tourney they are going to need some younger players to emerge. They have had very good JV teams the last 2 seasons, and the coaches at Anderson are excited about their direction. We know that the (3) seniors are really good players, but it takes more to cut down the nets in March.

Strengths: Experience (coaching and players), Guard and post play, POY

Weaknesses: Depth and lack of size

Key Returnees: Cobe Penny, Dylan Pittman, Christian Gritton

Key Losses: John Paul Garmon

#4 Collins (24-13, 30th district runner-up, Region 8 champs, lost in the second round of the Sweet 16 to Cooper, 58-33.)
The Titans won their second regional tournament in the school’s short history last season, and did so in dramatic fashion, with every game being won in the closing seconds. Head Coach Chris Gaither has been at Martha Lane since it opened, serving as an assistant coach for the first season but then taking over the reigns as head coach, where he has had immediate and tenured success.

Hard to argue with the Titans as a favorite this season when they have won 2 of the last 3 regional titles. Not only did the Titans make the state tournament but they also won a game at the big show and made the elite 8. This team will be led by one of the best sophomores in the state in Dayvion McKnight (7.6ppg). McKnight really impressed me last season with all the intangibles that he brings. The ability to be a lock down defender, rebound, distribute and get to the rim are attributes that sophomores generally don’t have. This guard has them all, and if he establishes and outside shot then we are looking at a possible POY candidate.

6’5 Senior Nick Fort probably made more progress from this summer than anyone in the Titan program over the summer. Nick has become a threat on offense in many ways. He can shoot, he can drive and score over the top, he can post smaller opponents up inside. He is driving and creating shots for teammates well. At 6’5 he is a huge matchup problem for any opponent.

5’11 Senior Jacob Feltner stretches the floor extremely well. But, what others don’t realize is how solid he is on defense. Jacob keeps his opponent from scoring, stays in front of the drive well. As a small guard he boxes out really well and keeps his man from getting the rebound.

Sophomore Marcellus Vail had a good summer as well, and really contributed down the stretch for the Titans last season.

This team has to replace 26ppg and 14 rebounds per game from last season, and if they can rebound the basketball in big moments they can win this region yet again.

Strengths: Passing and Shooting the basketball, quickness, experience, FT% (over 70%) from starters, transition offense

Weaknesses: Depth and size, youth off bench, consistency from others

Key Returnees: Dayvion McKnight, Nick Fort, Jacob Feltner, Nick Eades, Marcellus Veil

Key Losses: Charles Cochran, Dominique Turner

#5 Simon Kenton (15-14 in 2016-17; lost in round one of District 32 to Walton-Verona, 56-53)
Trent Steiner is one of the vets. The longtime SK mentor is in his 15th year with the Pioneers and has come a long way since that inaugural 6-21 campaign in 2003-4. Since then, his teams have often been among the contenders in the region, and – until just recently – the Pioneers had dominated the district.

This year, SK is expected by many to bounce back from a somewhat surprising season in which most people felt the team under-performed. The district was surrendered to the up-and-coming Walton-Verona Bearcats, and the Pioneers missed the region tournament for the first time since joining the 8th region in the 2005-6 season. Though Walton is expected to claim the 32nd district for a second consecutive year, the feeling among the region coaches is that SK will be back at the Roy come March for the Region 8 Tournament.

Leading the way will be 6’9” senior center Zach Kelch, who led the team in scoring (12.2 ppg) and rebounds (7.8/game) last year. Steiner commented on his improvement in strength; Kelch weighed about 209 pounds after last year’s district tournament loss. He enters the 2017-18 season tipping the scales at about 228-230. Kelch, one of the highest-regarded big men in the region, has already committed to play at the Naval Academy.

After that, the Pioneers will have to find some new scorers. Gone through graduation are J.C. Hawkins (13.1 ppg / 5.4 rebounds) and Caleb Sergent (11.4 ppg). Chaz Kitchens returns after averaging 8.3 ppg last season, and Steiner believes 6’0” senior forward Andrew Robinson may answer part of that need. Robinson is “just a freak athlete” per Steiner, and is in just his third year of playing organized basketball. The half-brother of former SK star Josh Hurd (senior 2007), Robinson averaged 6.5 ppg / 4.5 reb last season.

After that, SK gets very young. Steiner is extremely excited about a sophomore class full of guards. He expects the Pioneers’ guard play to be much better than last season, though SK could have a different starting lineup every night. Among those in the mix are John Hensley and Jeremy Davis.

Even younger is a player who may ultimately be the best of the bunch. Kelly Niece, the brother of SK girls’ basketball star Ally Niece, averaged just 3.8 ppg last year – but he was just an 8th grader. According to Steiner, Niece “…might score as easily as anyone I’ve ever coached.” A true gym rat, Niece flashed his potential last year; with a year under his belt, he could blossom this year into something special.

Steiner believes the youngsters all have the capability to be great shooters, but only time will tell once the big lights go on. Regardless, the Pioneers will work to get Kelch touches on every offensive trip down court.

SK will have to answer the question of where the points will come from this year, but the other big question may be how the team adapts to a new philosophy on defense. Steiner, long a man-to-man devotee, hinted that he may have to play a lot more zone in 2017-18 as he tries to protect his big man. Steiner hopes to be able to keep Kelch on the floor as much as possible, which will likely be critical to the Pioneers' ultimate success.

The Pioneers will stay close to home early; their December schedule is largely devoted to Northern Kentucky teams so even the “away” games will be close. Regardless, 8 of their first 10 games will be in the SK gym, allowing the youthful squad to mature a bit in front of a friendly crowd. The Pioneers will dip their toes into the deep end of the 8th region pool early on in January, 2018 as they face top-ranked Walton-Verona on 1/5/18, defending champ Collins on 1/20/18, South Oldham on 1/26/18, Gallatin County on 1/29/18, Oldham County on 2/2/18, and Anderson County on 2/9/18. Four of those key region games will come on the road.

Strengths: Player of the year candidate Kelch; depth at guard; shooting

Weaknesses: Depth on the inside; promising, but unproven talent on perimeter

Key Returnees: Zach Kelch, Andrew Robinson, Kelly Niece, Chaz Kitchens

Key Losses: J.C. Hawkins, Caleb Sergent

#6 South Oldham (26-6, 29th district runner-up, lost in region 8 semi-finals, 65-56, to Anderson County)
Steve Simpson is behind only Glen Drury (Anderson County) and Jon Jones (Gallatin County) in terms of tenure at his present school. And few coaches have been as successful as Simpson, who has won 326 games in Crestwood in 17 seasons, an average of 19.2 wins per season. Simpson’s accomplishments are impressive and seem to grow every season:

• 13 winning seasons out of 17
• The 6 winningest seasons in Dragon history, including a 29-6 mark in 2014-15, the school’s best-ever record.
• Four trips to the regional finals (South only has one other finals appearance in its history), winning three. South has won three of the past five regional crowns – amazingly, the Dragons won all three after finishing as the district runner-up.
• 20 wins or more in six of the past eight seasons.

Last year was a microcosm of South basketball under Simpson. The Dragons pressed the pace at both ends of the floor, scoring over 70 points in 23 of 32 games. They averaged an insane 79 ppg, while shooting an incredible 50.2% from the floor overall. I say “incredible” because the Dragons took over half (51.3%) of their shots from beyond the arc, where they hit a whopping 40.5% while connecting on 370 attempts.

But the Dragons will have to maintain this level of play while re-tooling with new parts. Gone are six seniors, including four starters. The graduates include 8th Region Player of the Year Jo Griffin (21.3 ppg), Aaron Franklin (11.7 ppg), and Dyllon Hoover (9.2 ppg). All told, nearly 50 ppg of South’s prolific offense is gone to graduation. Although South has recovered from mass graduations several times over the past few years, that’s never an easy task.

Senior guard Devin Young should lead this year’s edition of the Dragons. One of the most exciting players in the region, Young returns after a prolific junior campaign during which he averaged 16.5 ppg – second-best on the team – while hitting 49.7% from the field overall and 45.4% (89 of 196) from beyond the arc. Young, who also led the team in rebounding a year ago at 6.4 per game, will be counted on to lead in both scoring and rebounding, particularly early on as this team grows into a unit.

Though South currently shows six other seniors on the roster, this will be a “young” group of seniors that will have to grow into new roles; none of the other six averaged more than 4 ppg last year.

Instead, the player most likely to make major contributions will be sophomore guard Luke Morrison, who averaged 7.4 ppg / 3.3 rebounds off the bench as a heavily-used freshman last year. Like Young, Morrison is a tremendous shooter who can shoot the long-ball and who is very active on the glass.

The inside play looks very suspect as the season begins, but South has long compensated for a lack of quality big men by pulling the defense out to defend the three and then driving for shots at the rim – and they’ve been very good at doing that.

Two years ago, South became one of the few teams in the region to play every other region 8 team during the regular season. Last year, South played every region foe except Henry County. And this year, the Dragons won’t quite make the full circuit, but Simpson’s squad should have a pretty good idea of where it stands by the time the district tourney rolls around, as the Dragons will play 12 of the other 16 teams, including matchups with Anderson County, Oldham County, North Oldham, Collins, Simon Kenton, Gallatin County, and Walton-Verona. (The only teams the Dragons won’t play will be Eminence, Owen County, Henry County, and Williamstown).

If the Dragons have chemistry, they should develop into a sturdy squad by the end of the season under Simpson’s leadership. Like most South teams, we should expect solid shooting, lots of bombs from the outside, and a wide variety of full court and half court defensive looks.

Strengths: One of the best coaches in the business; Player of the Year candidate in Devin Young, overall team shooting ability, multi-faceted defensive looks; proven offensive system that scores points

Weaknesses: unproven depth; lack of interior strength on offense or defense; uncertain ability to sustain high-octane offense if bench doesn’t work out.

Key Returnees: Devin Young, Luke Morrison

Key Losses: 2017 Player of the Year Jo Griffin, Aaron Franklin, Dyllon Hoover,

#7 Gallatin County (20-13, 31st district champions, lost in 8th Region semi-finals to eventual champion Collins, 48-44)
The Wildcats have one of my favorite coaches in the 8th region in Jon Jones, he starts his 24th year in coaching. Coach Jones utilizes everything he has and gets his players to play extremely hard on both ends of the floor. They are disciplined at doing exactly what Coach Jones wants and executes game plans to perfection.

The Wildcats return Sr. 6’1 Justin (11ppg) Rassman, who had a great regional tourney last year shooting the basketball. Rassman has really worked on his ball handling and defense. I expect a big year from him.

According to Coach Jones, Jr. 6’3 Troy Coomer could be the best pure shooter he has coached, and is also a very good rebounder. 5’10 Sr. Zach Beatty does the dirty work and is an exceptional defender and has really worked on his offense. Junior Wyatt Bowen has been a dominant player at lower levels, it is time for him to emerge at the varsity level, he has been content to contribute, but he needs him to assert himself for the Wildcats. 6’6 Jaymee Hale could be the key to the Wildcats, if he develops they could be dangerous come tourney time.

This team should make and shoot a lot of 3’s and could be a better team than last year which is dangerous for other teams.

Strengths: Shooting the ball, guard play,

Weaknesses: Rebounding, experience

Key Returnees: Justin Rassman, Troy Coomer, Jaymee Hale, Wyatt Bowen, Jarin Rassman,

Key Losses: Mason Wilson, A. Steurer, C. Spahn,

#8 Spencer County Bears (20-9, lost round 1 of District 30 tourney, 52-35, to Anderson County)
The Bears are making strides, and the youth movement has taken more steps in making this team a regional tournament team for the first time in Coach Burn’s tenure. The Bears are a lot of fun to watch play as they shoot a lot of 3’s and play extremely hard. Last season the Bears and their fans felt as if they could compete with the big boys of the region and they did just that, but came up short in the first round of the district. They are hoping that this year produces different results in Taylorsville.

This will be Coach Jason Burns 5th season at the helm and you have to be impressed with the turn around since he has been there. Coach Burns is looking to guide the Bears back to the regional tournament this season. It will all start with 6’3 Senior Jacob Coke (11ppg, 7reb) last season for the Bears. Jacob has the most size on the Bears roster and has to do a lot of the dirty work in the paint. Jacob impressed me as the year went on with his toughness and grit. 6’1 Freshman Sam Conley (7ppg, 4reb) will be a player to watch this year. Sam has been ranked as one of the top 5 freshmen in the state on Kentucky and will be a stat stuffer the next 4 season’s at Spencer County. 6’0 Junior Jackson Cole (8.5ppg) shot the ball extremely well last season and stretches the floor for the Bears and can score the basketball.

Strengths: Style of play, shooting, play fast, defense

Weaknesses: Size, Depth

Key Returnees: Sam Conley, Jacob Coke, Jackson Cole,

Key Losses: Cannon, Wheeler (20ppg)

#9 North Oldham Mustangs, (20-11, lost first round of District 29 tourney, 80-64 to South Oldham)
Rob Burton enters his fourth season as the head man in Goshen, KY – at the end of the year, he will have tied Danny Edelen as the longest-tenured head coach in Mustangs’ school history.

Last year was a breakthrough year for Burton, as he guided North to just the second 20-win season in school history. Now the Mustangs hope to take the next step and go back to the Region tournament. After visiting New Castle five times in six years from 2006-11, including three semi-finals appearances, North has advanced out of the District just once in the last six years, losing in the first round in 2015.

Unfortunately, it may be easier said than done. Lots of seniors populate the roster this season, but most are largely unproven. Gone are the major pieces to last year’s 20-win team: leading scorer Jalen Henry (21.3 ppg), outside sharpshooter Zach Wheeler (14.6 ppg), and inside strongman Cole Bonny (9.8 ppg / 7.1 rebounds). Back are senior guard Justin Rose (11.3 ppg / 4 rebounds) and “…four other starting positions up for grabs.”

With Rose likely running the point and expected to lead the scoring – at least early on – the Mustangs could struggle with early chemistry issues as the “four other starters” learn their roles. However, don’t be too sad for Burton; the Mustangs have talent, the question is who will step up?

There are logical candidates: Guard Dylan Yates returns for his senior year after averaging 6.1 ppg last season. Yates is a solid ballhandler and a streaky shooter from the outside. The son of former Oldham County standout and current North Oldham assistant Pat Yates, Dylan can be a calming influence on the floor. The head coach’s son, senior forward Justin Burton, saw plenty of action last year, but didn’t score a lot. He has shown signs of having the potential to be a solid scorer, though, and North will be looking for him to develop more in that regard.

The biggest question is on the inside. The Mustangs have some size, but nobody in that role has significant varsity playing experience. If someone can step up to that task, North’s upside grows appreciably. 6’6” senior Adam Berry – the star kicker/punter for the North football team – is one possibility, and also junior Layne McIntosh and senior Jay Goddin. But heading into the season, the favorite appears to be 6’4” senior Zach Butler, who averaged just 1.6 ppg last year while appearing in only five varsity ballgames. Whether one of these four becomes a major contributor – or whether all four become a “center-by-committee” – is not so important. What’s important to North is that the player on the floor at any given time is a contributor – and that’s a mystery to be revealed.

In fact, the North guards might be the Mustangs’ best weapons on the inside; with most of the Mustang guards topping out at 6’2” or 6’3”, North may be able to take most opponents’ guards to the basket and post them up.

Strengths: Head coach consistency; solid returning guard corps; team speed and size; one of the region’s top talents in Justin Rose

Weaknesses: Practically no varsity experience on the inside; consistent scorers outside of Rose; quality depth

Key Returnees: Justin Rose, Dylan Yates, Justin Burton

Key Losses: Jalen Henry, Zach Wheeler, and Cole Bonny

#10 Shelby County Rockets (7-22, lost first round of District 30 tourney, 49-46, to Collins)
The Rockets are coming off a tough season but are very optimistic about this season and the young players that got significant minutes last year and improved toward the end of the year.

The Rockets lost a lot of seniors (44ppg, and 20 rebounds between them) which will be a lot to overcome. Head Coach Ken Cates is entering his second year and with that means more of his system, and expectations are in place. The Rockets host the district this year and are looking at going back to the regional tournament. This Rockets team has something that the other teams in the district don't have in their size at multiple positions making them a mismatch on both ends of the floor; the question is how they will utilize it.

Shelby returns a player that I look to have a break out season in 6’4 Junior T.J. Robinson (8ppg, 5reb), he is long and athletic, but he plays so hard on both ends of the floor that good things happen for him. Robinson has a quick first step and a very good in between game. Rockets return Senior PG Kyion Stone (5pg, 3assists), who shoots the ball well from deep, gets to the rim and is very strong at finishing. They have 6’8 Junior in Sam Edwards that cab be a defensive presence for the Rockets and as his offense improves he will be an all-region type player.

Strengths: Size, rebounding, depth

Weaknesses: Shooting and Experience

Key Returnees: T.J. Robinson, Kyion Stone, Sam Edwards, Cameron Armstrong, Daniel Ewing

Key Losses: Tyler Drane, Josh Edwards, D. Stainaker, K. Catlett, Jordan Armstrong

#11 Grant County Braves (14-17, lost first round of district 32 tourney, 72-43, to Williamstown)

Joe Utter’s first season as the head coach in Dry Ridge resulted in a solid improvement over the 8-22 record from the 2015-16 season as the Braves finished 14-17 last year, but the season still ended as it had the year before, without a trip to New Castle. It was the first time since 2010-11 that the Braves had missed consecutive regional tournaments.

Utter, a 1998 graduate of GCHS, hopes to take another significant step forward this year, but he’ll have to do it with a new-look team. Gone are the three leading scorers from last year’s squad; Zach Tuggle (14.9 ppg), Luke Adkins (12.5 ppg), and Conner McClure (10.8 ppg) and the rest of last year’s senior class accounted for 65% of the Braves’ scoring. Still, Utter likes his two returning starters: Aaron Hurley (5.3 ppg last year) and 6’5” sophomore Luke Dewalt (7.1 ppg / 6.0 rebounds) provide a nice core to build around, and Utter thinks that the team, overall, will shoot the ball well.

Shooting will be a key element where the 2017-18 Braves must improve; last year’s squad struggled from the field, hitting just 41.9%.

Even better, Utter thinks he could go 10 deep with this squad, enabling him to play faster, with a greater variety of defenses. This depth may be the Braves’ ace-in-the-hole this year; a faster pace will give the Braves a greater chance to attack the basket and create offense from defense. Playing in a district against Walton-Verona and Simon Kenton – both of which feature some of the region’s premier big men – Grant will need a counter.

A faster tempo may actually be a necessity for this team; outside of Dewalt, the Braves don’t feature much size. After Dewalt, the roster lists 6’2” senior guard Chase Good as the next tallest regular. Six of the top 15 players on the roster check in at less than six feet tall.

Utter will challenge his squad early; the Braves will face two of region 8’s best “up-tempo” teams when they host South Oldham on 12/8/17 and Oldham County on 12/12/17. They will face perennial Region Five power John Hardin in the first round of the Pegasus Sports Network Best in Hoops Tournament at Oldham County on 12/21/17 and should have a good feel for how they match up with the better teams by Christmas.

Strengths: Second year coach – team understands the system now; expected depth

Weaknesses: Lack of size overall; unproven shooting ability(?)

Key Returnees: Aaron Hurley, Luke Dewalt

Key Losses: Luke Adkins, Conner McClure, and Zach Tuggle

#12 Henry County Wildcats (10-20, lost round 1 of District 31 tourney, 66-65, to Eminence)
The Wildcats came within .4 seconds of making the regional tournament last year as two FT’s made by Eminence denied them that right. The Wildcat are hoping to get back to the regional tournament on their newly-designed floor, but to do that they have to overcome the loss of 6 seniors that logged most of the playing time last season.

Coach Welch Enoch has been at Henry County for the last 7 years and has maintained a well ran program with success along the way, he is hoping his young inexperienced Wildcats improve throughout the season. The Wildcats return, Sr. Landon Morgan, 6'3 F Sr. Zack Foree,5'9 G Sr. Tyler Raisor, 5'10 G, Sr. Wyatt Finnell, 5'7 G, Sr. Noah McGhee, 6'2 F, Fr. Trevor Hardin, 6'3 and F Nic Riggins 6'1 Sr. As these Wildcats log minutes and games they will improve throughout the season.

Strengths: Will play lots of players

Weaknesses: Lack of Experience, size

Key Returnees: Tyler Raisor, Nic Riggins, Landon Morgan

Key Losses: Donovan Anesko, Tyler Gray, Noah Foree, Zach Hinkle

#13 Owen County Rebels (7-24, lost in district 31 semi-finals, 60-36, to Gallatin County)

The Rebels had a season that are not used to having last year, but with the losses of players it is bound to happen at an ALL A school, every coach goes through it as they wait for that new group of young players to emerge. Coach Duvall played at Owen and been the head coach at his alma mater for 12 years and he understands that cycle, but that won’t stop him from working just as hard.

The Rebels lost 8 seniors from last year’s team that logged most of the Varsity minutes. They return Jr. Blake Burke who has improved his shooting and looks to have a good year, Sr. Grant Cobb, Jr. Isaac Smith, Sr. Blake Duncan, Sr. Randon Hall, and Sr. Kirby Young.

Junior 6’7 Issac Smith transferred in from North Carolina and with his size could cause some problems inside the 31st District, with his rebounding and altering shots. This team could sneak into the regional tournament as they log game experience and spend time playing together.

Strengths: Some size and guard play

Weaknesses: Size and depth, experience

Key Returnees: Blake Burke, Grant Cobb, Isaac Smith, Blake Duncan,
Randon Hall

Key Losses: Cameron McNalley, Patrick Osborne, Logan Tackett, Walker McDonald

#14 Eminence Warriors (14-14, 31st district runner-ups, lost round 1 of the Region 8 tourney, 69-60, to Anderson County)
The Warriors have hired two head coaches since the season ended, Coach Jason May had accepted the job but then joined the Kentucky Wesleyan staff, and new Head Coach Robert Amis takes over, coming from Breathitt County where he was head coach for the last 2 years.

Coach Amis did not get to see his guys in action this summer with the summer coming to an end but he has been watching them in open gym. The Warriors lost a lot of scoring from last season, where they made the regional tournament and were competitive against Anderson County. They do return some players that are hoping to step into new roles, including Jr. Guard Elijah Montero, Sr. Center Blake Payton, Jr. Guard De'andre Wright (10ppg), F Junior Josh Dotson, and Jr. Guard Braedin Hinkley.

The good news is only one of these Warriors are seniors. As Coach Amis implements his system and expectations the Warriors will improve.

Strengths: Lots of juniors with some experience

Weaknesses: Size and depth

Key Returnees: Blake Payton, De’Andre Wright, Josh Dotson, Elijah Montero, Braedin Hinkley

Key Losses: Isiah Dixie, Josh Dotson (Region 8 leading rebounder), Kemryn Jenkins (Region 8 leading scorer), Cameron Jones (60 ppg total among the four players)

#15 Williamstown Demons (17-16, district 31 runner-up, lost round 1 of the 8th region tourney, 58-53, to Gallatin County)
The Williamstown Demons come off a 17-16 campaign that saw them make the 8th Region tournament for the first time since the 1997-8 season (when they made it all the way to the region semi-finals.). The Demons just missed another appearance in the semis, when they lost to Gallatin County by just five points, 58-53, in the first round.

This year, the Demons return with a brand new coach. Coach John Reitz has his first-ever head coaching job at the Grant County school after stints as an assistant at Victory Rock Prep in Sarasota, FL, Casey County (KY), and Fleming County (KY). Fittingly, Reitz will have a bit of a “brand new” team. Williamstown lost two of their top 7 players to transfers in the off-season, including all-region performer Brennan Stanley, who led the team in scoring at 18.6 ppg. In addition, two starters from last year graduated, and one starter who would be a returnee is ineligible.

That leaves just 2 players from the top 7 last year who return. Senior G/F Brady Montgomery will clearly be the leader; he averaged 6 ppg and is the leading returning scorer. He’ll be joined by his twin, Bryce, who was also one of top seven players last year, but was not much of a scorer. However, at 1.6 ppg, he’s the second-leading returning scorer from last year’s team.

In short, the Demons need several players to up the ante on the scoring end in order to be successful.

Freshman Cole Kightlinger looks to be a rising star; Reitz spoke highly of the freshman’s dramatic improvement over the summer. The new coach indicated his play would be pivotal to this year’s success.

The other two starting spots appear to still be up for grabs; sophomores Isaiah Magee and Micah McCain figure to be in the mix, as will senior Chance Jordan, 8th grader Aiden Johnson, 8th grader Joel McCain, and sophomore Preston Widener.

With a lot of new faces on the floor and on the sideline, and only three seniors, Williamstown may be a year away from contending for another region berth. But with a lot of sophomores, freshmen, and 8th graders getting plenty of varsity minutes, the Demons may “get well” sooner rather than later.

Key Strengths: Mental toughness and defensive tenacity

Key Weaknesses: Extremely inexperienced team; little in the way of proven scorers; loss of expected star players due to transfer; lack of size; new coach

Key Returnees: Brady Montgomery

Key Losses: Brennan Stanley, Wenzie Fox

#16 Carroll County Panthers (6-23, lost round 1 of the District 31 tourney, 73-60, to Owen County)
Coach Brian Crank enters his third season at Carroll County HS after going 14-14 two years ago and 6-23 last season. The Panthers are looking for their first regional tournament berth under his watch. Carroll appears headed for a major rebuilding job, but the coaches in this district expect them to be very competitive.

Gone to graduation are three seniors, including leading scorers Evan McMahan (18.6 ppg) and Tyler Stewart (12.5 ppg). However, the Panthers return a lot of kids who saw significant playing time. Of the next three top scorers, senior Eli Yocum (6.4 ppg) and sophomore Wyatt Supplee (6.2 ppg) are the top scorers. Deaton Oak (6.0 ppg) transferred. Senior Guard Braedyn Cole will need to be more assertive and with that the Panthers will improve on both ends of the floor.

Carroll will need to improve in several areas in order to advance out of the District 31 tournament this year, but particularly in terms of shooting percentage, after hitting just 40.6% of their shots from the floor and 65.4% from the line.

Strengths: Depth, guard play

Weaknesses: Loss of leading scorers, rebounding

Key returnees: Eli Yocum, Wyatt Supplee, Braedyn Cole

Key Losses: Tyler Stewart, Evan McMahan

#17 Trimble County Raiders (4-25, lost round 1 of the District 29 tourney, 82-49, to Oldham County)
Trimble County, playing in the tough 29th district, will be trying to build upon a 4-win season this year, as head coach Stacey May enters his third season at the Bedford, KY school.
Whether Trimble can improve enough in just one season to advance to the region tournament may be unlikely, but the Raiders may be due a significant uptick in fortunes. May has had time to get his philosophy firmly entrenched after two seasons, and he returns a team full of varsity experience. May expects his top eight players to be interchangeable, and the starting unit may vary frequently, depending upon the competition.

Trimble returns the bulk of their scoring, including last season’s top five scorers Troy Grieshaber (senior, 11.9 ppg last year), Reece Webster (senior, 8.4 ppg), junior Shane Mills (6.5 ppg / 5.5 rebounds), junior Evan Stevens (5.1 ppg), and junior Logan Clifford (5.1 ppg / 4.5 rebounds). And, though the team isn’t tall across the roster, the Raiders have a pair of bigs on the inside in the form of 6’5” Clifford and 6’4” Mills.

The key, however, according to Coach May, could be the play-making ability of 5’10” senior point guard Cole Wright. His ability to find Grieshaber and Webster on the perimeter, or Mills and Clifford on the inside, will probably tell the tale of the Raiders’ season.

More importantly, the Raiders simply must shoot a lot better. Last year’s team hit just 36.9% from the floor and 30.1% from beyond the arc. Trimble managed to get to the line just 13 times a game, and struggled when they did get there, hitting just 59.4% of their free throw opportunities. And despite Clifford’s and Mills’ size on the inside, neither was a prolific scorer, as both hit just 36% of their shots from the floor.

If the Raiders find themselves without dominant inside players who can take advantage of their size to get high-percentage shots, and without the ability to shoot teams out of tight zone defenses, Trimble will struggle to score again this year, one year after averaging a region-worst 49.3 ppg as a team. That issue will be key, one year after Trimble lost 21 of their 25 losses by double digits.

Key Strengths: Experience

Key Weaknesses: shooting ability, ability to handle the ball against uptempo teams in a district full of up-tempo teams.

Key Returnees: Logan Clifford, Shane Mills, Troy Grieshaber, Cole Wright.

Key Losses: none

District favorites ( coaches’ poll):
All four districts saw the favorite get unanimous support from within their districts:

29th – Oldham County (3 first place votes), South Oldham, North Oldham, Trimble County
30th – Anderson County (4 first place votes), Collins, Spencer County, Shelby County
31st – Gallatin County (3), Henry County, Eminence, Owen County (tie), Carroll County (tie)
32nd – Walton-Verona (3), Simon Kenton, Grant County, Williamstown 8th Region Coaches’ Poll – Top Teams
The coaches were asked to rank the top five teams in the region. Fifteen of seventeen coaches responded. Eight – nearly half of the teams in the region – got at least one vote, and four different teams received at least one first-place vote. Interestingly, the team that received the most first place votes (Walton-Verona, with six), finished third in the overall points total, although the Bearcats trailed second-place Oldham County by just one point.
Anderson County and Oldham County finished 1-2 in part because both teams appeared on every coach’s ballot. Walton-Verona and Collins both appeared on 14 of 15 ballots. Simon Kenton appeared on 11 ballots. South Oldham appeared on three ballots, garnering three fifth-place votes. Walton-Verona garnered the most first place votes (6).

Anderson County Bearcats 63 points (4) first place votes
Oldham County Colonels 53 (4)
Walton-Verona 52 (6)
Collins 37 (1)
Simon Kenton 15
South Oldham 3
North Oldham 1
Spencer County 1 8th Region Coaches’ Poll – Player of the Year

Thirteen of the region 8 coaches voted in this poll in which they were asked to name the top five players in the region. If the favorite team is still a bit of a mystery, there certainly was no mystery as to which player is the overwhelming pre-season favorite for region player of the year. Senior Cobe Penny of Anderson County received all thirteen first place votes cast.

Cobe Penny, SR, Anderson County 65 points (received all 13 first place votes) - Arguably one of the most electric players to come through the region in years, Penny's ability to shoot the long jumper only makes him even more dangerous on dribble-drives to the rim.

Dieonte Miles, JR, Walton-Verona 24 (highest-rated underclassman) - His size makes him a force at both ends of the floor.

Jackson Gibson, SR, Oldham County 22 - A "contortionist" extraordinaire, Gibson has remarkable body control and the ability to get inside the arc on drives to create short jumpers. His jumper in the lane is practically automatic. One of the region's best point guards.

Zach Kelch, JR, Simon Kenton 19 (on second-most number of ballots – 10) - Arguably the best big man in the region, Kelch's value to Simon Kenton is huge. As he goes, likely so will the Pioneers go.

Brennan Stanley, SR, Walton-Verona 16 (transfer from Williamstown) - Perhaps the missing link that the Bearcats needed to handle the outside. Should complement the Walton big men very well. May see his scoring dip a tad this year on a team with more scorers.

Nick Fort, SR, Collins 10 - A perimeter player with size; able to simply shoot over most high school guards.

Dayvion McKnight, SOPH, Collins 10 - Right now, the top player in the class of 2020 in the region. Extreme athleticism with a high-octane motor. McKnight can create his own shot, outduel bigger players for boards, and harass a smaller guard into mistakes when playing D.

Zach Larimore, SR, Oldham County 5 - Emerged from his cocoon last year to become a force on the glass, and was perhaps the best offensive rebounder in the region.

Justin Rose, SR, North Oldham 4 - one of the best all-around ball players in the region. Scores, rebounds, handles the ball well. Perhaps one of the least-known though, since North hasn't been in the region tourney.

Devin Young, SR, South Oldham 4 - Good size for an outside player; Young is one of the elite shooters in the region at any position. Quick release and ability to come to a quick jump stop for his shot makes him even more dangerous. One of the few players in Region 8 who can put 30 on the scoreboard with scary regularity.

Zach Clinkenbeard, SR, Walton-Verona 4 - One of many strong big men in the region this year, Clinkenbeard is one of the more mobile bigs.