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Region 8 2018-19 Season Preview

By: ColonelMike

The 8th Region had a very successful year last year.

The champions of the region, Oldham County, did extremely well at the state tournament, advancing all the way to the Final Four. Walton-Verona, the 8th Region Class A champs, made it all way to the title game of the State All-A, before losing by just 6 points to Lexington Christian.

Along the way,
- Oldham County won the Pegasus Sports Network Best in Hoops Classic, defeating two undefeated and ranked teams in the semi-finals and championship rounds.
- Walton-Verona won two games in the brutally tough King of the Bluegrass tournament at Fairdale.
- Collins won the Simon Kenton Invitational Tournament.
In addition, several teams came home with runner-up trophies from Christmas Tournaments.
Throughout the season, 8th region schools piled up victories over such notable powers as:
- Warren Central (4th Region champions)
- McCracken County (1st Region champions) (8th Region went 2-0 vs. McCracken)
- John Hardin (5th Region Champions)
- Campbell County (10th Region Champs) (8th Region teams went 3-1 vs. Campbell)
- Cooper (9th Region, finished 25-6 and region semi-finalists)
- Mercer County (12th Region runner-ups, finished with a record of 27-6)

Multiple 8th Region teams represented the region well with those victories; Oldham County, South Oldham, Simon Kenton, Walton-Verona, and Anderson County were all among the teams that earned those big wins, and North Oldham was a last second tip-in away from upsetting 10th Region power George Rogers Clark.

And the product on the court was exciting. For so many years, only 2 or 3 Region 8 teams could make the scoreboard blow a fuse as the majority of teams concentrated on defense and tried to keep games close. Last year, a whopping 10 of 17 region 8 teams averaged over 60 points per game, led by South Oldham’s 69.9 ppg.

All in all, not a bad year to be an 8th Region fan, a region which so often gets overlooked throughout the state.

What will 2018-19 have in store? A lot of awfully good players graduated last year. But as is always the case in HS basketball, that just means new players – each a potential star – will move up into the leadership roles. With the scarcity of returning starters across the region that played major roles last year, though, this year could be one of the most fun ever, with every game a potential “upset”.

Unfortunately, we did not get the information from as many coaches as we did last year, when (if memory serves) 15 of 17 region 8 coaches responded to my questionnaire. This year, only 11 did, so some of this is going to be a “best guess” to start the season. Therein lies part of the problem with a preview.

Last year, I felt very comfortable about my picks, and if you’ll remember, the rankings really didn’t change much from preseason to post-season. I’m afraid we may see a lot of movement in the rankings this year, as there are a lot of new faces, six teams did not send info, and there just seems to be a lot of “what ifs” out there. Plus, I’m anticipating a few schools to struggle early with young lineups, but to improve dramatically by February.

And, as they all say: It’s all about how you finish.

In my preview, below, I’ve identified the five schools that did not respond to my request for information. If one of these is “your” school, understand I’m not trying to “call them out” for failure to respond – the coaches are extraordinarily busy at this time – but I want you to know why 1) those write-ups are shorter, and 2) some of my information could be inaccurate. It is accurate, to the best of my knowledge, but I didn’t get it from the coach’s mouth.

So – the preview for 2018-19 – also known as the first dart board toss of the year…LOL:

1 – Collins Titans – 2017-18 finish: 22-10, 30th district runner-ups; lost region in round 1 against eventual champ Oldham County – Chris Gaither starts his 8th season as the head man at Collins, and few coaches in the region have been so successful over that time span. The Titans won the region in 2015 and 2017, and were considered one of the top 3 teams in the region pretty much all of last year. Though not a particularly deep team, the Titans boasted arguably the best starting five in the region, and took on all comers in one of the toughest schedules faced by any Region 8 team, playing teams such as Gallatin County, Madison Central, Scott High, Ballard, Trinity, Simon Kenton, Male, DeSales, and Oldham County.

But after going 18-4 in December and January, the Titans came down to earth in February and March, going just 4-6 to end the season, getting upset by Anderson County in the 30th district finals by 4 points and knocked out of the region tournament in round 1 by Oldham County by just 7 points.

One year later, the Titans figure to be a contender again – and out of the gate, they are undoubtedly the overall favorite. The scary thing for the other teams is this – last year’s Titans squad started three sophomores.

Gone are last year’s top two scorers – Nick Fort (17.9 ppg /7.5 rebounds) and one of the best three point shooters the region has ever seen in Jake Feltner (14.3 ppg, 50% three point). This year, Gaither will feature two junior guards, Marcellus Vail (11.2 ppg/3.0 reb) and Dayvion McKnight (12.3 ppg / 8.1 reb).

Before his career is finished, McKnight is expected to hold all the Collins career records for assists, rebounds, and points. A definite contender – and perhaps the favorite – for 8th region Player of the Year, McKnight is a big guard who can post other team’s guards down low. Amazingly quick and agile, McKnight simply beats the opponents to the glass and if they get in the way, he uses his size to outmuscle them.

Vail has improved immensely since his freshman season, and – like McKnight – has logged considerable varsity minutes since his freshman year. More of a pure two guard, Vail still managed to average in double figures last year in a starting lineup full of scorers.

Defense is Gaither’s specialty, and look for this year’s squad to apply more pressure than last year’s, as the team has a bit more size to guard the rim behind the guards, who will likely pressure man-to-man, but may also press out of zone looks. Last year, the team was equally adept at scoring, but this year, questions are there on the offensive end that will be answered as the season wears on.

Other than McKnight and Vail, nobody returns who averaged more than 4.2 ppg last year (Tyson Turner). The bench played solid defense last season, but was never really counted on to produce points. This year, at least one or two more guys will have to step it up on the offensive end. Joining McKnight and Vail in the starting lineup will likely be 3 of the following 4: Tyson Turner (4.2 ppg), Dane Kidwell (3.0 ppg), Colby Eades (0.9 ppg) and/or senior Same Edwards.

Look for a Collins team that will push the ball on the offensive end of the court and pressure it on the defensive end.

The schedule will once again challenge Collins, with the likes of Louisville Trinity, Madison Central, Oldham County, South Oldham, Simon Kenton, Male, St. X, and Warren Central.

2 - Walton Verona Bearcats - 2017-18 finish: 26-6, 32nd district champs; lost region in round 1 to South Oldham – Grant Brannen finished his fifth season as the Walton-Verona head coach with his second straight 26 win season last year. In fact, Brannen has steadily improved Walton’s record each year….his first team, in 2013-14, finished with the region’s worst record at 4-20. Since then, though, the Bearcats have finished 14-14, 18-11 (district runner-ups), 26-7 (district champs), and 26-6 (district champs).

Last year’s Bearcat team shared the mantle of region favorite with Oldham County all season long, and the two played an epic game in December of 2017 in Buckner, with a furious Oldham rally resulting in a 53-51 Colonel win that only left the fans on both sides eagerly hoping for a rematch.

The loss of center Dieonte Miles, a 6-9 junior who had the ability to dominate the paint, hardly seemed to slow the Cats, but in the end, they wound up with a tough matchup against the South Oldham Dragons in the region, and they bowed out in round one in a six point loss.
Miles – now listed at 6-10 and 210 pounds – is back for his senior season and appears no worse for the wear after last year’s season-ending labrum injury. Miles has already signed to play Division 1 ball next season for Xavier.

Miles is joined for a relatively veteran squad, although the Cats will have to replace two all-region performers in Zach Clinkenbeard (10.3 ppg / 5.8 rebounds) and point guard Brennan Stanley, who led the team in scoring at 12.9 ppg and shot an impressive 48% from beyond the arc, hitting 67 threes on the year.

Joining Miles will be some familiar faces to W-V fans: Kam Pardee (10.1 ppg / 6 rebounds), Garrett Jones (4.9 ppg), Grant Grubbs (5.3 ppg), and Trey Bonne (2.8 ppg) can fill multiple roles. Brannen feels Pardee is the most underrated player in the region, and if you see him play, you’ll know why. Pardee shot 53.9% from the field last season, tops on the team among players who took over 50 shots. Grubbs and Jones have seen significant varsity minutes over the last two years, and Trey Bonne was one of the most accurate shooters off the bench among all subs in the 8th Region, hitting 31 of 48 shots for 64.6%.

A natural athlete, Bonne was the state high jump champion in track and field last year.

The wild card for the Cats may be the play of 6-9 senior Ethan Brooke. Brooke played in 25 games last year and was a bit player, but Brannen feels Brooke has made tremendous strides over the summer and may be ready for a breakout senior year. If so, he’ll give Walton-Verona a “twin tower” look inside that few teams will be able to match.
Perhaps the biggest concern for the rest of the region is the confidence Brannen has infused into his team, which allowed a region-low 47.8 ppg last year with gritty, physical defense. And the team piled up wins against top-flight competition…they won the 8th region All-A tournament, finished runner-up in the state All-A tournament, and won six games against teams that won at least 20 games.

Key questions: Who will take over the role of go-to scorer on a team that averaged 64.3 ppg last season? Will Brooke be able to become the force inside that Brannen hopes he’ll be?

Key games: 12/14/18 at home vs. Oldham County; 1/4/19 vs. Simon Kenton; 2/2/19 vs Scott County; 2/12/19 at South Oldham

3 – Oldham County Colonels – 2017-18 finish: 31-6, 29th district champs; 8th region champs; Sweet 16 Final Four – The Colonels enjoyed a magical season in Coy Zerhusen’s fifth year at the helm. Like the two coaches of the teams listed above, Zerhusen made an impact at Oldham County right away. His five teams have won 130 games – the most wins of any school in Region 8 over the last 5 seasons – against only 33 losses. The Colonels have won 5 straight District 29 titles under Zerhusen (part of a streak that currently stands at 8 straight titles, the second-longest such streak in KY behind Madisonville North Hopkins, who has won the 7th district 9 straight years). The Colonels had to run the gauntlet to get to the Sweet 16, beating defending champion Collins, 31st district champ Gallatin County (26-8) and county rival South Oldham to advance. Collins and South had combined to win the previous five regional titles.

The 31 wins tied the school record.

Now it’s time for Colonels fans to come off Cloud 9, though, as this is a totally new season and a totally new Oldham County squad. Gone are four starters, including three All-Region selections (Zach Larimore, Travis Henderson, and Jackson Gibson), along with Andre Brewer (who forever etched his name is Oldham lore when he hit six three pointers in the first half of the regional final versus South).

The new Colonel squad will feature as many as four seniors in the starting lineup, but only one - Christian Harper - was a starter at one time or another last year.

Harper is the leading returning starter. At about 6-5, he’s an explosive player on the glass who averaged 6.6 ppg / 3.7 rebounds as a sub last year, who took over a starting role in the second half of the season. He’ll be surrounded by players who played key roles as substitutes in Zerhusen’s 10-11 deep rotation, so all have plenty of varsity experience. But none have been counted on to be the leaders, and therein lies the question marks. Many starred on what was an extremely good JV team for Oldham last year, but we all know that success at the JV level doesn’t always translate into varsity success as players mature, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Besides Harper, other potential leaders –

Cole Mesker impressed with his outside shooting ability off the bench last season, though his percentage was just 28.3%. Gavin McLarty – an undersized junior playing down low – proved remarkably adept at holding his own against bigger interior players. Matthew Teague, senior, will bring experience and length to the forward position – he shot 50% from the floor last year - and Dylan Benson will also bring experience, having played in 33 varsity games last season. Sophomore Sam Campbell impressed the coaches enough with his heady play to play him on the varsity last year as a freshman; he’s a wild card due to his youth, but not due to his talent.

As always, Oldham will play a lot of kids in their uptempo, pressure-cooker style of play. Six subs to watch for: sophomores Xander Wagner and Tyler Slone, along with juniors Steven Votaw, Koby Thomas, and Nick Carter.

Questions abound for this Oldham squad, but Zerhusen is excited. Despite the relative inexperience, he feels that this team can play big or small, adjusting to the opponent. And with a lot of the players featuring a “long wingspan”, we may see more zone looks than in the past.

With a big learning curve – where does the leadership come from? Where is the scoring coming from? Who will get the big boards? Can this team play defense like Zerhusen demands? – this #3 ranking is probably based more on the players’ individual talent than on the bigger question of how they will play as a team. There are simply a lot of “what ifs”. This team could be very, very good – or they could turn into a slightly above average squad. It all depends upon whether this collection of solid players gel into a team or if they simply play like above average individuals. And with another brutal schedule – Oldham has to play Spencer County, Walton-Verona, Taylor County, Scott County, Gallatin County, George Rogers Clark, and Campbell County in December – the Colonels could well head into 2019 with a losing record, but finish as one of the best in the region. 2019 matchups will include Butler, South Oldham, PRP, Simon Kenton, Collins, and Covington Catholic. Time will tell.

4 – Spencer County Bearcats, 2017-18 finish: 20-8 lost in first round of District 30 to Anderson County, 44-41 I think last year was just a sampler of what coach Jason Burns will bring to the table in this, his sixth year at Spencer County.

The 4 years Burns spent as an assistant at South Oldham under Steve Simpson has clearly had an influence on Burns, one of the region’s bright young minds. Last year’s team won 20 games for the second consecutive season – the first time the Bears have accomplished that feat in over 20 years.

What was most impressive, was the youth movement that propelled last year’s Spencer squad that posted victories over Pleasure Ridge Park, Iroquois, and Elizabethtown, three very good teams. They barely lost to Oldham County (by 7) and South Oldham (by 1),
The Bears were a tough team to defend, with five players averaging over, or very near, double figures. Who to guard?? Freshman sensation Sam Conley led the way with 13.9 ppg / 4.6 rebounds, but he got solid help from Jackson Cole (10.5 ppg), Jacob Coke (10.0 ppg/ 7.6 reb), Jacob Seawright (9.8 ppg), and Jake Whitlock (8.6 ppg). Of those five, only one – Coke – was a senior, meaning four starters return this year. Conley and Whitlock will both be sophomores this season, and Cole and Seawright will be seniors.

Rounding out the starting five should be Lucas Hornback, another sophomore, who averaged 3.0 ppg / 1.5 rebounds off the bench last year.

Expect Spencer to push the pace again this year, and watch for the outside shooting of Cole, who hit 88 threes last year, while hitting a 39.1% clip.

As for the relative youth – 3 sophomores in the starting lineup – I wouldn’t worry if I was a Bears fan…Conley and Whitlock both already have essentially two years worth of experience at the varsity level. “Veteran youth” may be the catchphrase in Taylorsville, and I see this team likely heading back to the Roy come March.

Big games: The Bears will play Oldham County at home on 12/1/18, and will play in the King of the Bluegrass tournament in late December. On January 4th, 2019, the Bears will find out how they really matchup in the 30th as they travel to play the Titans of Collins HS. Games against Walton-Verona (1/17/19 road), South Oldham (1/19/19), Gallatin County (1/25/19 at home), and PRP (1/28/19) at home follow quickly as the Bears have a challenging first two months.

5 – Simon Kenton Pioneers, 2017-18 finish (19-10, 32nd district runner-ups, lost round 1 of 8th Region tournament to Gallatin County) Coach Trent Steiner can always be depended on to send me information, but this year, I didn’t get anything from the region’s northernmost school, so I’m kind of swinging in the dark at this one.

The coaches certainly feel SK has something going for them this year, voting the Pioneers as being tied for third in the region with one first-place vote.

Last year’s Pioneers always seemed on the cusp of greatness, and they had their moments. A victory over Cooper on 1/9/18 was certainly an impressive victory over a team ranked in the state top 5 at the time, as was the victory over Campbell County on 2/6/18. But the team mostly seemed unable to get over the hump against the better teams, suffering single-digit losses to North Laurel, South Laurel, Walton-Verona (twice), Oldham County, South Oldham, and Gallatin County.

A lot of last year’s firepower is gone. Zach Kelch, one of the region’s best big men on the offensive end of the floor, averaged 14.1 ppg and a team best 7.2 rebounds per game. Andrew Robinson – injured just before the post-season tournaments – averaged a solid 8.4 ppg / 6.6 rebounds. And Chaz Kitchens was an under-rated force who averaged a steady 10.2 ppg.

That means a lot of pressure to score is going to fall on the young (sophomore) shoulders of Kelly Niece, who perhaps was the top freshman in the region last year, averaging a team high 16.8 ppg. And Niece could flat shoot the ball; he hite 53.5% of his shots overall, including 38.9% (44 of 113) beyond the arc.

Don’t be surprised if Jeremy Davis is the other “big gun”, especially early. The junior is part of a large group of guards that Steiner is really high on, and who he thinks can dictate the flow of a game. Davis averaged just 6.1 ppg last season, but hit over 38% of his threes, with stats almost identical to Niece’s beyond the arc, where he hit 44 of 114.

Steiner played his team about 10 deep last year, meaning this will be an opportunity for a relatively experienced player, who played in the shadows last year, to emerge. Among those candidates: Sr. Colton Lair, Sr. Jon Hensley, and Sr. Robbie Krohman,

Expect this Pioneer team to be even more guard-oriented than last year, when Kelch was a constant offensive threat on the inside, setting up another dramatic “style” rivalry in the 32nd, where Walton-Verona will try to grind down SK with their physical defense, while SK tries to run the Bearcats into the hardwood with their speed.

Big Games: 12/15/18 @ South Oldham 12/20 – 12/22/18 – Simon Kenton Invitational Tournament, 1/4/19 Walton-Verona, 1/8/19 – Cooper, 1/19/19 vs. Collins, 1/29/19 vs. Gallatin Co., 2/1/19 vs. Oldham County, 2/5/19 vs Campbell County, 2/8/19 vs. Scott High, and 2/12/19 vs. CovCath. (The Pioneers will face Gallatin, Oldham, Campbell, Scott, and CovCath all in a row just before ending their season on the road at Holmes!)

6 – South Oldham – 2017-18 finish (19-12), 29th District runner-up, lost in Region 8 championship to Oldham County, 71-56
I should probably know better than to pick a Steve Simpson team this low, but there are going to be a lot of legitimate questions in Crestwood this year.

Still, the last six years have been remarkable for the Dragons. South has won three region titles in those six years (2013, 2014, and 2016), and finished as runner-ups last year – a year in which this ranking had the Dragons ranked at about this point throughout the season.

Year after year, Steve Simpson graduates a ton of seniors. Far too many to come back as a contender (right??), and yet - year after year - the Dragons are one of the best teams come region tournament time.

Last year, it was 6’7” senior guard Devin Young that willed the Dragons to the finals, scoring 25 points / 7 rebounds against co-favorite Walton-Verona in round 1, 26 points (10 rebounds) vs. Anderson County in round 2, and 28 points (7 rebounds) in the loss to Oldham County in the finals.

Simpson, one of the two longest-tenured coaches in the 8th (Jon Jones of Gallatin is the longest) had done it again.

The pre-season picture looks familiar again this year. No fewer than NINE seniors graduated from last year’s squad, including Young (21.9 ppg), Peyton Hicks (11.1 ppg), and Ben Johnson (7.9 ppg). Altogether, the nine accounted for 56 ppg, or 80% of the South scoring.

The only returning starter, however, is a significant one. Junior Luke Morrison has been a regular in the lineup since he was a freshman, and averaged 15 ppg / 4.2 rebounds last year, while hitting 50.3 percent of his shots and 83.6% of his free throws. He will be a marked man when December starts, and don’t be surprised if the first third to one half of the season is a bit bumpy for these Dragons. And with the football team advancing (as of this writing) to the Class 5A semi-finals, Simpson is still waiting to get some players to their first practice.

Still, Simpson – like all great coaches – coaches for the end of the season, and he has reason to be optimistic.

It seems a cinch that Morrison, along the steady Seth Johnson and guard Jason King will be starting, with King likely taking the starting point guard role. Johnson is a heady player who makes few mistakes, and Morrison should have the consistency two years of varsity experience brings. He’s got the tools to amass a large number of double-doubles this season. The Dragons will need Morrison – especially early – to be more assertive in his offensive game; in the past, Morrison has been content to let the older players shoulder that leadership load. Now that load is his. Morrison gave a hint he might be ready during last year’s region, when he scored 22 vs. Walton-Verona, 26 vs. Anderson, and 15 versus Oldham. Over three games, he hit 25 of 48 shots – and showed an ability to hit from the outside as well, hitting six threes in three games; a weapon he had not previously used as much.

Ironically, the Dragons may benefit from last year’s team misfortunes; the Dragons probably had more players miss time due to illnesses last year than any other region team, meaning many of last year’s subs have more experience than normal as we head into this season and some assume starting roles.

After Morrison / King / Johnson, it’s still a bit of a crapshoot. Creighton Theneiman, a transfer from Trinity, is an intriguing prospect, and Nick Cranfill (2.4 ppg) saw plenty of varsity action last season. The other likely options to fill one or two of the final starting spots are freshman Ben Michel and Thomas Downs, but neither played any varsity minutes in 2017-18.

Regardless, expect all four of those players to play extensively; Simpson’s up-tempo offense, and ever-changing defenses demand fresh legs to constantly be coming into the game. There may be new faces, but expect Simpson’s squad to do what South usually does so well: shoot the three, spread the floor to open space for the dribble-drive, and mix-up the defenses to confuse the opponent.

South Oldham bottom-line: Although I’m picking South 6th, I’ve grown to know never to under-estimate Steve Simpson, one of the best coaches in the region and one of region 8’s “nice guys”. Steve’s the kind of guy you’d want your kid to play for; it seems the players absolutely love to play for this man, and as a result, Simpson has led South to 7 of the school’s 8 twenty+ win seasons and all three of their region titles.

7 – Gallatin County – 2017-18 season (26-8, 31st district champs, lost 8th Region Semi-finals to Oldham County, 57-36)
Speaking of coaches who flat know how to win, Jon Jones has got to be in any such conversation. The Wildcats are coming off their second consecutive season with 20 or more wins, and are currently the kings of the district. The 31st definitely goes through Warsaw, and it will be no different this year as Gallatin looks to make it three district titles in a row.

With the retirement of Glen Drury down in Anderson County, Jones is now the longest-tenured coach in the 8th region. Starting his 25th season at the helm of Gallatin County, Jones is on the cusp of 400 career wins (396 going into the season).

Some of us who were in HS in the 1970s might remember Jon as a member of the 1979 Grant County Braves team that won the 8th region title, defeating Scott County in the championship game.

Jones felt that last year’s team exceeded all expectations, and it’s hard to argue – only Oldham County (31 wins) and Walton-Verona (26 wins) did as well in the “wins” column. A team that played extraordinarily well as a unit, they were among the best shooters in the region, hitting 49.0% from the floor overall and 39.0% from beyond thee arc.

Leading scorer Troy Coomer, (16.4 ppg / 5 reb / 52.4% FG%) a 6’3” senior guard, returns for his senior season, and could reach one of basketball’s toughest milestones this year: scoring over 2,000 points. Wyatt Bowen, a 5’10” senior guard, should also reach a career milestone this season, as he is closing in on 1,000 career points. Jones will build this team around these two scorers, as two of last year’s top scorers – Justin Rassman (14.4 ppg) and Jaymee Hale (9.7 ppg/7.6 rebounds) are gone to graduation.

Jarin Rassman is almost certainly going to move into the starting five. The 5’10” junior guard averaged 5.4 ppg off the bench last year, and came on strong in the region, where he scored 10 against Simon Kenton in round 1 and tied his brother and Troy Coomer for scoring honors with 7 points against Oldham County in round 2. Jones is excited the Jarin Rassman’s prospects and believes he could be the best point guard in the region this year if he develops as he expects.

The other two starting roles remain up for grabs, with four players likely the leading candidates. Devin McAlister (5’9” senior guard and Hayden Dickerson (5’10” sophomore guard) will battle for the off-guard slot, while Bryant Caldwell (6’0” senior) and Lukas McEntire (6’2” junior) will duke it out for the “5” spot.

Jones compares this year’s team as being somewhat like South Oldham’s: playing fast, and shooting well. Gallatin should be able to keep up on the scoreboard, but the question will be on the defensive side of the ball, where the Wildcats’ lack of size – only ten of nineteen players on the overall roster are 6’0” or taller - may be an issue. However, I’m not sure I would worry about that, either. Last year’s squad was no taller than this group, yet the Wildcats’ allowed the second-fewest points in the region, giving up just 50.7 ppg.

Gallatin should head to New Castle as a district champ this year for the third year in a row, but if this ranking should turn out to be halfway right, that would mean a round one matchup with one of the six teams ranked above them. A daunting task, but don’t say I didn’t tell you so if we find Gallatin playing in the semi-finals or finals.

The schedule isn’t brutal, but 5 of the Wildcats’ 6 toughest region matchups will be on the road:

Big games: 12/1/18 vs. Collins, 12/3/18 at Walton-Verona; 12/18/18 at Oldham County, 1/25/19 at Spencer County, 1/29/19 at Simon Kenton; 2/2/19 at South Oldham
The Rest…probably at least one of these 10 will make it to the Roy L. Winchester arena in New Castle for the 8th Region Championship. The big question for most of these ten is simple: How fast will their young, inexperienced teams – four of whom have first year coaches (North Oldham, Anderson County, Shelby County, and Eminence) develop??

The Rest...probably at least one of these 10 will make it to the Roy L Winchester arena in New Castle for the 8th Region Tournament. The big question for most of these ten is simple: How fast will their young, inexperienced teams - five of whom have first year coaches (North Oldham, Shelby County, Anderson County, Trimble County, and Eminence) - develop?

8 - Anderson County – 2017-18 season (12-16, 30th district champs; lost in 8th Region semi-finals to South Oldham)

It was a shame Glen Drury’s final season at the helm of the Anderson County Bearcats ended in such disappointment. The pre-season favorites by most, the Cats struggled with injuries and inexperience at point guard throughout the year. But when the tournament lights came on, Drury showed why he was one of the best in the business, changing the team style of play, slowing things down, and moving star shooting guard Cobe Penny to point. Cobe still got his points, but more importantly, the other teams struggled to score. The Bearcats upset Spencer County and Collins to win one final district title for Drury, then won their opener over Henry County in the region before falling in the semis.

Bryan Hyatt takes over in Lawrenceburg, and he’s hardly a stranger. He played at Anderson County for coach Drury, graduating in 1997, Drury’s first state-bound team. And – though this is his first year as head coach, he’s been coaching at ACHS for 20 seasons, giving him a distinct advantage over other first-year coaches.

Gone, though is also Cobe Penny, the guy the Cats have tied their fortunes to for the last four seasons. Penny, last year’s 8th Region Player of the Year, averaged 21.8 ppg and 6.9 rebounds. But as Hyatt points out, sometimes that’s a good thing; instead of the team depending upon Penny, everyone realizes that they all must step up.

Among the candidates to lead this team in one way or another are:

Tyler Rice – the sometimes starter at point guard last year never quite settled into the role, but Hyatt believes that hard work has allowed Rice to “turn himself into a good high school guard.”

Hunter Rutherford – a junior swingman, Ruthford gives the Cats an inside/outside presence; a guard/forward who can shoot from the perimeter, but who also has a strong move to the basket.

Jagger Gillis – saw a lot of time off the bench last year and is full of potential; his size will make him a matchup problem for most teams’ guards if his offensive game can develop.

And what Anderson County team would be complete without a McKee? Not this one. Zarian
McKee, a senior guard, is a solid shooter and brings length and athleticism to the court.
Expect also to see a lot of Brennan Maxburry, a senior guard that played in 26 games last year.

Nevertheless, at this time, Hyatt has “ten players listed as possible starters”, so there’s no telling who will be the first on the floor for ACHS when they face Henry County in New Castle to open the season on November 27th. And that – in a nutshell – may be this team’s strength; a tremendous depth on the bench.

Like a few other region teams, AC is still awaiting their football players to join the team.

9 – Grant County; 2017-18 season ( 9-20, lost in the 32nd district round 1, 84-62 to Simon Kenton)
Last year, the Braves had no problem putting the basketball in the hoop – it was a porous defense that held them back all season. Grant averaged 64.2 ppg, sixth-best in the region – but allowed 69.8 ppg, 16th-best in the 17 team region.

Coach Joe Utter enters his third year at the school with many of last year’s weapons back. Gone are Nate Fox (4.2 ppg / 5.9 rebounds), Michael Frost (1.0 ppg), and Chase Good (12.3 ppg). Good – a tremendous outside shooter who hit 40.2% beyond the arc – will be sorely missed, but Utter returns plenty of scorers, including 6’5” junior Luke Dawalt, who just missed averaging a double-double last year with 13.5 ppg / 9.0 rebounds. Also back are a number of players who either were starters, or part-time starters: Aaron Hurley, the senior point guard who missed much of last season with a hip injury (8.4 ppg), Jonas Alger (10.0 ppg), Damion Ingguls (1.0 ppg), Ben Vickers (6.3 ppg, 35.4% beyond the arc), and Jacob Wilson (2.9 ppg).

This is a team with potential, but if the defense fails to come together, this is a team that could fall rapidly in the rankings. In addition, someone will have to help out Dawalt on the glass.

If the defense can get shored up, and Grant can hit the glass strong, this is a team that can make some noise. Even so, it will be tough sledding for the Braves in the 32nd, facing Walton-Verona and SK.

10 – Shelby County; 2017-18 results (6-22, lost round 1 of the 30th district to Collins, 76-53)
This may be my biggest reach of this preseason ranking. Shelby suffered through one of the worst basketball seasons last year in the history of a school with a long, proud basketball tradition.

Enter Coach Eddie Oakley. A coaching veteran of 21 years, Oakley has been a head coach for 14 seasons, most recently at Paul L. Dunbar in Lexington. He comes into Shelbyville eager to rebuild the tradition, and he’ll find the cupboard isn’t exactly devoid of talent.

Last year, Shelby averaged a paltry 50.8 ppg, third-lowest in the region. But Oakley has some tools to sharpen; perhaps the most likely player to step forward into a leadership role is senior T.J. Robinson, who averaged 8.8 ppg to lead the team in scoring. The powerful senior also led the team in rebounding with 6.2 boards a game. If he can harness all his potential this year, Robinson could be one of the best in the region.

But much of the rest of the starting lineup is still in the air. Oakley expects to go 9-10 deep, but pretty much the rest of the team was either a role player or a JV ballplayer last year, so how they will adapt to the new coach, the new style of play, and varsity caliber competition itself remains to be seen.

One name on the roster should be familiar: Clark. Isaac Clark’s dad, Mike Clark, played at Shelby County HS and later was the boys’ head basketball coach.

Defensively, look for a team that will mix up defenses in an effort to confuse the other team’s offense.

Keys for Shelby: Team chemistry – can these individuals form a team? Scoring – other than Robinson, where does it come from? Pride – The seniors on this team have never played for a Shelby team that has been a consistent winner. Can Oakley remind this group of what it means to have “Shelby County” across the chest? Finally – shooting – The Rockets have to improve in this arena; the team shot just 40.9% from the floor and 60.9% from the line in 2017-18.

11 – Carroll County, 2017-18 season ( 9-20, lost in round one of 31st district to Henry County, 78-74 in double overtime)

Carroll County did not submit any information for this write-up

Not much went right for coach Brian Crank’s crew last year, but that’s generally what happens when you just can’t shoot straight. The Panthers joined the Shelby County Rockets near the bottom of the region in shooting percentages, hitting just 42.2% from the field overall, 29.8% from beyond the arc, and 64.7% at the line – all too low to be a consistent winner, and a big reason the Panthers dropped 9 of their final 12 games of the 2017-18 campaign.

There is, however, reason to believe that 2018-19 will be better.

The Panthers bring back three of their top scorers, including leading scorer Wyatt Supplee, who averaged 15.5 ppg and #2 scorer, David Duncan (12.1 ppg / 5.4 reb). In addition, Keishaun Mumphrey (7.1 ppg/6.1 rebounds) is back.

Duncan, a 35.6% three point shooter, gives Carroll a legitimate zone-buster threat from the outside, Mumphrey is an athletic player (there have been a long line of Mumphreys at the Carrollton school, and it seems they’ve all been pretty good!!) who’s good at getting to the rim and getting fouled – and he’s the team’s best free throw shooter at 72.9%.

And of course, this will be the third year under Crank, meaning the players are beginning to “get it” as they learn his style of play.

The 31st District would seem to be Gallatin’s for the taking, but the runner-up position – which would also qualify for the region tournament – looks wide open. For Carroll, this just might be the year the boys’ team makes it back to “The Roy” since the 2006 tournament.

12 – Henry County; 2017-18 season (12-14; lost in the first round of the 8th region tournament, 58-45, to Anderson County)
Enoch Welch is quickly becoming one of my favorite coaches. Coach Welch and I rarely see each other, have barely spoken, but I admire him for a couple of reasons 1) he always responds to Pegasus Sports when I need information (and he’s usually one of the first to respond!), and 2) I am growing more and more impressed by what he’s able to do at a smaller school with fewer kids to choose from, and his ability to turn his team’s into disciplined, hard-nosed teams that are simply hard to defeat – even if they have injury problems.

I witnessed that last year when Henry County nearly upset North Oldham before ultimately falling by 9, and again in the Region 8 tourney, when they gave Anderson County fits for most of their first round matchup before the Cats finally pulled away.

And that’s why I don’t have Henry lower in this ranking.

Henry was one of the region 8 teams that struggled to score last season, averaging just 56.5 ppg, 12th-best in the region. That, coupled with a defense that yielded 62.5 ppg, made it really tough for the Wildcats to ever gain any momentum. It explained a lot when you looked at their record; Henry never won more than three in a row, nor did they ever lose more than three in a row.

Another tidbit from their schedule: 14 of their 26 games were decided by fewer than 10 points. And Henry won 8 of those 14 games. Despite a short bench, injuries, and other obstacles, well, “grit” is the best descriptor I can think of. Henry County is just one gritty team.

The good side of all those close games? Henry proved to themselves they could win the close, tough ones. The bad side? Welch wasn’t able to develop his bench nearly as much as he wanted. And that’s why Henry is ranked #12. There’s simply a lot that’s unknown about how the Wildcats will perform when the varsity lights go on.

One young man that everyone expects a lot from is 6’5” sophomore Trevor Hardin, who – as a freshman – made the All Region tournament team and the all-district tournament team last year. Hardin – the team’s second-leading scorer last season as a freshman – averaged 8.8 ppg and 5.6 rebounds a game. Hardin’s a given, and he’s the guy Welch is going to build this year’s edition of the Wildcats around.

The other four starters will likely come from this group: Jr shooting guard Ethan Lakford (0.3 ppg), Senior shooting guard Will Mullins (1.1 ppg), senior shooting forward Parker Stephens (1.1 ppg), senior shooting forward Colton Hinkel, and junior point guard Joe Montero (0.4 ppg).

Obviously, Welch is going to have to find a couple of players who haven’t been used to scoring, and build up their offensive skills to support Hardin.
With the top subs mostly sophomores and freshmen, someone will have to step up among the upperclassmen.

Regardless of the offensive success or lack thereof, Welch believes he has a bench that’s plenty deep enough to keep fresh legs on the floor on the defensive end. Henry County will switch defenses a lot and try to take team’s out of their offensive rhythm by causing confusion.

Player Note: Colton Hinkel is the third Hinkel brother to play at HCHS. Older brother Cody led Henry to the 2009 All-A Regional title and middle brother Zach led Henry in scoring in 2017.

Challenges: Enoch Welch is one of the most underrated coaches in the region, but he’ll turn heads if he can get this young, inexperienced group to learn, grow, and mesh together by the end of the season and challenge for a second straight trip to the region tournament.

13 – North Oldham; 2017-18 season: (17-12, lost in round 1 of the District 29 tournament to South Oldham on a last-second buzzer-beating three pointer, 63-60)
North Oldham did not reply to our questionnaire.

North Oldham has only been in existing since the 2003-4 season, and the Mustangs have had their ups and downs. Holding them back has been a revolving door at the head coach position – no coach has served longer than four years for various reasons.

Rob Burton led last year’s team to an impressive 17 win season (considering the level of competition), winning 7 of its final ten games, and they were 67-55 in his four year tenure. His 2016-17 team went 20-11, only the second Mustang team to ever win 20 or more games. But in a surprise move, North dismissed Burton just one week before basketball practice began.

New coach David Levitch is quite the storyline. A former 2,000+ point scorer at North Oldham HS, he then spent four years playing for the University of Louisville. This will be his first opportunity as a head coach, and it will be a challenge.

Gone are nine seniors, who took 87% of the scoring and 77% of the rebounding from last year’s squad with them. Included in that bunch was Justin Rose, an all-region performer who averaged 20.3 ppg and 6.4 rebounds.

All of which means that this year’s team – from the coach to the waterboy – is going to look a lot different.

Last year’s North squad was only 14th-best in scoring in the region at 55.3 ppg, but the Mustangs were extremely stingy on the defensive end, allowing just 54.9 ppg, fourth-best in region 8.

I wasn’t able to speak with Levitch about his plans – goodness knows he had a lot to do and very little time to get it done – but I would expect this year’s team to be a little more uptempo than the North squads of recent seasons, at both ends of the court.

But there will be a lot of new faces on the floor. That said, at least two mainstays from last year return, including senior Grant Adelson, a sharp-shooting guard who averaged 6.7 ppg off the bench last year, though it did start some games. Layne McIntosh, a muscular inside player, also returns. Also a senior, McIntosh contributed 3 ppg / 2 rebounds to last year’s cause, and is remarkably mobile for a big man.

Whatever style of play Levitch chooses, he’s got a lot of raw talent to teach it to in a very short period of time, and a brutal schedule to measure his team up against: 12/4/18 vs Male, 12/8/18 vs. Ballard, 12/14/18 at Spencer County, 1/18/19 vs Oldham County, 1/25/19 at South Oldham, 2/12/19 vs. Collins. Other potential potholes in the schedule include games against Iroquois, Waggener, Bardstown, Meade County, and DeSales.

14 – Trimble County – 2017-18 season: (13-17, lost round 1 of the 29th district)

Trimble County did not respond to our request for information.

Another of the new 8th Region coaches is Ron Couch, a 1991 graduate of Trimble County High School, who returns to Bedford to coach his alma mater. He inherits a team that Stacy May seemed to have moving in the right direction, and will try to build on that momentum.

Trimble won just 13 games last year, but finished the year strong, winning 7 of their last 11 games. Bottom-line: The Raiders have come a long way since winning just 2 games in 2015-16 and 4 games in 2016-17.

Double-digit scorer Troy Grieshaber (14.3 ppg) graduated, but the Raiders retain some scorers, including senior Logan Clifford (3.9 ppg / 5.5 reb), and Reece Webster (15.5 ppg). I look for Clifford to have a breakout year after sitting back and allowing others to take that role in the past.

Also missing from this year’s roster is Shane Mills, who averaged 10.7 ppg and a team-high 7.1 rebounds last year as a junior.

There are several newcomers on the roster, which boasts seven seniors. Unfortunately, many of those seniors have little experience, but they’ll help May’s squad with their leadership and maturity, which may be what the Raiders need to “get over the hump” and secure a winning record.

A relatively friendly end-of-season schedule puts the Raiders in a prime position to win 7 or 8 of their final ten games, creating a chance to head into the post-season with the momentum of a strong winning streak.

Another step up in the win column would seem a strong possibility for the Raiders this year.
Questions: Who will give Webster the scoring support the Raiders need? Clifford? Or perhaps someone new who has yet to step forward. If nobody does, and Webster turns into a one-man show, this could be a long, long season for the Raiders.

15 – Owen County – 2017-18 season: (5-23, lost in semi-finals of 31st district to Gallatin County, 56-35)

Devin Duvall has done wondrous things as coach of Owen County. Now entering his 13th season, he has coached a player who won KY Player of the Year, challenged in the region tournament, and returned the sense of pride in Owen County basketball.

But the last couple of years have been part of that cycle all schools go through, particularly the ones with the smaller enrollments….the slump.

After winning just 7 games in 2016-17, the Rebels slumped to just 5-23 last season. The Rebels managed just 48.3 ppg (16th of 17 region 8 teams), while surrendering 62.3 ppg. A youthful team was further plagued by injuries that kept Duvall from being able to develop any chemistry or consistency among his players.

The 2018-19 season comes and there’s still some work to be done before Owen can climb back to the top half of the region and contend again. An extremely young team enters the season – Duvall expects to start one 8th grader, two freshmen, a junior, and a senior. The top four backups will be two juniors, a sophomore, and a freshman.

Youth will be served, they say, but sometimes it takes a bit of time.

Duvall is especially high on his (expected) starting 8th grader, Teagan Moore; he’ll be a player to watch. And 6’7” senior Isaac Smith, who moved in last year but struggled with the system, is expected to be a solid post presence on both ends of the floor this year.

Questions: How quickly can the younger players mature? How long until a team starting players with four years difference (in age, mental maturity, emotional maturity, and physical maturity) can gel into a single unit?? Can Smith become more than just “solid”; can he turn his size advantage into a dominant force for the Rebels?

16 – Eminence; 2017-18 season (15-15, lost in the first round of the 31st district tournament to Owen County, 78-70)

Eminence did not respond to our request for information.

Eminence had a solid year last year. The Warriors averaged 64.3 ppg (Tied for #5 in region 8) and won 15 games. True, they gave up 65.8 ppg, but the Warriors always seemed to be “in the game” at the end.

The problem, ultimately, was the schedule. Eminence played a schedule full of schools similar to them, and did very well. But when they ventured “outside their comfort zone”, they struggled mightily against the top teams: a 74-47 loss to Gallatin County, a 74-22 loss to Walton-Verona, etc. Their best game against top-flight competition came later in the year against Gallatin, when they lost in the 8th Region All-A Classic to Gallatin County by just 13 (71-58).

Do you remember when Eminence was not just good, but one of the top teams in the 8th Region? The days of Mont Sleets, Vance Blades, and Gino Kirshner (sp)? Well, Eminence is a bit removed from those days, but the bottom line is the team is learning to win again.

And that’s a start.

A new sheriff is in town this year, as Patrick Jackson takes over as head coach of the Warriors. The schedule looks a tad more challenging, too. Walton-Verona, Gallatin County (twice), and Spencer County are all on the schedule.

Unfortunately, we did not get a response from Eminence, nor has Eminence posted their roster on the KHSAA site yet. But….let’s assume for a minute….

First off, I’m hearing rumors that DeAndre Wright is no longer at Eminence. I have not been able to confirm, but if so, that would be a big blow to the program. Wright, a junior last year, has had a nice career at Eminence, and averaged 14.4 ppg and 8.8 rebounds last season.

Definitely gone is Maurice Richardson, to graduation. Richardson led the Warriors in scoring last year with 16.8 ppg.

Potential returnees include senior Elijah Montero, who averaged 8.4 ppg last year and hit 39.4% from beyond the arc. Another could be senior Josh Dotson, who averaged 13.5 ppg last season and a team-high 9.2 rebounds as he finished just shy of averaging a double-double.

One last player to watch for is Braedin Hinkley, a senior who averaged 8.9 ppg last season.
So Jackson could have some credible offensive weapons. The question this year is whether Eminence can step up its competitiveness against the top programs, and make a run at the region tournament from the 31st district.

What needs to happen: If nothing else, Eminence has to shoot better than last year, when the Warriors hit just 41.3% of their field goals overall, 26.7% from beyond the arc, and only 62.3% at the line.

17 – Williamstown – 2017-18 season: (2-29, lost in round 1 of the 32nd district tournament to Walton-Verona, 94-44)

Williamstown did not respond to our request for information.

It was a rough year for Williamstown last year, a team with only two seniors and hardly any height. And – to add insult to injury – 19 of their 31 games were on the road or at a neutral site.

The Demons started 0-27, but rallied late, winning 2 of their final 4 games to avoid a winless season.

It looks a bit like last year, though, for this year’s Demons. Gone via graduation is leading scorer Brady Montgomery (15.5 ppg / 5.6 reb) and Chance Jordan (7.0 ppg). That said, Coach John Reitz – in his third year at the school – has some firepower coming back. Cole Kemper (4.0 pg / 1.7 reb), sophomore Cole Kighlinger (6.8 ppg / 2.7 reb), and 9th grader Aden Johnson, who averaged 5.1 ppg and 2.4 rebounds as an 8th grader, all return.

Kemper gave a display of what he can do, offensively, in the final two games of last season, scoring 20 points against Menifee County and 16 points versus Walton-Verona in the district tournament.

But the Demons have a long ways to go. Last year’s squad averaged a region-worst 46.7 ppg, while allowing a region-worst 75.6 ppg. Williamstown fans are just going to have to be patient and improvement will come.

Region Predictions (Coaches’ Poll) (unfortunately, only 11 of 17 coaches voted, but a clear sense of their overall expectations was revealed. A clear favorite – Collins – emerged, but another conclusion also has to be that the coaches aren’t 100% sold on the Titans yet as six teams got significant support in the poll. The coaches were asked to pick their top 5 in the region, and Collins was the definite favorite, garnering 7 of 11 first place votes. Three other schools managed at least one first place vote. Other than the “Big 6”, Gallatin County was the only other 8th Region team to appear on a ballot.

1 – Collins First Place Votes (7) Mentioned on 10 of 11 ballots
2 – Walton-Verona (2) Mentioned on 10 of 11 ballots
3 – (TIE) Simon Kenton (1) Mentioned on 10 of 11 ballots
3 – (TIE) Oldham County (1) Mentioned on 9 of 11 ballots
4 – (TIE) Spencer County Mentioned on 10 of 11 ballots
4 – (TIE) South Oldham Mentioned on 9 of 11 ballots
5 – Gallatin County Mentioned on 1 ballot

No other teams received votes.

Top Ten Players in the 8th Region
This is a toughie, but here’s what the coaches (who voted) think.

1 – Dieonte Miles, Walton-Verona, senior Total points 35 Probably the most dominant defensive big man in the 8th region, and still just scratching the surface of his offensive potential. Smooth moves to the basket, and grabs rebounds like they all belong to him. It will be interesting to see how he comes back from last year’s injury, but the reports out of Walton-Verona are good.

2 – Dayvion McKnight, Collins, junior Total Points 32 One of the most amazing guards to come through the 8th region in a long time. Big and strong enough to play down low; quick and smooth enough to penetrate from the outside. Outside jumper is good enough, but this guy’s ability to dominate the inside from the guard position – and to rebound like a power forward – is incredible.

3 – Kelly Niece, Simon Kenton, sophomore Total Points 22 Arguably the best freshman in the region last year, Niece is a scoring machine. Led his team in scoring as a freshman. Barring an injury, Niece should be one of the rare players to eclipse the 2,000 point mark by the time he graduates.

4 – Luke Morrison, South Oldham, junior Total Points 13 As a freshman, made his “living” crashing the offensive glass and scoring on putbacks. As a sophomore, began to develop a more dependable jumper, even hitting a fair number of threes.

5 – Troy Coomer, Gallatin County, senior Total points 10 A pure shooter, Coomer is who you want on the floor when you’re behind and the clock is running down.

6 – Marcellus Vail, Collins, junior Total Points 8 A rapidly-improving two-guard, Vail can also play point. His speed make him the ideal running mate with Dayvion McKnight, and the two may well be the best starting guard duo in the state.

7 – TIE Sam Conley, sophomore, Spencer County Total points 6 Yet another freshman sensation last year who led his team in scoring. The year of experience at the varsity level may give him the boost to lift his team back into the region tournament this year.

7 – TIE Matthew Teague, senior, Oldham County Total Points 6 Of all the players on this list, Teague may be the one who brings the most intangibles to the floor. If scoring is needed, Teague can put up double digits. If rebounding is needed, his long wingspan is a plus. And he plays well within Oldham County’s pressure defense, with quickness and anticipation.

9 – Trevor Hardin, sophomore, Henry County Total points 5 Yet another sophomore on this list that excelled as a freshman. All region tournament and all-district tournament in 2017-18.

10 – Kam Pardee, senior, Walton-Verona Total points 4 Often overlooked on a team with Dieonte Miles, Pardee is a solid performer who averaged 10 ppg / 6.0 rebounds, and hit nearly 54% of his shots last year from the floor.

Others who received votes: Tyler Rice, Anderson County (1), T.J. Robinson Shelby County (1), and Cole Mesker, Oldham County (1)