Johnson Central (15th Region Champions) - State Tournament Preview

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    2019 15th Region Champions – Johnson Central Golden Eagles – State Tournament Preview


    Season Overview:


    The Johnson Central Golden Eagles extended their own 15th Region record by advancing to their eighth straight regional championship game and have now won five of the last eight regional titles with a 66-61 victor over Pikeville. In fact, over the last eight seasons, Johnson Central is 21-3 in the regional tournament at the Pikeville EXPO Center, which begs to ask if they should change the name of the 15th Region Tournament to the Johnson Central Invitational. This year’s dominance was different though, as the Golden Eagles faced many hurdles throughout the season.

    JC finished their summer session with a 22-2 record that included pushing Scott County to the final minutes and winning a KBA Gold Bracket Summer Championship. The stellar play fueled what was already high expectations with the Golden Eagles. Johnson Central entered the season ranked #1 in the region on both BGP and in the CATS Pause (which is voted on by the 15th Region Coaches Association). Led by Senior Jacob Rice (voted as the region’s top overall player) and Isaiah May (voted as the region’s top sophomore and one of the best prospects in the state), JC had eyes on returning to Rupp Arena.

    The season began with an eye injury to one of the best all-around athletes in the school in Bryson Hackney. The seven-sport varsity star was running the point in the summer as a starter, had two in-game dunks, and was looking to build off a solid freshman campaign before suffering a detached retina and subsequently going through three reconstructive eye surgeries. Hackney would not see the floor until January and has played this season with no depth perception. One final surgery is still needed this summer. After opening 9-1, Johnson Central then saw one of the best shooters in the state in Gabe Ferrell go down for over a month with a knee injury. Ferrell is a 6’3’’ small forward who has signed to play baseball at EKU. Ferrell is shooting nearly 46% on 3FG for the season with a large enough sample size to make you say wow! As soon as Ferrell and a limited Hackney returned, Jacob Rice missed two weeks with an ankle injury late in the season, but was able to return to form for district tournament play as his minutes were monitored to allow for adequate healing.

    With the early injuries and inconsistent play at the beginning to middle of the season, JC had some eye popping losses. Shelby Valley beat them at home by 19. Paintsville beat them at home by 19. Pikeville beat them on the road by 23. The one underlying theme in the losses, however, is they did not have their full team. In fact, in games where Rice, Ferrell and Hackney all played at least one second, the team has only one loss and that was to Shelby Valley in final game of the regular season, on the road and on senior night by two points.

    With the up’s and down’s of the season, the Golden Eagles were able to stay steady with the stellar play of Isaiah May, Cory VanHoose and John King. The only players to appear in every game this season. This trio of sophomores play way above their years and are supremely athletic with the ability to play multiple positions. In fact, Isaiah May has started at all five positions this season, has had multiple 30 point games and is a team leader in rebounds and points while Cory VanHoose has produced a 40-point game that included going 19/20 from the field in one of the best shooting performances in state history. When you match the ability of these three, with a healthy Rice, Ferrell and Hackney, then throw in unselfish and unrelenting defense and bench energy from the likes of senior Braxton Bentley (who started half the season at guard when injuries hit and willing went to the bench to help his team), and big man Zach Russell you can see why early expectations were so high.

    Johnson Central was able to get everyone on the floor together at the right time and peaked when they needed it the most. This team is very well coached and very good as they avenged all the previous losses with relentless defense and excellent all-around play. The Golden Eagles have played in four tournaments this season. The Rebel Classic at Tolsia, WV, the Dan Swartz Classic at Bath County, the 57th District Tournament at Paintsville and the 15th Region Tournament at the EKY EXPO. They are have won them all!

    Quick Reference Guide

    Head Coach: Tommy McKenzie will be making his 7th overall trip to Rupp Arena as he won a regional title in 2000 as a player, in 2006 as an Assistant Coach and in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2019 as a Head Coach. All at Johnson Central.
    Head Coach Career Record: 255-129 (0.6641) (12th Season at JC)
    Enrollment: 1,078
    Mascot: Golden Eagle
    Colors: Black and Gold
    Founded: 1968 (Consolidation of Flat Gap, Oil Spring, Van Lear, and Meade Memorial)

    District: 57th
    All Time Record: 892-605 (0.5959)
    Regional Titles: (10) 1972, 1975, 1984, 2000, 2006, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2019

    What to Expect at the State Tournament:

    Johnson Central has no set primary defense as they play what the game calls for, but like most teams they play man-to-man a majority of the time. You will see them play a 2-3 zone a 3-2 zone and even some half court trapping on occasion. You will also see them press in the full court as well, but this will likely be situational against Trinity. Jacob Rice will draw the toughest defensive assignment and will likely be on David Johnson at the tip, although they may run multiple looks at Johnson in an attempt to force someone else to beat them.

    Johnson Central has excellent guards and players with multiple skill sets that allow them to be position-less on the floor offensively. They have no true big and outside Ferrell, no designated shooters. In short, they can all dribble, pass and shoot and can all play inside and out depending on the defense. Sometimes, however, this gets them in trouble rebounding as they rely on their athleticism to make up for lack of height. JC prefers to play fast during the early and middle parts of the game, then once they have the lead, spread you out and make you either foul them or give up high percentage shots at the rim.

    Typically, JC turns the ball over very little and in the games they have lost, it’s been due to poor shooting. They have five kids that can and have played the point guard during the season and four kids averaging double figures with a fifth at nearly 9. It’s difficult for teams to key on one player to stop Johnson Central. Having said this, look for JC to move the ball around a lot and try to identify advantages to exploit. JC will make early observations on the flow of the game and adjust their offense accordingly, but regardless of what they run, it will be motion based with continuous five-out movement. They don’t play very much isolation basketball unless they have a distinct advantage at a position which is unlikely versus Louisville Trinity.

    Johnson Central Starters

    1. Jacob Rice (Senior) PG 5’11’’ – The crafty point guard is a five-year varsity member and four-year starter. Jacob has played in more games at Johnson Central than anyone, holds the career start record and career assist record, and has scored over 1,600 points. Rice is also tied for the most wins in school history, having piled up 116 in his varsity career. Fresh off a 15th region tournament MVP, Rice is the best defender on the team and very strong in both his upper and lower body. He does not explode over defenders, but is very good dribbling the basketball and in very great cardiovascular condition (6-year varsity XC runner). He just wears you down on both ends of the floor with his tenacity and basketball IQ, taking advantage of your mistakes. Best described as “A coaches dream”, Rice is a true extension of the head coach on the floor and is getting looks from a few small colleges. Rice enters the game averaging 13.1 ppg, 5.2 apg and 4.2 rpg

    2. Isaiah May (Sophomore) W 6’3’’ – May is the best player on the team with the ability to play all five positions on the floor. He shoots the ball well from deep, has several in game dunks to include catching it off lob’s and finishing with two-hands, and is deadly in the mid-range off the dribble. He can score in the post against smaller players, and beat big’s off the dribble. He will run the point at times and be a floor spacer as well. May has seen a box-and-one and chaser multiple games this season and will switch to facilitator role if needed, but he can score the ball well too. He led JC in the regional title game with 19 points and 8 rebounds and has been named MVP in two tournaments this season (Rebel Classic and Dan Swartz Classic). He became the first sophomore in school history to reach the 1,000-point mark this season and holds the school record for most points in an 8th grade and 9th grade season. May is getting a lot of collegiate looks with Marshall and UPike currently the hottest. If Johnson Central is able to score against the Trinity defense, he will have a lot to do with it. May enters the game averaging 16.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg 3.0 apg.

    3. Cory VanHoose (Sophomore) G 5’11’’ – VanHoose is not related to assistant coach J.R. VanHoose, but has game that equals his size. Despite being under six feet tall, VanHoose plays way bigger as indicated by being the second leading rebounder on the team. He can also score at the rim in multiple ways against bigger defenders and to be honest it's kind of baffeling how he does it. VanHoose is excellent at finding angles for his shot release, has great footwork and is one of the strongest players on the team and in the weight room. His quickness and uncanny ability to score are amazing at times as he does against big’s, guards, very athletic defenders, etc. etc. He has had a 40-point game this season on 19/20 shooting and although he can shoot the three when open, prefers to score going at the basket in a slashing motion. VanHoose has improved greatly on the defensive end over the course of the season, providing another stopper for coach McKenzie when needed. VanHoose alongside May, is one of the top sophomores in the state and only 13 points away from reaching 1,000 for his career. VanHoose enters the game averaging 16.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.8 spg while shooting 56% from the field.

    4. Gabe Ferrell (Senior) SF 6’3’’ – Ferrell is already a D1 athlete as he has signed to play baseball for EKU next season. On the hardwood, he is one of the best shooters in the state and he does it off a catch and shoot. Ferrell has over 100 3FG attempts and is hitting nearly 46% of them. Think of him as the Klay Thompson of the mountains. His ability to space the floor makes it difficult to play zone against JC and provides driving lanes for VanHoose, Rice, May and King. If you leave Ferrell to help, it will cost you as his teammates will find him. Other than shooting, Ferrell is a long and athletic defender. He plays above the rim and rebounds out of position. He is also known for his ability to get chase down blocks as he leads the team in that category. Ferrell missed a large portion of the season with a knee injury, but is back and playing extremely well, shooting 65% from three over his last 6 games! Ferrell enters the game averaging 10.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg and 0.6 bpg while shooting 45.7% from 3FG on over 100 attempts.

    5. John King (Sophomore) F 6’0’’ – Pound for pound King is the most athletic player on the team. He can dunk with two hands off two feet and has the ability to blow by defenders off the dribble. His second leap is tremendous and he strength is very good. This makes King play like his is 6’4’’ or 6’5’’. His quickness is very good as well. He doesn’t shoot from range often and don’t take bad shots, but if you give him space to size you up off the dribble, King will get to his spot and elevate well above the rim for a shot or dunk. He is the kind of player that makes it hard to guard all five of JC’s kids. King enters the game averaging 8.5 ppg 4.6 rpg and 1.2 spg while shooting 62% overall the field and is a team leader in double-doubles.
    Last edited by 15th Region; Mar 4, 19 at 10:46 AM.

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    JC has played two sweet sixteen teams:

    1.They defeated Ashland on the road on their senior night (Bryant played for Ashland and Jacob Rice DNP for JC). JC won 64-44 as Isaiah May posted 18p and 9r to lead the Golden Eagles.

    2. JC defeated Perry Central 78-68 at Prestonsburg after taking a 21-point lead into the 4th quarter. Cory VanHoose had 28p 8r and Isaiah May had 21p 5r in the game for JC.

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    Tremendous breakdown as usual, 15th Region. Your contributions here are greatly appreciated. Good luck to JC against Trinity. It would be a monumental win if they can get it.

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    I agree that it would be a monumental upset for JC to beat Trinity. I do think JC will play better against them than most think however.

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    In the last six trips to Rupp Arena for the Golden Eagles, they have drawn the 7th region in the opening round four times.

    2006 - JTown
    2013 - Ballard
    2015 - Ballard
    2019 - Trinity

    JC has advanced to the Elite 8 twice in school history. You cant help but wonder if JC would have more state tournament wins if not for such difficult draws.

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