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BluegrassPreps.com 8th Region Boys Basketball Preview

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Bluegrasspreps.com 8th Region 2021 Basketball Preview

By:  Colonelmike

 

The balance of power swung back to the “south end” again last year, as the 30th District, in the form of the Collins Titans, captured the 8th Region crown.   It was – arguably – the first time the preseason region favorite had won the title since Oldham County pulled it off in 2012.

Specifically, the towns of Buckner, Crestwood, and Shelbyville have been dominant on the 8th Region scene over the past ten seasons, as Oldham County, South Oldham, and Collins, respectively, have each claimed three championships.    (Walton-Verona, from the 32nd district, took home the hardware in 2019).   

As always, the region said “goodbye” to some tremendous talent at the end of the 2020 season, including:

·       Kentucky Mr. Basketball, 8th Region Player of the Year, and 8th Region Tournament MVP Dayvion McKnight (Collins), who has taken his rather considerable game to Western Kentucky University,

·       2019 8th Region Player of the Year Luke Morrison (South Oldham), who averaged 21 ppg - #2 in the region – and who ranked among the top shooters in the state, both inside and outside the arc, and at the line.  Morrison is now playing at Kentucky Wesleyan.

·       Carroll County Panthers star Wyatt Supplee, who led the region in scoring last season at 24.3 ppg, which was also 13th-best in the state,

·       North Oldham post man Tyler Higdon, who emerged as one of the region’s most prolific post men, and who ranked in the top 20 statewide in field goal percentage at 64.3%,

·       Guard Jeremy Davis (Simon Kenton), who was #1 in Kentucky in three point field goal percentage at an incredible 49.8%, while making 3.9 threes a game, second-best in the state.

·       Collins’ guard Marcellus Vail, another Division 1 signee from the Titans’ championship squad, who signed with Samford.

Speaking of Mr. Basketball, Dayvion McKnight becomes the fourth 8th Region player to win the award since 1999, joining Carson Williams of Owen County (2016), Scott Hundley of Scott County (2000), and Rick Jones of Scott County (1999).   Prior to 1999, how far do you have to go back to find the previous Mr. Basketball from the 8th Region?   Answer at the very end of this preview.

A lot returns to the region in 2020-2021, however, including all of the boys’ coaches at the eighteen Region 8 schools.   Also returning is a plethora of talent, including a wealth of talented shooters.   Among the key returnees:

·       Sam Conley, Spencer County, the leading returning scorer at 22.0 ppg….

·       Kelly Niece, Simon Kenton, who finally appears to be 100% healthy after spending most of 2019-2020 rehabbing his injured knee – and who still finished with all-region numbers.   Niece should eclipse the 2,000 point mark this season…

·       Deaton Oak, Oldham County, who exploded onto the scene last year as one of the region’s elite scorers…

·       Ian Higdon, North Oldham, a mobile forward who displayed poise, strong post moves, and a top-tier shooting touch while starting as a freshman last year…

·       Trevor Hardin, Henry County, the region’s top returning all-around big man, who’s also closing in on 2,000 points for his career…

·       Keishaun Mumphrey, Carroll County, who led the region in rebounding at 10 / game, and was the only player in the region last season to average a double-double…

·       Hunter Penn, Woodford County, one of the more versatile big men in the region…

·       And Brant Smithers, Walton-Verona, who led the Commonwealth of Kentucky at the free throw line, shooting 89.2%... (this was actually the second year the 8th Region had the state’s top free throw shooter…Troy Coomer of Gallatin County led the state in free throw percentage in 2018-19, hitting 91.3%).

With the plethora of shooters in the region, the scoring continues to go up.   South Oldham – which led the region in scoring last season for the fifth consecutive season – averaged 77.5 ppg, tops in the region and ranked #2 in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  Grant County and Oldham County also averaged over 70 ppg, and the top six scoring teams in the region all averaged over 67 ppg and ranked in the state’s top 50.  (South, Grant, Oldham, North Oldham, Collins, and Simon Kenton).

The shooting percentages ranked among the state’s best as well, with Simon Kenton leading the way at 51.9% from the field.   The Pioneers, along with Collins and South Oldham all ranked among the top ten shooting teams in the state.   North Oldham (50.6%) and Oldham County (48.8%) were not far behind; both ranked in the state’s top 20.

Eight teams from the 8th Region, led by South Oldham’s 42.1%, ranked in the state’s top 42 teams in three point shooting…

And a whopping nine teams – half the region – hit 70+% from the line last season, ranging from Simon Kenton’s 75.6% (#5 in the Commonwealth of KY) to Williamstown’s 70.1% (#45 in the state).   Also over 70%:  South Oldham (74.7%), Walton-Verona (74.4%), Collins (73.1%), Spencer County (72.2%), Oldham County (71.0%), Owen County (70.5%), and Grant County (70.5%).

Only six teams made less than two-thirds of their free throws:  Henry County (65.7%), Woodford County (64.7%), Gallatin County (63.6%), Shelby County (60.6%), Anderson County (58.8%), and Eminence (55.5%).

There was a time when the 8th Region was considered a slow-paced region that focused primarily on defense.   Make no mistake, there are still premier defenses in the region (Anderson County - who was #1 in Kentucky last season in scoring defense at just 43.9 ppg allowed – along with Collins and Oldham County certainly come to mind), but the region has evolved into a high-scoring, sharp-shooting bunch of teams.

I could go on, but you get the idea.    The region is hardly without talent this year.

On the other side of the coin, I don’t think I’ve previewed this region when there were so many preseason questions.    Depth, in particular, is the question mark that appears almost universal across the region.  Depending upon how so many up-and-coming players develop, the team rankings could be way, way off.  To a great extent, this region 8 ranking feels very speculative.

The region, however, does not lack a favorite. 

The Oldham County Colonels enter the season as the undisputed favorites to win their second title in four years.   Coy Zerhusen’s team nearly pulled it off last year, in a season in which the Colonels’ top players were juniors, and most just removed from their junior varsity campaigns the year before.   Finishing as runner-ups to a talented, senior-laden Collins team featuring the Kentucky Mr. Basketball and two Division 1 signees, Oldham came up just 8 points short in New Castle.   The winningest team in the 8th Region (130-39) over the last five seasons, there’s  real motivation in Buckner to “finish the job” this season.

A lot of basketball needs to be played before we mail out the trophy, however.   And there’s a lot of unknowns as we begin the season.   While Oldham may be a near unanimous favorite, where the teams chasing them rank proved to be, perhaps, the most difficult ranking I’ve put together in the last four years.  

A look at each team and their prospects…and a ranking of where the teams stand as we start the season.

 

1 - Oldham County – (30-4, 29th District champions, 8th Region runner-ups) -  The Colonels were expected to be very good last year, but most “experts” weren’t ready to predict what happened.   Oldham won 30 games – the most wins of any 8th Region team – and defeated some impressive competition along the way.  At one point, Oldham County won fifteen straight games.  The Colonels ended the season by reclaiming the 29th District title, and reached their third consecutive region championship game.

Gone is just one starter, point guard Steven Votaw.   Possibly the Colonels’ best defender among the starting five, Votaw averaged less than five points per game and wasn’t counted on as a major scorer.   Graduation mostly hit the Colonels’ bench, where Logan Hudgins, Nick Carter, and Grant Newton were regular contributors who gave Oldham depth, scoring, and defense.   In coach Coy Zerhusen’s system, where productive bench play is a necessity, the three combined to give Oldham about 10 ppg and 5 rebounds.

Back are four starters in Deaton Oak, Tyler Slone, Sam Campbell, and Xander Wagner-Rose.   Those four were the team’s four leading scorers last season, and each averaged over 10 points per game, led by Oak’s 14.9 ppg.   Combined, they contributed 51 of Oldham’s 70 points per game (73%).

Oak is a legitimate candidate for the 8th Region Player of the Year honors.   A talented shooter who hit 86 threes last year (41% from beyond the arc), Oak is a threat for 30+ points on any given night.   A talented pitcher, Oak has already accepted a scholarship to play baseball at West Virginia University.

Slone gives Oldham one of the most versatile players in the region, a tall, lanky player who is tall enough to play in the paint, quick enough to play on the wing, and a strong enough perimeter shooter to be dangerous from beyond the arc.    Slone may well be the most overlooked / underrated player in the 8th Region; a player who could well score 20+ a night on a different team that lacks the balanced attack Oldham features.  Last year, he was #2 in scoring and rebounding at 12.6 ppg /4.4 rebounds for the Colonels.

Sam Campbell will always be known for his clutch buzzer-beating jump shot at the buzzer in the first round of the 2019 8th Region tournament that knocked out Collins, and although he has created some new memories since then, that moment certainly defines him.   Campbell may well be characterized as the team’s “Cool Hand Luke”, capable of producing in the most stressful situations. 

Wagner-Rose (10.6 ppg / team high 5.6 reb/game) definitely flies under the radar a bit, but has the size and athleticism to potentially average a double-double this year.  He hit 59% of his shots last year.

“We do return a lot,” said Zerhusen, “but we need to develop some depth with our younger and more inexperienced players.   We need to learn what will work for our different lineups as well.   My hope is that by February we are finding our groove and playing well.”

Senior Grant Gibson figures to move into the point guard role vacated by Votaw.    Gibson may not be the natural scorer his older brother, all-region performer Jackson Gibson, was in 2018, but he very well may be a better point guard in terms of ballhandling and passing, which is saying a lot.    Gibson played in 33 of the Colonels’ 34 games last year, averaging 5 points and hitting 45% of his threes.   Despite coming off the bench, Gibson led the Colonels in scoring in two of their games, including the win over Woodford County in round 1 of the 8th Region tourney.

The Oldham starting five will feature size – Wagner-Rose at 6’6” and Slone at 6’5” will work the inside with Campbell and Oak (both 6’2”) on the perimeter.   Gibson is the only player on the current roster who checks in at less than 6’; the Colonels’ point guard is 5’10”.  

Off the bench, Zerhusen can bring in more size with 6’10” junior Hayden Burgess, 6’6” Sam Powell, and 6’4” Clay Smith.   Top-to-bottom, the Colonels’ roster is the tallest in the region.

Scoring doesn’t figure to be a big problem, with so much of the 2019-20 scoring back from a team that shot well from all spots on the court.   Depth, however, is a question mark that must be answered on a team that must have depth in order to execute Zerhusen’s stifling full court defense that borders on “frenetic”.    For Oldham to be successful, Coy Zerhusen needs fresh legs to constantly insert into the lineup, meaning the Colonels typically need to be 9-10 deep.

“We have a lot of guys who can make shots,” agreed Zerhusen.  “We can score inside or outside.  If we are unselfish and share the ball, then teams will have a hard time stopping all options.”

Off the bench….   Burgess played in 16 games, averaging 2.6 ppg, including some prime-time playing time.   But Clay Smith (6’4” senior), Sam Powell (6’6” junior), and 6’1” senior Jack Matsen – all of whom will likely be counted on as major contributors this year – saw mostly mop-up time last season.  Matsen has the potential to be a breakout player for Oldham this year; he only played in 9 games last year, but displayed a nice shooting stroke, hitting 60% of his shots and 88% of his free throws.

Oldham won’t be ducking anyone; Zerhusen continues to schedule a tough slate of opponents.   This year, Oldham will face consensus pre-season top 10 opponents Elizabethtown and Covington Catholic, plus top 20 teams Jeffersontown, Scott County, Eastern, and Highlands.   District foe North Oldham is ranked in some polls’ top 20.

Coach’s thought:  “We need to develop a killer instinct and to be relentless.  We struggled last year with playing at the same level of intensity depending on the score or opponent, and it hurt us at times.   We need to become more focused and consistent.” – Coy Zerhusen

Outlook:   With 4 starters back, including four returning double-digit scorers, along with a fifth player who probably played about half the minutes at point guard last season, Oldham looks to have the region’s best starting unit coming out of the season-opening gate.    The Colonels’ defense should again be one of the region’s better units, with quickness and length.   Combining size, athleticism, and experience – and coached by 2019 Region 8 Coach of the Year Coy Zerhusen - everything points to Oldham County as the clear region 8 preseason favorites.   If the new faces on the Oldham bench can come close to producing like last year’s top reserves, allowing Zerhusen to continue coaching at a 100 mph pace, then Oldham will be very, very hard to beat.

2 – North Oldham (16-14, lost in round 1 of the District 29 tournament, 77-74, to South Oldham).   Last season brought brutal disappointment to Goshen, where dreams were sky-high in Justin Powell’s senior season.    The 6’7” senior point guard was a legitimate 8th Region Player of the Year candidate, and was being mentioned as a strong contender for Kentucky Mr. Basketball.   With Powell wrecking defenses with his scoring, his passing, and causing defensive nightmares with his 6’7” frame out on the perimeter, North rocketed to a 6-1 early season mark, which included a runner-up finish in the prestigious King of the Bluegrass tournament.   North posted impressive wins in the KOB over eventual 5th Region runner-up Bardstown and over eventual seventh region champion Male, before succumbing by ten in the finals to 7th region runner-up Ballard.

A season-ending injury to Powell, though, turned North’s high expectations upside-down.

Against a brutal schedule – Frederick Douglass, Oldham County, Collins, South Oldham, DeSales, and additional games against Male and Ballard – North went just 10-13 the rest of the way, before closing out the season with a heartbreaking 3 point loss to South in the first round of the district 29 tournament.

David Levitch’s third team, however, may have all the parts to make a legitimate run at the region this year.

North Oldham hasn’t been to New Castle for the region tourney since 2015, when the Mustangs lost to Owen County in the first round.   But Levitch has put together a lot of pieces of the puzzle necessary to put last year’s disappointment behind and move North back into the discussion of contenders wanting to go Rupp.

Levitch returns four starters from last year’s squad, including sophomore guard Dallas Roberts, the leading returning scorer at 13.5 ppg, who will begin his third season as a varsity starter.   6’3” senior guard Thomas Ashton and 5’6” junior Austin “Rico” Carr-Cole round out an experienced group of starting guards.   

On the inside, sophomore Ian Higdon (6’4”) is a mobile big man with skills reminiscent of his brother Tyler, who graduated last year.    Higdon, who averaged 7.4 ppg / 4.8 rebounds last year, figures to see both of those numbers increase – perhaps significantly – as he assumes Tyler’s position on the team.   Tyler averaged 14 ppg / 7.8 rebounds last year.

Roberts gives Levitch a lot of versatility; as an 8th grader, Roberts was the team’s leading scorer and starting point guard; he moved to the “2” guard spot last year and prospered.   One of the region’s top shooters; he hit 55 threes at a 44.4% clip, and was also a prolific 82% at the line.

Carr-Cole was the surprise of the 8th Region last year.   He started last year on the bench, but was pressed into more minutes with the injury to Powell.   By mid-season, he had firmly established himself as a starter, and was such a prolific scorer over the second half of the season that he finished as the team’s #3 scorer at 13 ppg.    Usually the smallest player on the court, Carr-Cole found ways to get open, and wound up leading the team with 63 made threes, and connected at 39.6% beyond the arc.  You can read more about “Rico” at the end of this article, in the listing of the top players of the region.

Two new additions to the roster figure to make major contributions, and are a big reason why North sits near the top of this ranking.

Caleb Hawley, the son of former University of Louisville guard Craig Hawley (1986-90), transferred to North Oldham from Collins, after leaving the Titans’ team late last season, and will round out the starting five.   Hawley, a strong 6’4” F/G, is a senior who played 25 games for Collins as one of their first reserves off the bench.   He averaged 5.2 ppg / 3.2 rebounds while hitting 48% of his shots from the floor and 70% from the line.  He’ll fit in well at North and will be a good addition to the Mustangs’ front line.

Though not an opening day starter, Levitch is excited about the prospects for Austin Gibson, who moved back to Oldham County from Wisconsin.  Gibson is a 6’3” senior F/G, and brings strength and quickness. 

6’4” senior Will Yochum and 6’3” sophomore Jack Scales bring experience and good size off the bench.

With a strength of schedule that is again “off the charts”, Levitch knows the Mustangs could have a less-than-stellar record and still be among the region elites.

“We are still young in a lot of positions, and we play a brutal schedule,” he said.  “Just getting the guys to learn and grow each game to prepare us for the end of the year (is key).”

But…

“We have big expectations this year with strong guard play and experience,” he continued.  “We will get better as the season goes on.”

North plays arguably the toughest schedule in the 8th region, facing at least seven teams ranked in various pre-season Top 25 polls:  Oldham County, Fern Creek, Highlands, Eastern, Bowling Green, Bardstown, and the prohibitive #1 pick in many polls, the Male Bulldogs.  Four of those teams figure into most polls’ top 10-11 teams.   In addition, they’ll face Seneca, Waggener, Butler, and St. X, four of the better teams in Louisville, plus Spencer County, Collins, Simon Kenton, and South Oldham.

And with the experience of playing some of the toughest competition the Commonwealth of Kentucky had to offer last year, this is a veteran group of basketballers who know what it takes to compete at the highest levels.   North certainly isn’t going to be intimidated by anyone.

North should be pretty well set offensively.   The bulk of the scoring returns, and the Mustangs were fourth in the region in scoring last year at 68.7 ppg, when the Mustangs shot 50.6% from the field overall (39% from beyond the arc).

North will be able to put tremendous “length” on the court, with nine players checking in at 6’3” or taller, and the Mustangs have good ballhandlers.

Free throw shooting could be a potential Achilles’ Heel; North made a respectable 66% of their free throws last year, but they’ll return some extremes.    Carr-Cole and Roberts, both hitting 82%+, are superb charity shooters, and the incoming Hawley is very good at 70%.   But the other two projected starters – Higdon and Ashton – made just 61.5% and 56.9% of their freebies last year, respectively.   You can expect Higdon to spend quite a bit of time at the line this year; Levitch undoubtedly would like to see that percentage come up.

North should have some decent chemistry early, with four returning starters.   But like so many other 8th Region teams, production off the bench will be a question mark.

Coach’s Thought:  “We have experience in tough games now; that should help us this year,” Levitch observed.  “We just have to come together as a team.”

Outlook:   The Mustangs basically return the team that played 2/3 of last year’s season after Justin Powell’s injury ended his season.    After January 10th, North went 9-7 against brutal competition, and they got wins over South Oldham, Grant County, and DeSales during that stretch.   Among those final 7 losses was an 8 point loss to eventual region champ Collins and a 3 point heartbreaker to South in the district tourney.   North is quick, has reasonable size, and shoots the ball well.   Depth is a question mark, but there’s size on the bench, and Jack Scales (sophomore) is a potential breakout player after averaging 4.7 ppg off the bench while playing in 17 games last year.   He hit 50% of his shots, 91% of his free throws, and made 18 threes in those 17 games….   If North gets the contributions they are expecting off the bench and can hit clutch free throws, this could be Goshen’s first region tournament team since 2015, and perhaps their first-ever team to reach the finals.

 

3 – Spencer County (21-8, lost first round of the 30th District tournament to Woodford County) –  Perhaps I should have gone with “2A” and “2B”.  Then again, maybe this coin flip is best characterized this way.  The difference between North Oldham and Spencer County at #2 and #3 appears razor-thin.    These two teams both narrowly missed the 8th Region tournament last year after solid seasons.  They played a classic game on the hardwood in Goshen – a game decided by a mere 3 points.   And both return a lot of the pieces that made last year’s squads “go”.  So I tossed the coin multiple times, checked my Magic 8 Ball, fiddled with a Ouija Board, and paid $20 to my local psychic and – I still couldn’t decide...

Spencer is ranked with Oldham and North Oldham at the top of the region in large part due to the tremendous experience this core of this squad has playing together over the years.  If this ranking is to represent where the teams are as the season begins, then team chemistry means a lot in this initial offering. 

Since their 8th grade year, this senior class has helped Spencer to win over 20 games each year – a total of 82 wins over the last four seasons.    In those four years, they’ve only made it out of the tough 30th district once – in 2019 – when they advanced to the region semi-finals, losing to eventual Region 8 champ, Walton-Verona.   But the Bears have notched quite a few quality wins over the last four seasons, and this group is primed to make their final run at the region with more combined varsity experience than any other team in the region.

In a season in which summer ball was non-existent, this team still shouldn’t have any problems finding its chemistry quickly.

The Bears didn’t lose anyone to graduation off last season’s 21-8 team that took a 10-game winning streak into the 30th district tournament where they fell by ten points to region 8 newcomer Woodford County.

The only loss, personnel-wise, was Gage Mabry, who was number two on the team in scoring last season at 14.2 ppg as a sophomore.  Mabry has transferred.   That lone loss, however, is a big one.   

Head coach Jason Burns, entering his 8th season in Taylorsville, feels that the team has the resources to fill Mabry’s shoes.

“Losing Gage, we do lose some scoring, but I think he can be replaced with quite a bit of experience between Jackson Jaggers and Brice Roark,” Burns stated.    Jaggers – who played in 29 games for the Bears last year – and Roark both saw significant minutes last year, and both showed the potential to be legitimate outside threats, both hitting 33% of their threes.

Of course, leading the Bear attack will once again be Sam Conley, a 6’4” senior.   Conley, a fifth year starter, is one of the leading candidates for Player of the Year in the 8th Region, and has led the Bears in scoring for four consecutive seasons, including last year when he averaged 22 ppg.    Conley also led the Bears in rebounding with 6.8 boards a game, was tied for the team lead in free throw shooting at 75% (among those with more than 2 attempts), and his 48.9% shooting mark from the field was second only to Jason Nichols’ 49.0%.

Conley’s mobile enough to play out on the floor yet physical enough to bang with bigger players down low.   He’s perhaps the best on-ball defender on the team, along with Jake Whitlock.

Jake Whitlock (5’11” senior) and Lucas Hornback (6’4” senior) will join Conley as the drivers of this team.   Hornback (11.3 ppg, 4.4 rebounds) and Whitlock (10.3 ppg / 3.8 rebound) are both “all-around contributors” who make an impact at both ends of the floor.   Hornback brings some size to the lineup; Whitlock’s ability to defend 90 feet is crucial to Spencer’s success.

Add 6’5” senior Jason Nichols to the core trio, and Burns has some solid length he can start.  Jaggers – a 6’1” senior – should round out the starting five.   Both averaged just 2+ points per game, but both played in nearly every game last season.   Nichols averaged 3.2 rebounds, and hit 49% of his shots from the floor to lead the Bears in that department.

This gives head coach Jason Burns a starting five of five battle-tested seniors.

Last year’s Bears averaged about 65 ppg – which ranked them roughly in the middle of the 8th region pack – but Spencer was third in the region in scoring defense, allowing just 57 ppg.    Spencer could, however, put up points when they had to – and they scored over 70 points in each of the three games that, arguably, were their biggest wins of the season.  (over 4th region champion Warren Central, 15th region runner-up Shelby Valley, and Ninth region power Conner). 

The concerns in Spencer County are twofold:

-       Depth.   Spencer County had four players average in double digits last year and one of those four – Mabry - is gone.   Nobody else on the squad averaged over 3 ppg.   Only six players on this year’s squad played in more than 20 games last year (of Spencer’s 29).

-       Shooting.   Spencer County made over 50% of their shots in only two of their 29 games last season.  As a whole, the team made just 42.9% of its shots overall.   Only Jason Nichols (49%) and Sam Conley (48.9%) hit better than 42.9% from the floor, and key players such as Jake Whitlock (39.5% overall), Lucas Hornback (39%), and Jackson Jaggers (33.3%) probably need to see their shooting percentages improve for Spencer to take the next step.

Coach’s Thought:  “We do have to stay healthy,” Burns stated.  “We’ve been bitten by the injury bug here and there the past few years.   We do have to continue to develop some depth on the our bench.”

“I think the biggest thing in our region is being able to play against multiple styles of play,” he continued.  “From being pressed for 32 minutes against Oldham to having to grind out a game in the low 40’s against Woodford or Anderson.   I think our region is one of the best-coached regions, if not the best.”

Outlook:   Collins and Woodford County, last year’s 30th district representatives in the region tournament, both lost the core talent from their district champion / district runner-up teams.   Anderson County is a bit of a mystery, and Shelby County is making progress, but probably still classified as “rebuilding”.   This veteran Spencer squad should be able to make it to New Castle, and once there, anything can happen.   The Bears are a blue-collar, hard-working bunch, and the bulk of this team has been playing together for a long, long time.   It’s reasonable to assume that the shooting percentages will improve; if the bench improves as well, Spencer could be a threat to win their first-ever region crown.

 

4 – Simon Kenton  (22-10, District 32 champs, lost in the first round of the 8th Region Tournament, 83-75, to South Oldham) – Simon Kenton won 20+ games last season for the first time since the 2012 squad went 23-8, and along the way won the school’s first district title since 2016.

Seven seniors graduated from the team, which lost a nailbiter to South Oldham in round one of the 8th Region tournament.   That group took a lot with them via graduation, including almost 60% of the point production and 72% of the rebounding.   Trent Steiner, entering his 18th season at the helm of the Pioneers, has to replace a lot if SK hopes to repeat as district champs.

Gone are the Pioneers’ #2 and #3 scorers, long range bomber Jeremy Davis (16 ppg) and Logan Schwartz (13.5 ppg) and the team’s top two rebounders, Jon Hensley (4.7 rebounds/game) and Schwartz (4.0 rebounds).   Davis – who hit a whopping 124 threes last season while connecting on 49.8% of his three point attempts – wasn’t just the most prolific three point shooter in the region, he was one of the top 3 outside shooters in the state, making nearly 4 threes per game.

The cupboard isn’t entirely bare, though.   Leading the way is 6’2” senior point guard Kelly Niece, who returns to the varsity lineup for the fifth consecutive season.   Niece, one of the preseason favorites to take home the region 8 Player of the Year award, led the team in scoring last year at 19.2 ppg while shooting an almost unfathomable 60.5% from the field.    Niece was also number two on the team in three point shots made (37, at 37.5%), #2 on the team in free throw percentage (79.5% among those with more than 10 attempts), and tied for #2 in rebounding at 4 rebounds / game. 

And he did it all while rehabbing his injured leg, which kept him out of some games and limited his minutes in others.

Niece has led the Pioneers in scoring for three consecutive seasons now, and has scored 1,681 points in his high school career.

Also back for 2020-21 are 6’1” junior guard Andrew Smith (6 ppg) and 6’1” junior guard Isaac Miller (4.6 ppg).   Smith was one of just two players on last year’s SK team that played in all 32 games; Miller played in 29.

From there, though, nobody else returns with more than mop-up duty experience; junior guard Jack Marx has the most game experience of the remaining roster players, having appeared in 12 games.  Steiner will have to bring the rest of his squad up to varsity level speed if this team is to contend by the end of the season.

Like much of the 32nd district, this Pioneer roster is a short one.  SK features only one player listed over 6’2”:  Gabe Dynes, a junior who is listed at a slender 6’6”, 142 pounds.   While Dynes may be SK’s future inside presence, he played in just one varsity game last year and likely will be a work-in-progress for much of the season.

That means the Pioneers head into this season featuring a five-guard attack.  With one of the best players to ever play the point guard position in the 8th Region in Niece, Steiner has a floor general who can legitimately lift up the play of his less-experienced players.   In addition, Niece is good enough to create a lot of his own shots himself.   Furthermore, the Pioneers roster is full of guards who are in the 6’1” – 6’2” range, which means that they’ll measure up, at least on the perimeter, very well with the majority of teams they face.

Rebounding, however, will have to be by committee.   

With the offensive reliance continuing to be mainly on the jump shot, look for SK to continue to rank near the bottom of the region in free throw attempts in 2020.   Last year’s Pioneers attempted the second-fewest free throw attempts in the region (394), but they made up for it somewhat by being the region’s best free throw shooting team, hitting 75.6% of their freebies, not only the tops in the region but the fifth-best percentage in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Outlook:   SK figures to be the favorite to win the 32nd district for a second season in a row, although a strong challenge from Walton-Verona could well be in the cards.   Prospects in the 8th region tournament, however, largely depend upon how well the team develops scoring options outside of Niece, and whether the Pioneers can hold their own on the boards against larger teams.  With so little proven depth, there’s a good chance that SK will get off to a slow start to the season.    SK will get tested early; preseason region favorite Oldham County comes to Independence in game two of the season on January 8th.

 

5 – Collins (27-7, 30th district champs; 8th region champions) – The Titans put on quite a show last year, assuming the mantle of region favorite in the preseason, barreling through an extremely difficult regular season schedule, surviving a few bumps in the road late in the season (injuries, etc.), and then righting the ship just in time to hit their stride come tournament time.  Collins put together four impressive games, winning all four by large margins, to claim the 30th district title and advance to the regional final, before outlasting Oldham County in a white-knuckle championship game in New Castle.

For the Titans, it was their third regional championship in the last six seasons.

The defending champs return in 2021 with a solid nucleus of players, but Coach Chris Gaither will have to replace what may well be “irreplaceable”.    Gone are a tremendous trio of guards, including the electric Tyson Turner (7.5 ppg), Marcellus Vail (All-region, signed with Division 1 Samford), and Kentucky Mr. Basketball and 8th Region Player of the Year, Dayvion McKnight (signed with Western Kentucky).  

“We lost three incredible guards in Dayvion (McKnight), Marcellus (Vail), and Tyson (Turner),” Gaither said.  “We have a lot of confidence in our guards that are replacing these guys, but anytime you replace that much experience at the guard spot it takes time to overcome the little consistent things that they provided.”

Also gone – the Titans lost 6 seniors – are Josh Scriber, who played in all 34 games and was a sometimes starter, hitting 51% of his shots and averaging 5 ppg, Jacoby Evans (23 games), and Ben Omer (31 games).    Combined graduation with the loss of Caleb Hawley, who transferred to North Oldham, and Collins lost 83% of its scoring from last year and 79% of its rebounding.

So where are the points coming from?

Collins may have just re-loaded.    Back is one senior starter, Aaron Thompson, a 6’1” junior forward who averaged 8.3 ppg during the season, but who really stepped it up during the 8th Region tournament, hitting 14 of 18 shots over three games and averaging 11.7 ppg during the tourney.   Also back is one of the team’s most versatile subs from last year, Dawson Eden, who figures to move into a starting role this year.   A 6’0” senior, Eden is listed as a forward, but can play pretty much any position on the court.   Eden played in 30 of the Titans’ 34 games last season, averaging 2.2 ppg, though he averaged about 6 ppg during the post-season.

At guard, Gaither is excited by his prospects.   Quinten Simmons, a 5’10” sophomore, and Trey McAlmont, a 5’11” senior, look to fill two of the vacated guard spots.    Both had their seasons shortened last year.  Besides Simmons, the Titans are high on two other sophomore guards, 6’1” Butler transfer Kenyon Goodin and 5’9” Darius Evans.   Simmons, McAlmont, and Goodin figure to start on opening day, with Simmons and Goodin sharing the point guard responsibilities.

“Quinton Simmons and Trey McAlmont worked themselves into our rotation (last year) until both were injured,” commented Gaither.  “They have been important role players who will have to grow into becoming main play makers and increasing their roles.”

“We also are really talented in our sophomore guards.   Growth here will be important – they’re capable of being all-region players, but will have the same ups and downs that our three graduating seniors did when they were sophomores.”

Goodin is the real “mystery” player, but seems to be generating a bit of a stir.  No stats could be found that indicate that he played for the Butler varsity last year, but at least one coach in the region has already identified him as potentially one of the top five athletes in Region 8.    We’ll be watching his progress with interest.

Gaither has some experience coming off the bench in the form of veteran guard Darrian Crittendon, a 5’10” senior, who should provide a real spark.   Crittendon, who only averaged 2.5 ppg last year, still appeared for some quality minutes in 25 games.   He also played in 28 games the year before, as a sophomore, averaging nearly 4 ppg and hitting 19 threes at a 37.3% clip.    Crittendon may not be one of the team leaders in scoring, but his senior year has perfectly coincided with a season in which Gaither will need senior leadership from a veteran with significant playing experience against big-time opponents and in clutch situations.

Collins will also have to prove it can shoot the ball from the perimeter; the departing players took 161 of Collins’ 184 made threes with them.    Aaron Thompson, who made 9 of 29 from beyond the arc last season (31%) is the closest thing the Titans have to a proven outside threat.

“We are going to need to figure out who are our best playmakers with the ball in their hands,” observed Gaither.  “Who can do it, consistent and efficient?  We will need to be adaptable, winning some games in the 40s and some in the 60s.   Hopefully, we can be a 60s pace team consistently by post-season.”

Collins had one of its most prolific offensive teams last year under Gaither’s watch, averaging 68.3 ppg.

Coach’s Thoughts:  “Role identity and growth is one of my biggest concerns,” stated Gaither.  “With no preparation and off-season combined with possible quarantines, figuring out and nurturing each individuals’ strength into our team’s chemistry will be the biggest obstacle.”

Outlook:  The roster includes six seniors, but only Crittendon and Eden have significant game experience.    Combined with Thompson, those three figure to perhaps be the locker room leaders on this team as it tries to build on the 8 game winning streak Collins ended last season on.   The strength of the team, however, may very well be in the talented sophomore class.   Simmons has already displayed his potential, and Goodin – the transfer from Butler – is already drawing compliments from coaches who are familiar with him.   Collins may struggle early, as they try to settle down the guard corps, but the Titans – who have never missed a region tournament in their short school history - should be favored to come out of the 30th district again to try to defend their crown.

Rebounding may have to come by committee; the Titans’ tallest player is 6’3”, and eight of the players on the roster check in under 6’0”.   

 

6 – South Oldham (23-10, 29th District runner-up, lost in the semi-finals of the 8th Region tournament, 81-67, to Collins.)   One year after leading the Commonwealth of Kentucky in scoring in 2018-19, the Dragons were up to their usual tricks last year, scoring 77.5 points per game – tops in the 8th Region and #2 in the Commonwealth of Kentucky behind Ballard.    It was the fifth consecutive season that South Oldham led the 8th Region in scoring.

Head coach Steve Simpson – beginning his 21st season at the helm of the Dragons, the second-longest tenure of any 8th Region coach, behind Jon Jones of Gallatin County – recorded his tenth twenty-plus win season at the Crestwood school.   South qualified for the region tournament for the fifth consecutive year and the eighth time in the last nine years.  Prior to Simpson’s arrival in the 2000-1 season, South Oldham had consistently fielded good teams that regularly won 16-18 games, but the Dragons had recorded just one 20 win season (20-10 in 1989-90, the school’s first year) in the school’s first eleven seasons.   That 20-10 squad was also the only South squad to have made it to the regional final, where they lost to Shelby County.

Under Simpson’s guidance, South has evolved into a perennial region power.   In the last 11 seasons, South has won over 20 games eight times, won two district 29 titles, won three region eight titles, and finished as region runner-ups twice.   During the last eleven seasons, South is 241-97 for a winning percentage of .713.

Simpson seems to be getting better as he goes.   Looking strictly at the last five years, his Dragons have won the region once and finished as runner-ups once, while compiling a record of 118-44 (.728), second only to Oldham County as the winningest program in the region during that span. 

Overall, Steve Simpson enters his 21st season with a record of 389-210 (.649) at South Oldham.   He should reach the 400 win plateau sometime this season.

Amazingly, Simpson has done it while keeping large numbers of seniors in his program, meaning he manages to recreate his success each year, despite turning over a large amount of his roster.  In 2018-19, the Dragons graduated 9 seniors, including 4 starters, and finished 21-10 and District 29 champs.   In 2017-18, South lost 6 seniors, including 4 starters, and finished 19-12 and 8th Region runner-ups. 

I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I’ve learned not to underestimate a Steve Simpson team in the preseason.

The Dragons land at number six in the preseason rankings because – you guessed it – South graduated a slew of seniors from last year’s squad.  No fewer than ten seniors graduated from the roster, including all-region performers Luke Morrison (21 ppg / 4.1 rebounds), who was the 2019 8th Region Player of the Year and the runner-up in POY balloting in 2020, and Seth Johnson (19.7 ppg / 6.5 rebounds).

All told, the top five scorers – and 11 of the top 12 – are gone, along with the top two rebounders.   Only one starter – center Ben Michel (6.5 ppg / 3.5 rebounds), a 6’6” junior – returns.

The Dragons, who made / took more threes than anyone in the region last year (349 out of 829 for a region-best 42.1%), will even be looking for their next outside sharpshooters, as the ten departed seniors took 325 of those 349 made threes with them.

Simpson conceded the challenge to replace those gone will be substantial.

“We had ten seniors that dominated the playing time,” said Simpson.  “Two are playing college basketball (Morrison and Johnson).  Ben Michel is the only returning starter.  We went from March until October without touching a ball.   We have not had the chance to get up the thousands of shots we would have shot during the summer.   We are playing catchup.”

All of which raises a lot of questions in Crestwood.

Simpson will build around Ben Michel.   An extremely mobile big man, Michel has the ability to be a force inside, but is also an extremely accurate shooter.    As a sophomore, Michel tended to sit back and let the established seniors take the lead on the court.   But he has shown the potential to take over the leadership role, and he’ll be asked to do so this year.    A 52.3% field goal shooter, Michel was adept all over the floor, hitting 60.7% of his twos, and 33.3% of his threes.   At the line, he was every coach’s dream – a big man who can hit free throws – connecting on 75% of his charity tosses.   A solid passer, Michel will pose defensive problems for teams due to his height, mobility, and shooting range – he’ll force a lot of opposing coaches to face the dilemma of trying to decide whether their big man is mobile enough to leave the paint to guard him, and if not, whether one of their perimeter players has the size to guard him.

With a solid middle school / freshman / JV system set up, the Dragons get players on the varsity who are already well-versed in the South scheme.    Don’t expect anything to change in 2021; South will push the pace offensively and put up an insane number of threes.   When defenses extend the perimeter, South will attack the basket with all five players.   Defensively, the Dragons will press frequently, but will work hard to keep the offense guessing with multiple defensive looks in the half- and full-court.

So the newcomers should know the system, but they will have to adjust to varsity speed.

After Michel, varsity game experience is sparse.   Caiden Brown, a 6’2” senior guard, played in about half the games last year (17) and averaged just 1 ppg.   Zack Dolan, a 6’2” senior guard, played in just 9 games; Ian VonFeldt (6’0” junior guard) played in six, and Cole Davis (6’1” junior guard) played in five.   Some, or all, of these four figure to start or at least see significant playing time in 2021, but as of this writing, Simpson hadn’t yet settled on any starters outside of Michel.   Don’t be surprised to see the opening day lineup include Michel and all four of the above.    Despite the lack of game experience, the four guards all were on the varsity roster all year and have the value of all that varsity practice time together.

It may take a while for the South offense to become as prolific as the last two squads, though.   It’s hard to graduate 94.2% of your scoring and replace it overnight.   The Dragons may be forced to do something of an about-face for a bit; South has played race-horse basketball for years, daring other teams to keep up on the scoreboard, and usually able to simply outscore them.   Last year, in fact, South scored over 80 points fourteen times.   This year, South may have to rely on their defense to keep them in games early in the season while the offense matures, especially since the bench – so critical in Simpson’s system – grows into the varsity game.

Make no mistake, though.   South isn’t going to change their offense.  The Dragons will run every chance they get, and they will put up a barrage of three pointers.

Speaking of the bench, South will be almost exclusively guard-oriented when subs come in; six of the remaining seven players on the current roster check in under 6’0” and the seventh – junior Murphy Couvillion – is right at 6’0”.

Coach’s Thought:  “We are in a tough district,” Simpson said.  “Oldham County is a top 5 team in the state, and North Oldham is a Top 20 team.   We are going to have to fight like crazy to get out of the district this year.”

Still, Simpson took the responsibility to compete on his team’s shoulders.

“We have to develop some grit and be able to execute in crucial situations.”

Outlook:   This is the biggest challenge I’ve seen at SOHS in some time.   The Dragons haven’t had a losing season since the injury-riddled 2014-15 campaign, when they finished 11-17.   That was also the last time they missed the region tournament.    Missing the region is a very distinct possibility this year, and even a losing season isn’t out of the question if all these newcomers don’t develop, and develop quickly.  The 21 game schedule isn’t overly ambitious – the Dragons have tangled with tougher schedules – but it’s no pushover, either, with one currently-ranked opponent (Oldham County), all of the top-tier region 8 rivals (Simon Kenton, Spencer County, North Oldham, Collins), plus some other potential land mines (Iroquois, Covington Holy Cross, St. X, Bullitt East, DeSales, Christian Academy of Louisville).   Simpson’s proven time and again, though, that he is a master of player development.   Here’s thinking that he’ll do it again.

 

7 – Walton-Verona (13-18, lost in the first round of the 32nd district tourney, 78-57, to Simon Kenton).        I really like what head coach Mike Hester was able to do in his first year at W-V last year.    The first-year head coach inherited the defending 8th Region champions – but the Bearcats had graduated virtually all the key pieces of that impressive group.   Hester was left to start – literally – from scratch.

The results were, frankly, pretty impressive.    Although the Cats hit a bad slump to end the season, dropping six of their final seven games, they were 12-12 and riding a three-game winning streak on February 10th, heading into a matchup with powerful Grant County.  

Taking a page out of the South Oldham playbook, the Bearcats focused on playing fast, and shooting sharp.    The team hit 41.1% of their three pointers – making 284 – both second in the region only to the Dragons.   In a region that shot the free throws well, Walton still stood out, hitting over 74% at the line, third-best in the region.

Hester turned the keys to the car over to a real youth movement, and introduced the region to perhaps the best group of freshmen and sophomores to play on the same team in a while.  Freshman Carter Krohman (10.4 ppg) and sophomores Brant Smithers (19.6 ppg / 4.6 rebounds), and Cameron Christy (12.2 ppg / 5.1 rebounds) led the Cats as the top 3 scorers and the top 2 rebounders on the team.

Along the way, the Bearcats frequently exceeded expectations of such an inexperienced crew.   The Cats were perhaps at their best in four games against teams that ultimately played in New Castle in the 8th Region tournament, claiming victories over District 31 champion Gallatin County and District 31 runner-up Henry County (18 game winner), and playing very competitively in losses to 32nd district champ Simon Kenton (lost by 9) and to 30th district runner-up Woodford County (lost by 3).

With four starters returning, including the top three scorers, and 8 of the 9 players who played 20 or more games last season back, Hester has reason to be excited about 2021:

“We graduated Jack Watson and Chance Young, who combined for about 10 points a night,” Hester said.  “We are going to replace them with Ethan Gutman and Trey Ferguson; both are capable of contributing solid minutes this year.”

Hester said to expect more of the same, scheme-wise.

“Offensively, we are going to be very similar to last year’s team,” he stated.  “We will play an up-tempo pace.   Try to create more offensive possessions for us than last year, but also limit possessions for opponents.”

Smithers, Christy, and Krohman are expected to lead the way again.   The three not only led the way in scoring, with each averaging in double figures, but they posted some impressive stats.   Smithers (50.8% from the field) and Christy (49.8%) showed real touch from the floor, and Smithers was particularly impressive, as he led the team from the perimeter with 92 made three pointers – which he connected on at a 46.2% clip.   Smithers was equally deadly at the line, where he led the entire Commonwealth of Kentucky at 89.2% (91 of 102).

Krohman was the Cats’ other primary three point threat, hitting 74 threes while making 42.3%, which would have both been impressive numbers for a senior, much less a freshman playing varsity for the first time under a new coach.

Connor Davis is the fourth starter returning; Davis, a 5’9” senior, averaged 7.4 ppg last season while hitting 52.7% from the floor – tops on the team – and 77.5% at the line.     Though he took far fewer threes than Krohman and Smithers, Davis was amazingly efficient beyond the arc, hitting 43 of 79 attempts for an eye-popping 54.4%.   

With Davis, Krohman, and Smithers all on the floor together, opponents frequently found it difficult to keep pressure on all three, and as a result, Walton-Verona averaged over nine made threes per game last season.

Ethan Gutman figures to be the fifth starter this year.   The 6’0” sophomore saw action in 27 games last year, but took just 9 shots on the season.

Size figures to be a real issue for the Cats, who will probably have the shortest starting lineup in the region come opening day.  Gutman and Krohman figure to be – both at just 6’0” – the tallest Walton starters when the season starts.   The pre-season KHSAA roster lists 17 players; twelve are under 6’0”, and only two are listed as taller than 6’0”.   The tallest player on the roster – Trey Ferguson, a junior – is listed at 6’3”.

Christy is listed at 5’11”, Davis at 5’9”, and Smithers at just 5’8”.   

The size deficit on the court, coupled with the team’s extreme youth, led to defensive issues and problems on the glass last year.

“We gave up way too many second chance opportunities for opponents last year,” Hester lamented.  “A big focus for us this year is on the defensive end of the floor.  We want to end defensive possessions with turnovers and rebounds.”

“We gave up about fourteen offensive rebounds a game.”

“Connor Davis is our best overall defender,” Hester continued.  “When he isn’t on the floor, we struggle to get stops.”

With two of the more experienced subs from last year – Bryson Stanley and Ryan Schultz – not back for the Cats this year (combined average 7+ ppg / 4 reb), Hester is going to have the same problem that it seems most of the region has this year.   Who will contribute from the bench?   6’3” junior Trey Ferguson has the most game experience, but he played only limited minutes while seeing action in 22 games last year.   Still, he would bring some much-needed length to the floor, and showed some potential in making 50% of his shots last year.

Regardless of who comes off the bench, there will be a big learning curve, and, like so many other 8th Region teams, we probably won’t know how good this Walton-Verona team really is until well into February.

Asked what he had to find / develop in order to be competitive in the district / region, Hester’s reply was blunt:

“Depth,” was his one-word response.  “we have several young guards who will have an opportunity to contribute.   With no scrimmages, we don’t know who that will be yet.”

Coach’s Thought:  “We struggled last year with pressure,” Hester said.  “We averaged about fifteen turnovers a game, but when teams pressured us full court, we struggled.   We have to do a better job this year handling pressure and not give teams easy scoring opportunities.”

Outlook:   How the Bearcats mature will tell a lot about this year.    Hester has amassed a group of “young guns” who are among the best jump shooters in the region.   On any given night, the Bearcats can simply outgun most region opponents.   Walton will, however, have to improve on the third-worst scoring defense in the region that allowed 67.5 ppg last year.    Improvement against pressure – Oldham County and South Oldham rode constant pressure in both the full-court and half-court settings to 28-point and 31-point victory margins last year – should come with maturity and experience, and that will help a great deal.    But to flip the script, record-wise, from last year, the Cats will have to have more of a presence on the boards.    Region big men feasted on the Cats last year (Trevor Hardin of Henry County – 30 points / 9 rebounds… Dylan Hammonds of Grant County 30 points / 12 rebounds… Ben Michel of South Oldham 18 points / 6 rebounds, etc.).     With Simon Kenton and Grant County depleted by graduation, there’s an opening of opportunity in the 32nd district, even for a very young team, though.   And Hester – the former star guard at Simon Kenton, who started his coaching career as an assistant at his alma mater – knows what is necessary to win in the region’s northernmost district.  

Hester has amped up the schedule a bit.   The schedule includes at least three ranked teams, top 10 Oldham County and top 25 teams Highlands and Beechwood.   In addition, the Bearcats will face perennial 10th Region powers Mason County and Campbell County, Covington Holy Cross,  and some of the top teams in region 8, including Simon Kenton, Collins, Spencer County, South Oldham, and Henry County.    Despite the challenges, the Bearcats have an excellent chance of returning to the 8th Region tourney after a one-year absence.

 

8 – Henry County (18-15, 31st district runner-ups, lost in round 1 of the 8th Region tournament, 79-57, to Collins).   Sitting at 4-8 on January 11th, 2020, after a somewhat puzzling 22 point loss to Western Hills – a team the Wildcats had defeated barely four weeks earlier – and just getting back to 100% after the return of star center Trevor Hardin from an injury that had frighteningly been rumored to be a potential season-ender, the Henry County Wildcats were at a bit of a crossroads.  

The team got off the mat, figuratively speaking, and became one of the winningest teams in the region over the remaining two-thirds of the season, going 14-7 from that point on to go 18-15, finishing as head coach Enoch Welch’s second-winningest team in New Castle (the 2013-14 squad won 20 games).

The Wildcats finished as 31st district runner-ups, and reached the 8th Region tournament for the third season in a row.  Along the way, they got their first victory over 31st district rival Gallatin County in four years, and their first victory over backyard rival Shelby County since 1/15/2013.   The 18-win total was a six game improvement over 2018-19.

Key to the team’s success was the play of All-Region junior center Trevor Hardin, who led the team in scoring and rebounding for the second consecutive season.   Hardin missed five games due to injury in December, and Henry County went just 1-4.    With him in the lineup, the Cats went 17-11.

When Henry went 9-3 over the final twelve games of the regular season, Hardin was a huge reason why.    Over his final ten games of the season, Hardin hit 68% of his shots during that ten-game stretch and had eight double-doubles.   He barely missed getting a double-double against Trimble County (30 points / 9 rebounds) and Spencer County (20 points / 9 rebounds), but still had spectacular games.   His 25 point / 15 rebound effort against eventual region champ Collins in the regional tournament stamped him as perhaps the region’s premier big man.

Henry County lost 6 seniors to graduation, and that group includes some major contributors, but Welch thinks the 2021 version of the Wildcats still has the guns to compete.

“We lost a strong group to graduation,” he said.  “Losing a 1,000 point scorer in Ethan Lankford will hurt.   Also the ball handling by Josiah Montero and the post play with (Ryan) Phillips and (Will) Potts.”

“We will have to shoot the ball more than we have in the past, but I think we have the guys to do that,” he continued.  “We have a couple of big guys in Hardin (6’5” senior) and (Sam) Royalty (6’6” Junior), and we have some shooters on the horizon in (Brandon) Graves, (Will) Peyton, and (Jerred) Slone.”

Hardin should lead the way again for Henry.    He just missed averaging a double-double last year, averaging 19.1 ppg / 9.3 rebounds.   Hardin comes into the season with 1,434 career points and 698 rebounds, and has an excellent opportunity to cap his high school career off with 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, while averaging a double-double this year. 

Henry County will likely use Sam Royalty to create a “twin towers” look.   Royalty, a big 6’6” junior, averaged 4 ppg / 3.3 rebounds while appearing in 32 games last year as a sophomore.   Royalty – the quarterback of the football team – is a big, strong inside presence who has good mobility, and he and Hardin will make reaching the rim against Henry County a major chore this year.

On the perimeter, Welch will be looking for some new contributors to step up their scoring game.   It’s not that the squad will be lacking in experience there.   In particular, 5’6” junior guard Kevin Wix-Flowers brings quite a bit of experience to the role after starting last year.   Wix averaged 6.5 points per game in 2019-20, and the Wildcats will look for him to build upon that this season, which should happen as his shooting percentage improves.

Likewise, Will Peyton, a 5’11” senior guard, will try to help pick up the scoring lost due primarily due to Lankford’s graduation.    Peyton saw extensive action last year, averaging 3.2 ppg, and – like Wix – if his shooting percentage comes up, he should be a major contributor on the perimeter.

Brandon Graves, a 5’7” senior guard, should round out the starting five.   Graves saw action in 28 games last year. 

The big key appears to be the shooting percentages, as none of the three expected starters at guard shot better than 38% from the floor last year.

Perimeter shooting really wasn’t a major strength for Henry last year; the Wildcats shot only 28.4% from beyond the arc, worst in the 8th Region, and only Trimble County and Carroll County made fewer threes.    Welch, however, is excited about this squad’s potential from the outside.

“We will definitely play on the perimeter more this year, Trevor included,” Welch asserted.  “We have to be able to use our depth and trust our young guys to make plays for us, but we also have to protect the ball and get Trevor (Hardin) and Kevin (Wix) the ball in space, as well as having Will (Peyton), Sam(Royalty), and Brandon (Graves) to knock down shots.”

“We have to bring the same intensity each night like last year’s team did.”

Look for Henry County to again be one of the region’s most frequent flyers at the charity stripe after leading the region with 688 free throw attempts in 2019-20.    Hardin alone shot 163 free throws last season; it’s one aspect of his game that could improve, as he hit a pedestrian 62.6% at the stripe.

Welch, in his tenth year at Henry County High School, has done an impressive job of getting the Wildcats to the 8th Region tournament, with five appearances in his first nine seasons, and three in a row.    He hopes this year that the Cats can take the next step by claiming their first district title since 2011 and getting their first regional tournament victory since that same year.

Speaking of district rival Gallatin County, which has won the 31st district four straight seasons:

“Gallatin County is the district favorite,” he stated.  “Until someone beats them, they are the team.”

Coach’s Thought:  Regarding his team’s defense:  “We always have Trevor (Hardin) protecting the rim, but we hope to put more pressure on the ball this year.” – Enoch Welch.

Outlook:   Henry County is one of the few 8th Region teams this year with a legitimately strong inside game this year.   The question now will be whether the perimeter game can become enough of a threat to keep opposing defenses from collapsing on Hardin and Royalty.   Last year’s squad compensated for poor outside shooting with patience and strong passing. 

Hardin is mobile enough to create many of his own shots, and he’s not dependent upon being within five feet of the rim to get his points – he has a nice, soft jumper and can hit three pointers, though I doubt Welch wants him to be throwing up that many shots from twenty feet.  Depth is a question mark, like just about everyone in the region, but Welch is optimistic that his bench will be able to produce, including a young sophomore named Jerred Slone, who he thinks can help to pick up some of the offensive slack.

At the end of the day, Henry will be looking for points to replace the roughly 30 points per game that Lankford, Montero, and Phillips brought to the table last year, and the nearly 12 rebounds per game.    If they can replace that production, a district title should be within their grasp.

 

9 – Woodford County (17-16, 30th district runner-up, lost in round 1 of the 8th Region tournament to Oldham County, 59-53) – Woodford County came to the 8th Region last year after years competing in the 11th region, and the Yellowjackets endured an up-and-down campaign that had extreme highs and frustrating lows.

After a frustrating 1-5 start to the season – which included their first regional matchup, an 83-70 defeat at the hands of Grant County – the Jackets made a statement by posting six straight wins, which included back-to-back upset victories over 11th Region Champ Scott County and 8th Region runner-up Oldham County.

Woodford would win 11 of 13, stamping themselves as a potential region contender, only to see star center Hunter Penn go down in a win over Walton-Verona in late January.   Penn would miss six games, during which time Woodford went just 2-4, but the Yellowjackets could never quite regain their form, even after he returned, as the team won just 3 of their final 8 games.

Woodford finished just 6-7 against 8th Region competition in their first year in the region.

Overall, Woodford finished 17-16 against an aggressive schedule, but most of last year’s squad is gone to graduation.   The Yellowjackets graduated a large senior class of seven, including four starters.   Gone are Ashton Myles-Devore (11 ppg) and Anthony Tabor (11 ppg), two of the three players on the team that averaged in double figures.   Also gone are Jared Courtney (8.4 ppg), Dylan Blevins (5.2 ppg), and Riley Gardner (3.9 ppg / 5.2 rebounds), which means 5 of the top 6 scorers must be replaced.    In total, 73.5% of the scoring offense is gone.   

Second-year head coach Jaron Brown loves this group, and expressed confidence in their ability to pick up where the departed seniors left off.

“Yes, the graduation of seven seniors has affected us, but this group is really eager to learn and will pick things up quick once we get going,” he predicted.  “We have a  lot of young players who will replace the seniors by committee.   My concern is just to see how the younger players react to playing on the varsity level.”

The 2021 roster includes four seniors, but only one – Penn – is expected to start.  An All-Region performer last season, the 6’4” senior center averaged 13.7 ppg to go along with 8.4 rebounds, while shooting a nifty 62.8% from the floor.   If he stays healthy, and the Jackets can get him the ball consistently, expect both numbers to go up this year as he should be the focal point of the Woodford attack.

Brown expects to fill out the starting lineup with three juniors and one freshman.

Brian White, a 5’10” junior guard, likely takes the point guard role this year.   White saw extensive action last year as a sophomore, but mostly left the scoring load to the seniors.   While he only averaged 3.5 ppg, White displayed a deadly shooting eye from the outside, making 22 three pointers while attempting only 42 (52.4%).  Paired with Penn, the two present a potentially potent inside-outside combination.

New to the Yellowjacket program are juniors Blake Asher and Dayvionne Ramirez, who don’t even show on the official Woodford County KHSAA roster yet.   Brown expects both to start on opening day.

Freshman Tyler Doyle is expected to round out the starting five.   A 5’8” guard, Doyle was on the varsity last year as an 8th grader, but saw action in just three games and made just 1 of 4 shots on the season.   

The Jackets are not a tall team; Penn’s backup will likely again be J D Alexander, a 6’2”, 262 pound senior.    Alexander started during Penn’s injury last season, and averaged 6.7 ppg / 3.7 rebounds over six contests, with a high game of 11 points against South Oldham.

Free throws are a question mark heading into the season; Woodford struggled at the line last year, hitting just 60% of their freebies.   Only two players – Penn and Alexander – return that shot more than 25 free throws last year.   Penn, an excellent shooter, struggled at the line, however, making just 58.6% of his charity tosses.   Alexander hit 70% of his free throws, but shot just 27 attempts last year.   In a region where half the teams made over 70% of their free throws last year, this can be a potential roadblock to a district or region title.

Coach’s Thought:  “Our general expectation is we will play hard and physical the whole game,” said Brown.  “I worry about teams pressing us, but I think we will be able to compete in the district because we have a great leader and one of the best players in our region in Hunter Penn.”

Outlook:  There are a lot of unknowns in regards to this Woodford squad.   Penn and White are known commodities, but the rest of the starting lineup and bench are basically mysteries.   Expect Woodford to continue to work their half-court motion offense when they have the ball, and to play hard-nosed man-to-man on defense.   The lack of size shouldn’t be a big issues in the 30th district, but whether Woodford has the athletes to compete is yet to be seen.   The Jackets don’t have the veteran experience that Spencer has, or the defense and championship mentality that Collins has developed.    Like Anderson County and Shelby County, they are going to have to answer a number of questions in order to get back to the Region 8 tournament.   

The schedule is manageable; three preseason top 25 teams are included (Frederick Douglass, Scott County, and Oldham County), but none of the three show up in January.   On the other hand, all four district seeding games will be played in January.

 

10 – Anderson County (19-10, lost in the semifinals of the 30th district tournament, 48-31, to Collins).    When legendary coach Glen Drury prowled the sidelines in Lawrenceburg, the Anderson County Bearcats developed a reputation for fierce, physical, and unrelenting defense.   Current coach Bryan Hyatt developed his basketball acumen in that environment, and last year, his second Bearcat team brought back memories of Drury’s stingy squads.

Anderson County won its first seven games – and 14 of its first 16 – riding one of the most miserly defenses the 8th Region has seen in years.    The Bearcats won a total of 19 games last season despite scoring just 49.7 points per game.   Only Eminence averaged fewer points in the 8th Region than Anderson.    The Cats were able to do this because their defense was surrendering a paltry 43.9 points per contest, the best not only in the 8th Region, but the top-ranked scoring defense in the entire Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Amazingly, Anderson was nearly +6 in average winning margin despite scoring less than 50 points a game.

Eyebrows were raised when the Bearcats opened up the season at 4-0 while allowing a total of only 152 points.    But the eyes were opened wider still when Anderson County won its fifth game while scoring only 33 points – and limiting the high-flying Grant County Braves (the second-highest scoring team in the 8th Region at 70.5 ppg) to only 28 measley points.

The defensive effort served Anderson well, and even in losses the Cats were often close enough to win, losing to powers like Gallatin County by just 8 points, Collins by 5, Somerset by 6, and Spencer County by 3 in double overtime.    Late in the season, the Cats stunned powerful Oldham County, 51-46.

Fast forward to 2021, and everything we know about the Bearcats is a-changing.

Seven seniors graduated from Anderson’s winningest team since the 2016-17 squad won 21 games.   One player transferred.    Gone are the top seven scorers from last year, accounting for a whopping 96% of the Bearcats’ scoring, and 93.4% of the rebounding.  Gone are a lot of the familiar faces from a team that had nearly a dozen veteran juniors and seniors for Hyatt to lean on.  None of the projected starters for this year’s team averaged more than 2.3 ppg last year.    The team will look very, very different when the first game starts.

Hyatt is OK with that.

“This team is the direct opposite of our team last year,” he said.  “Last year, we could really defend, rebound, and take care of the ball.   This team can really shoot the ball and will play much faster.”

“Last season, we played a slower style.   Trying to lock up the other team on the defensive end.   I also had 10-12 juniors and seniors that could all play some if needed.   This team will have two to three freshmen and maybe an 8th grader in the top 12.”

“We will play as fast as possible in hopes of getting up a bunch of threes.”

Anderson County ranked 8th in the Region last year, averaging 6.3 made threes per game, while hitting a respectable 37.1% from beyond the arc.    But like everything else this year, new players will have to step up.   Of the 182 made threes made last season, only 17 were made by returning players.

Hyatt, however, sees these kids every day in practice, and he believes that this will be a good-shooting group.    He’s particularly excited about the prospects for his big man, Carson Wooldridge, a 6’5” senior who returns after an injury-plagued junior campaign.

Wooldridge was off to a fast start last year, posting impressive line scores in games against Thomas Nelson (10 points) and Henry County (18 points) to start the season, leading the team in scoring in both contests.   He was 5 of 8 from inside the arc and 6 of 11 outside of it, and projecting to perhaps be Anderson’s top scorer when injury and illness sidelined him for much of the rest of the year.   Though he would ultimately play in 19 games, his minutes were limited.   As such, his scoring average from last year – 2.3 ppg - would appear to be understated.

“Our biggest strength is shooting the ball,” observed Hyatt.   “We can shoot the ball out of all five positions.   Our biggest kid is our best shooter.”

Jacob Spencer gives Anderson a little size in the starting five to go along with Wooldridge.   A 6’3” junior, Spencer only played in four contests last year, but has already grabbed Hyatt’s attention for his shooting and passing abilities.

Grayson Shouse, a 5’8” senior, will occupy one  of the wing spots.   Hyatt doesn’t mince words, describing his shooting ability as “phenomenal.”

Gabe Lewitt, a 5’9” senior, is expected to be the team’s top defender.    Hyatt looks for him to generate much of his offense off the dribble.

Tristian Staley, a 6’0” senior, inherits the point guard position.   Like Wooldridge, Staley was limited by injury and illness last season.   He missed the last month or so of the season with a stress fracture in his foot.

Shouse, Lewitt, and Staley all saw action in 9-10 games last season. 

With so little game experience among the starters, the Anderson starting five will be a bit of a mystery up until game one; Wooldridge’s 2.3 ppg average from last year is tops among the group.

Despite the lack of varsity game experience overall, Hyatt hopes to get a little maturity boost as he starts four seniors and one junior to open the season.   All things being equal, these players should bring more physical, mental, and emotional maturity to the court and help settle the large number of younger players on this roster.

“My biggest challenge will be mixing seniors with young talent,” stated Hyatt.  “I’m super-high on my freshman class and 8th grade class.   Brady White (5’9” freshman guard) is going to be a good one.   I also have Josh Bixler (another 5’9” freshman guard); he’s going to be a good one, too.  Both will play minutes.”

Hyatt undoubtedly is hoping that the shooters’ resurgence in Lawrenceburg extends to the foul stripe.    Only Eminence shot free throws worse than Anderson County among 8th Region teams in 2019-20 as the Bearcats hit just 58.8% of their free throws.    Worse, the Cats struggled to get to the line, averaging only 12.7 free throw attempts per game.   Eight teams in the region made more free throws than Anderson attempted.   Overall, the Cats had the fewest made free throws (217) and the fewest attempts (369) in the region.

Coach’s Thought:  “My expectations of this team is to be right in the mix again in our district, asserted Hyatt.  “On a given night, we will be able to play with anyone.   We have to get better defensively and rebounding the ball.  Offensively, we are pretty good.”

“Our concern is whether we can get a stop when the shots aren’t going down,” he continued.  “Lewitt and Shouse will head the defense up, but we have to get better in all five spots defensively.”

Outlook:  Anderson County is one of the proud, storied traditions in the 8th Region with a fervent fan base.  But with a veteran Spencer County team and the defending champs (Collins) in the district with them, the Bearcats are a dark horse to make it back to New Castle, where they played in the title game in 2016 and 2017.  Anderson will get an idea as to how well it stacks up quickly; three of the Cats’ first seven games are against district opponents Woodford County, Shelby County, and Collins.   The schedule isn’t easy, but it’s manageable.   Telltale games loom on 1/29/21 at home against district favorite Spencer County and on 2/8/21 on the road at region favorite Oldham County.

Final Thought:  Our hearts and prayers go out to the Anderson County athletic family, which recently lost longtime athletic director Rick Sallee.    A class guy who always represented his school well, Rick seemed to be a high school sports administrator who had his priorities in order.   The 8th is a little poorer place because of his passing.    RIP, Rick.

 

11 – Owen County (7-24, lost in the first round of the 31st district tournament, 52-49, to Eminence) – Only Spencer County and Walton-Verona lost as few players to graduation as Owen County, who saw just three graduates leave in 2020.

Brandon Lewis’ departure will have the most impact; Lewis averaged 8.4 ppg last season, third-best on the team.  Brian Ransdell (1.5 ppg) and Jalen Spaulding (0.5 ppg) appeared in most of the Rebels’ games, but saw very limited action for the Rebels.

Otherwise, head coach Devin Duvall is pretty much working with the same crew as last year, just another year stronger, faster, and wiser.

In a district where everyone else lost between 4 and 7 seniors to graduation, the Rebels, though still very young, have the chance to return to the 8th Region tournament thanks to the players’ natural development and improvement that Father Time brings.

Since 2016 Kentucky Mr. Basketball Carson Williams graduated, the Rebels have struggled.   The last four years have yielded a combined record of just 24-95 and no appearances in the region tournament.   None of the last four squads have won more than seven games in a season.  And Owen hasn’t beaten either of the two district heavyweights, Gallatin County and Henry County, in that span.

But Duvall, entering his 15th season in Owenton, is optimistic that this is the year that things change.

“We only lost one major contributor (Brandon Lewis) to graduation,” he pointed out.  “So for the first time in a long time we return the core of our roster.”

At the center of that core is one of the top young talents in the region, 6’5” sophomore guard Teagan Moore.   Amazingly,  Moore is already entering his fourth season on the varsity squad.   After seeing spot duty as a 7th grader, Moore averaged 10.7 ppg as an 8th grader, and as a freshman last year, led the team in scoring at 19.7 ppg and in rebounding at 6.1 rebounds a contest.    

Duvall, no stranger to players with elite talent, knows that Moore is special.

“Our offense will be led by one of the top sophomores in the state in Teagan Moore,” he said.  “He has grown two inches and added muscle.”

“Moore is our best defender / athlete who plays with a great motor on both ends of the floor,” he continued.  “He can guard multiple positions, and has great instincts defensively.”

Freshmen don’t often make the All-Region team; it’s somewhat understood that, all things being equal, older players get a slot on the team over younger players.   Still, it was somewhat of a shock when Moore didn’t make the All-Region team last year, and the slight – real or perceived – is undoubtedly fueling Moore’s motor at least some as we head into the 2021 season.

6’2” junior forward Isaac Wash also returns as a starter for the Rebels, after averaging 13.5 ppg and 5.5 rebounds, both second-best on the Rebel squad.   Wash was the best shooter among the players in the primary Owen County rotation last season, hitting 52% of his shots from the floor, including 35.6% from beyond the arc and 72.7% at the line.

Lincoln Cobb, a 5’10” junior guard (4.7 ppg) and Jack Spurgeon, a 5’10” senior guard (4.5 ppg) should both see a lot of minutes in the backcourt.    Both are veteran varsity players who have the capacity to stretch the defense, especially Spurgeon, who hit 38 threes last season while making 33%.

Spurgeon showed the ability to lead the Owen County attack on 2/11/2020 at Dayton, when Teagan Moore was out with an injury.   Spurgeon hit 6 of 11 three pointers that night en route to a season-high 21 points, leading Owen County to the victory.

Inside, 6’8” freshman Brax Ward is far more experienced than his age would suggest.   Ward saw limited action in four games as a 7th grader before getting significant playing time last year on the varsity as an 8th grader, averaging 4.1 ppg / 4.1 rebounds for the Rebels.  Ward even launched 28 three point attempts last season, making 8 (28.6%).

Ward has grown an inch since last year, and gives the Rebels a great rim protector on the back of their defense.  He’s still a little on the light side at just 218 pounds, but he’s just a freshman, and as he gets stronger, expect his offensive productivity to improve as well.

Even though the starting five will have just one senior, Duvall looks to have a talented, experienced group of players to put on the court to start every ball game.   The question marks come when the Rebels have to go to the bench.   Like so many of the 8th Region teams, proven bench performers are nowhere to be found.

After the top five, nobody on the roster played in more than 10 varsity games last year, and nobody averaged more than 1 ppg. 

“A big concern is depth,” stated Duvall.  “and how long it will take our bench to develop and be able to contribute at the varsity level.”

The Rebels were a so-so shooting team in 2019-20, but look for the shooting percentages to rise somewhat as an older, physically more mature team takes on the 2021 season.  In particular, look for the three point shooting to improve.

“Perimeter shooting is always a concern in today’s game,” observed Duvall.  “Last year we finished at 30% in three point shooting (29.6%) as a unit; that must improve in 2021.”

Coach’s Thought:  “We are still quite young with only one returning senior on the roster,” said Duvall.  “But this group has more potential than our last four teams.  We should contend for a district title and look forward to returning to the All “A” regional after a year absence.”

Outlook:  The upside on this Owen County team is high, and this ranking is largely based on that upside.  After four seasons of disappointment, this team has the potential – even as young as they are – to take advantage of the fact that the 31st district, overall, looks a little down this season.   I would imagine that this Owen County team won’t be as good as next year’s, but this young squad may have reached the point where they can take the Rebel fans back to another 8th Region tournament.  The craziness of the 2021 scheduling has left Owen County with a hodgepodge schedule composed of mostly All-A schools.   I’m expecting double-digit wins this season for the Rebels.   The measuring stick of how far Owen has come will arrive on January 19th, when the Rebels travel to Henry County, and on February 2nd, when Owen goes to Warsaw to face the four-time defending district champion Gallatin County Wildcats.

Strange, but True:  After opening last season 2-6, the Rebels settled into a somewhat curious routine.   Like a baseball team with just one good starting pitcher, Owen won a game, then  followed it up with four straight losses.   That bizarre cycle occurred four consecutive times, and the Rebels were partially through a fifth cycle – they had won a game and lost two straight – when the season ended.   

 

12 - Gallatin County (17-15, 31st district champs, lost in the first round of the 8th Region tournament, 77-71, to Grant County) -  Gallatin County Head Coach Jon Jones is the longest-tenured coach in the 8th Region; he begins his 27th season at the helm of the Wildcats this year.    The “Dean” of 8th Region coaches, Jones sports a solid record of 442-314 over his time at Gallatin County (.585), and he seems to be only getting better; his last four teams have all won the 31st district crown, while compiling an enviable record of 90-42 (.682) during that span. 

And Jones has done it while laughing at the experts, who doubt such consistent success can happen at a “small” school.    Despite being the fourth-smallest school in the 8th Region (only Trimble County, Williamstown, and Eminence have a smaller enrollment than Gallatin’s 459 students), Gallatin County has been the fifth-winningest program in the region over the last five years, compiling a record of 101-61 during that span.

Last year looked really promising for Gallatin; Jones’ Wildcats had posted three consecutive 20+ win seasons, and the 2019-20 squad appeared to be one of the deepest, most talented squads Jones had ever had.   In addition, he had a bona fide superstar in senior guard Jarin Rassman, a player that Jones insists “…is one of the best players I have coached.”

But things never quite went Gallatin’s way.   There were high moments, such as the 8th Region All-A championship and a fourth consecutive district title, but the Cats labored all season to stay above the .500 mark and failed to reach 20 wins for the first time in four years.   Gallatin County - normally one of the best-shooting teams in the region – struggled to shoot straight.   The team that shot 49% from the field and 38% from beyond the arc in 2018-19, saw both percentages drop significantly, to 42.9% and 30.9%, respectively, and the Wildcats’ average points per game went down accordingly, falling from 69.5 ppg (4th in the region in 2019) to 62.7 ppg (10th in the region in 2020).   Free throw shooting also dropped, to 63.6%, ranking the Wildcats just 16th out of 18 teams in the 8th Region in free throw shooting accuracy.

Gone to graduation is Jarin Rassman.  Rassman had a sensational year, averaging 19.7 ppg and 7.2 rebounds, both tops on the team.   Not surprisingly, he finished high in the balloting for 8th Region Player of the Year.   Also departed is Gage Ashcraft, a transfer from Ryle who wound up as the number two scorer and number two rebounder on the team, averaging 9.8 ppg and 4.8 rebounds.   

So where do the Warsaw Cats go from here?

“No idea,” said Jones, bluntly.  “We have limited practice.  Our district is not letting us practice on weekends.  We like to think we outwork people, but it is hard to outwork people when your hands are tied.”

Still, the Wildcats have some familiar faces coming back, including three returning starters, so Jones is hardly starting from scratch.

Hayden Dickerson, a 5’10” senior guard, leads the pack of returning starters.   Dickerson was the number three scorer on last year’s team, averaging 8.9 ppg.   The Wildcats’ premier outside threat last season, Dickerson hit 60 (of 149) threes on the year.   Oddly enough, Dickerson was more accurate from beyond the arc than inside it; beyond the arc, his shooting percentage was 40.3%, inside the arc, he hit just 29 of 73 shots for 39.7%.   

Dickerson will be joined on the outside by 5’7” junior guard Zac Johnson, who averaged 6.0 ppg.  As a sophomore last year, Johnson was one of only three players to play in all 32 games (Rassman and Ashcraft were the other two).

The third returning starter is Logan Riddle, a 6’4” junior forward.   Riddle (3.3 ppg / 2.5 rebounds) is the leading returning rebounder for the Wildcats and will be counted on to provide an inside presence.

Noah Brinker, a 6’2” senior guard, moves into the starting lineup this year.   Brinker saw plenty of action in 31 games last season, averaging 3.3 ppg and hitting 55.4% from the floor, the best shooting percentage on the team.

Rounding out the 2021 starting five will be Kellen Dossett, a 6’0” freshman guard.   Dossett saw limited action as an 8th grader last year, playing in eleven games and averaging 2.9 ppg.

As is typical for a Gallatin County team under Jon Jones, this team will act a lot like a five-guard attack.

What is not typical, as Jones will point out, is that this is a bit of a taller Gallatin County team than Jones has usually had. Besides Riddle, the roster boasts one other 6’4” player, senior forward Elliott Brown, and a couple of 6’3” players, junior Mason Arnold and Senior Alex Newman. 

Defensively, look for Zac Johnson and Brayden Terrell to be the primary defensive “stoppers” for Gallatin.  The Wildcats have consistently been one of the region’s better defensive squads, ranking #5 in scoring defense in the region for two years in a row.

Coach’s Thought:  “We usually play 30 games each summer,” Jones lamented.  “We are inexperienced.   I am very worried about not having an identity going into the season.”

Outlook:  Gallatin may not go into this season as the favorites to win the 31st district title, but the difference among the top three in the district – Gallatin, Henry, Owen – may not be very big.  This is a team with enough talent and experience to contend for a possible fifth straight district title.  The questions, however, are numerous:   Who will become the “go-to” guy on offense when Gallatin needs a bucket?   Can anyone come close to replicating the slashing ability of Jarin Rassman?   If not, who will establish an inside post presence for the Cats?  Can Riddle put himself in that role?  Can Gallatin push their shooting percentages back up?  Most notably, can the Wildcats bring the free throw percentage back up?   Gallatin County shot the third-most free throws in the region (616) last season, but failed to take full advantage of that opportunity by hitting just 63.6% of those shots, shots that might have been very helpful in the nine games Gallatin lost by less than ten points.

 

13 – Shelby County (7-22, lost round 1 of the 30th District tournament, 43-40, to Anderson County) – Third-year coach Eddie Oakley has undoubtedly heard it all.  Multiple times.   In basketball tradition-rich Shelbyville, the residents all know the names and stories by heart, and they rightfully relish each one.   Seventeen Region 8 titles (more than anyone else, including old nemesis Oldham County’s sixteen titles)   Charles Hurt.   Mike Casey.   A.J. Slaughter.   The 1978 state championship win over Doss.  

They’ll tell you that the Saturday morning basketball coach’s show on the local radio station used to be the most-listened to radio show in town.  (It was)

The navy blue and “Vegas” gold uniforms…the traditional Shelby County pinstripes.

The trip down Memory Lane has been a painful one for Rocket fans of late, though, as the Rockets haven’t had a winning season since 2016….haven’t won more than 8 games in a season the last four years, in fact.   Shelby last made it to the region in 2015 – the last year when they won 20+ games (21-9) - when they lost in the first round to Grant County.   

Worse, the Rockets haven’t won a game in district play for four seasons, going 0-22 in the process.   They’ve watched the new kids in town – Collins – dominate the action, seen the rise of Spencer County, and the arrival of Woodford County into the district.

For the first time in decades, an entire high school class has gone through school at Shelby County High School without going to the 8th Region tournament.

Ouch.

Maybe, just maybe, the story of the past four years is about to end.   The final six games of last season may have opened the door for optimism and hope.

Heading into the final six games last season, Shelby County was sitting at 4-19 on the season and apparently going nowhere.   The Rockets were in the midst of a nine game losing streak and had scored 50 or fewer points in seven of those nine losses.   The Shelby defense was giving up 68 points per game, ranking the scoring defense next-to-last in the 8th Region.    The offense wasn’t much better, averaging barely 54 points per game; only Owen County, Anderson County, and Eminence averaged fewer points.

But something happened in those final six contests.   Shelby went 3-3 over that final stretch, but it was the way the Rockets played that mattered…

-       Shelby lost to 21-win Spencer County, but it took the Bears three overtimes to subdue the Rockets by 7.   Shelby – who shot only 41% from the floor during the season – made 51% of its shots.

-       The Rockets bounced back to defeat Western Hills.   The Rockets – who shot just 60.6% at the line for the season – nailed 20 of 24 (83.3%) to secure the victory.

-       Shelby then lost to Henry County, but the 18-win Wildcats barely escaped with a one point victory.

-       The Rockets again bounced back from defeat by beating Frankfort, with Trent Burchfield soaring for 30 points and 5 rebounds; he hit 5 of 8 three pointers and the Rockets as a whole hit 53% from the floor.

-       Shelby followed that win by stunning the eventual 31st district champion Gallatin County Wildcats.   Burchfield again shone, scoring 28 points and hitting 6 of 10 threes.   Shelby hit 56% from the floor.

-       Shelby closed out the season by falling in the district tournament, 43-40, to Anderson County and the Bearcats’ stifling defense.    But even in defeat, Shelby gave a glimpse of the 2021 season:   Austin Griffin (12 points), JaShon Marshall (11 points), and Burchfield (8 points) led the way in the loss….all three players return for the 2021 season.

The Rockets enter 2021 hoping to build on the momentum of that end-of-season push…

Griffin, Marshall, and Burchfield look to lead the way.  

Austin Griffin, a 5’9” senior, returns for his third year as a starter, and should handle the point.  Griffin led the Rockets in scoring last year as a junior, averaging 12.6 ppg.   A strong shooter at the line, Griffin hit 70.3% of his free throws in 2019-20.   Griffin should be one of the most experienced point guards in the 8th Region heading into the season, giving Shelby a dependable floor general.

JaShon Marshall, a 5’10” junior guard, returns for his second season as a starter.   Marshall finished as the #4 scorer last season at 7.0 ppg and the #2 rebounder at 3.8 boards / game.

Perhaps the player everyone is most excited to see in 2021, though, is 5’8” senior guard Trent Burchfield, who also returns to the starting lineup.   Burchfield was number two in scoring at 10.8 ppg, while also averaging 3 rebounds per game.  Burchfield really took off over the final eight games of the season, when he averaged 15 ppg, 3.6 rebounds, and hit 20 of 41 threes (48.8%).   If he can develop a little more consistency, Burchfield should be the Rockets’ go-to guy in 2021.

Burchfield was the Rocket’s primary outside threat last year, hitting 61 threes while connecting at a 37.4% clip.  

Oakley recognizes that these three guys will carry the load early, until the newcomers can get acclimated.

“Our three experienced guards will have to lead our scoring tille we get some others ready to take on more,” he stated.  “We really don’t know what to expect not having any summer to work and not having much of a preseason.”

Graduation took six seniors from the Shelby County roster, none more critical than Kaden Dugle, who took his 9.6 ppg and team-leading 7.2 rebounds with him.  Though Shelby County certainly wasn’t a tall team last season, Dugle was able to mix it up on the inside, and that’s the immediate concern on Oakley’s mind.   Rebounding, interior defense, and inside scoring are the three key areas Shelby will have to address in order to compete in the district this year.

“We have to find some young men that are willing to guard and play inside to do the dirty work,” said Oakley.

As of this writing, Oakley had yet to decide who his other two starters would be.   The players listed on the current roster, like so many region 8 squads, are short.   Only Nate Bentley (6’2” junior forward) and Dallas Mercer (6’2” freshman) are listed over 6’0”.

Coach’s Thought:  “We will have to be a much faster team that shoots the three more than last year and presses more to compensate for our (lack of) size,” said Oakley.

Outlook:  Shelby actually enters 2021 with a bit of momentum after coming together late last season and putting together some quality performances over the final stretch.    Head coach Eddie Oakley is now in his third season at Shelby County, and has had the opportunity to get his “system” firmly in place both at the high school level and in coordination with his local feeder middle school.   Trent Burchfield has the potential to be the offensive star Shelby needs to lead the way.  The Rockets presumably have an opportunity to take a step up this season and make some noise in a very competitive District 30.    The players, however, are largely unknown wild cards heading into the season outside of the “big three”.  Moreover, if Oakley is unable to find some blue-collar players willing to get “down and dirty” on the inside, and Shelby’s defense doesn’t dramatically improve – the Rockets gave up 70+ points in 16 of 29 games last season - this could also very well end up being another 6-8 win season.  

 

14 – Williamstown (14-17, lost in the first round of the 32nd district tournament to Grant County, 78-42)  Jacob Cheesman starts his second season as the head coach in Williamstown one year after guiding the Demons to their best record in three seasons.

Williamstown, the second-smallest school in the 8th Region, with an enrollment of just 251, is doing a nice job of rebuilding after going 2-29 three years ago.   The rebuild started under former coach John R. Reitz, who piloted the team to a 9-22 slate two years ago.   After Jacob Cheesman took over at the beginning of last season, the Demons continued to improve, making a five-game improvement in their record and finishing 14-17 last season.

With four starters returning, including 91.2% of the point production and 82.4% of the rebounding, Cheesman can focus on development this season.    He returns a wealth of players with varsity experience, including several who can score, and more size than many of the larger schools.

“We really like our depth this season,” said Cheesman.  “We return five seniors with experience, two juniors who played huge minutes last year, and a really good group of freshmen and sophomores.  Even though our preseason is shortened this year, we have been able to have some of the toughest, most competitive practices I’ve had here in my time as head coach.”

“Since we don’t have preseason games and have shorter time to prepare, we have been trying to make practices ‘game-like’ as much as possible.”

When asked who the likely starters would be, Cheesman actually produced eight names:  6’3” senior Cole Kightlinger, 6’3” senior Caleb Tritschler, 6’4” senior Kenner McClelland, 6’1” senior Jalen Dixon, 5’10” junior Aiden Johnson, 6’2” junior Joel McCain, 5’8” sophomore Gunner Feagan, and 6’0” freshman Honore Yangoua.

Tritschler exploded onto the scene last year as a junior, after not playing with the team the year before.   He had an immediate impact, leading the team in scoring (14 ppg) and rebounding (7.3 rebounds), while leading the team in shooting percentage at 45.8% overall.

Tritschler led the team in scoring in 14 of the Demons’ 31 games and recorded eight double-doubles.     He tallied four of the eight double-doubles in the final eight games of the season.   Tritschler recorded a high game of 30 points against Villa Madonna.

Cole Kightlinger finished as the #2 scorer at 12 ppg and the #3 rebounder at 4.4 boards per game, one year after he led the team in scoring as a sophomore.  Kightlinger was the go-to force early in the year, leading the team in scoring in eight of its first fifteen games.   For the season, Kightlinger led the team in scoring nine times, and recorded the team’s single high-point game when he scored 33 against Dayton.   Kightlinger led the team in made threes with 61, while hitting at a 33% clip from beyond the arc.

Aiden Johnson was the team’s #3 scorer at 8.1 ppg; he had some big games and led the team in scoring four times, with a high point game of 17 against St. Patrick.  Joel McCain only averaged 5.9 ppg, but he showed some explosiveness when called upon, and led the team in scoring in a win over Covington Latin when he tallied 22.  McCain was also the #2 rebounder at 5.6 boards a contest.

Gunner Feagan averaged 4.5 ppg, and hit 35 threes on the season at a team-best 35% from beyond the arc.

McClelland averaged 4.0 ppg.   All told, six of the top seven scorers from last season return to action this year, along with the top five rebounders.

All of these returning players has Cheesman understandably pumped.

“We should be much more balanced this season than a year ago,” he said.  “Last year, we relied heavily on Kightlinger and Tritschler, and when they both got going we could be tough, but against better opponents we couldn’t take advantage of that like we needed to.”

“This season,” he continued, “we will have four and five guys on the floor who can score.  Obviously, it will be a challenge and something we’ll have to play through early on in the season, but if we can build on chemistry and learn to play together and through each other, (then) scoring balance could be a big strength for us.”

Last year, the Demons only gave up 58.8 ppg, the sixth-best scoring defense in the region, but Williamstown had trouble stopping some of the better offensive players in the region.   Cheesman thinks that the Demons may be better in that regard this year.

“We aren’t a huge team physically, but we have nice length,” he said.  “Jalen Dixon and Honore Yangoua have established themselves this season as our premier defenders.  We struggled against teams’ best players last year, and struggled containing shifty guards.   It cost us time and time again.  We think we have a couple of guys who are willing to make those types of matchups personal and (this) could really boost our overall team defense this season.”

Last season’s Williamstown squad struggled to shoot straight.  The Demons hit over 50% of their shots from the floor in just 3 games out of 31.   However, in 19 of those 31 games, Williamstown shot 40% or less from the floor, and on the season, they hit just 39.3% from the field.

Not surprisingly, the Demons had a losing record in those 19 games, going 7-12.

Cheesman hopes to use his team’s depth to pick up the pace, with hopes to get some easy baskets in transition.

“Our bigs are athletic, and we have a lot of guard depth, so we’re going to get up and down the floor more this season and use that bench a little bit more as a strength,” he stated.  “As for defense, we’ll play a lot of man again, but also zone and use our length to make some things difficult for our opponents.”

“The most important thing for us is that we have to rebound the ball on defense and can’t turn it over more than our opponents; both are a huge emphasis this preseason.

Williamstown is actually the only team I’ve actually seen scrimmage some, and I was impressed by the energy the players brought to the floor.   If the Williamstown coaches find the right combinations of players, and the Demons can improve that shooting percentage, this team has a legitimate chance to return to the Big Dance in New Castle for the first time since 2017.  And if they can get on a roll, they hope to become the first Williamstown team to win in the region tournament; the last time that happened was 1998, when the Demons, coached by Tim Mefford, got hot at the end of a 7-20 season and made it to the Region 8 tournament as the 32nd district runner-up.   They defeated Bullitt East, 45-42, in the first round before succumbing to Oldham County in the semi-finals, 65-54.

Coach’s Thought:  “My number one concern right now is determining who my best five guys are on the court at the same time to win a game,” said Cheesman.  “I have 8 or 9, maybe 10 guys some days that I could see starting.   The mantra this season from Day 1 is ‘every day is a tryout.’  Our guys have embraced that.”

“We’re still evaluating and determining what guys play the best with each other, what lineups give us advantages against different teams.   We have nice depth, for us to reach our true potential everyone has to completely buy in to not counting time on the court, but making their time on the court count.”

Outlook:  This could be the year the Demons go back to the Region tournament.  The schedule is manageable – a game against Simon Kenton on 1/19/21 figures to be the toughest opponent on the schedule, but most of the schedule is composed of other “All-A” sized schools.   The Demons feel that they have tremendous depth, and unlike so many 8th Region teams, Cheesman has a lot of experience in the lineup.   Physically, the Demons won’t find themselves overmatched by the competition in the 32nd district, which is extremely guard-heavy this year.  A game with district rival Walton-Verona in the first game of the season on January 4th will likely tell us up front how good the Demons’ prospects are for reaching the region tournament for the first time since 2017. 

It’s hard to know exactly where to start Williamstown at in the rankings.   Last year’s best performance by the Demons may well have been in a two point, triple overtime loss to 18-win Henry County, 78-76.  With a user-friendly schedule, we’ll be watching how the Demons perform – particularly against district opponents – closely.  It’s very possible that this team will be moving up the rankings pretty quickly once this season begins.

 

15 – Grant County (22-11, 32nd district runner-up, lost to Oldham County in the semi-final round of the 8th Region tournament, 53-50).   Joe Utter has done a fantastic job in Dry Ridge, and it all came together with a wonderfully successful season last year, as the Braves won 20 games for the first time since 2013, going 22-11 and advancing to the 8th Region tournament for the first time since 2015, where they made it to the semi-finals before being edged out by Oldham County, 53-50.

For the second straight year, the Braves averaged nearly 71 ppg, second only to South Oldham in the region.   But a significant change occurred on the defensive side of things, where Grant lowered its average points allowed per game to just 60.2 ppg from 65.1 the year before, moving it from 13th in the region to 8th in scoring defense.

At one point sitting at 4-5 on the season, the Braves kicked it into gear after Christmas, winning 18 of their final 24 contests.

The Braves did it with balanced scoring, – four players averaged in double figures and a fifth tossed in 9.3 ppg – good shooting (49% from the floor; 70.5% at the line), and great team boardwork (five players averaged between 4 and 8.5 rebounds a game). 

Utter, however, will have to go back to the drawing board a bit in 2021.

Living with one of the region’s shortest rotations last year – six Braves played in over 30 games, but nobody else played in more than 18 – Grant County was perhaps poised to be most impacted by any number of graduations.   Three players graduated, including the top three scorers (Luke Dawalt 15.2 ppg Jack Epperson 13.5 ppg, and Ben Vickers 13.3 ppg), which included the top two rebounders (Dawalt 8.5 rebounds, Epperson 6.3).    Epperson (83%) and Vickers (78%) were also two of the best free throw shooters in the region.   

Those three losses alone were enough to force a “re-build” in Dry Ridge, but the Braves got dinged a fourth time when one of the top perimeter threats – Blake Robinson, who led the team with 58 threes – opted to play his senior season elsewhere and transferred to Covington Holy Cross.   Robinson was the team’s #4 scorer.   His loss, plus the three graduates, means that 75% of the Grant County scoring, and 70% of the rebounding must be replaced in 2021.

That left Utter with a roster that has one senior, and whose two most experienced returning players are just sophomores.

“We may be the youngest team in the region this year,” he observed.   “I have two players with quality varsity minutes, and we needed to have lots of live play and a good summer to prepare our young kids for action.   It will take some time for our youth to adjust to varsity action.”

“We return about 16 points between Dylan Hammonds and our only returning starter, Mason Guffey,” he continued.   “We lose a lot in our rebounding, scoring, and strength.”

Leading the charge in 2021 are a pair of talented sophomores, Mason Guffey and Dylan Hammonds.   Guffey, the lone returning starter on the team, averaged 6.5 ppg last year, and was number two on the team in made three pointers, hitting 52 at a 38.8% clip.  The 6’4” guard proved to be good at crashing the glass, and averaged 3.9 boards a contest.  Of the players who shot more than five free throws, Guffey was second on the team, making 78.3% of his free throws.

“Guffey is a great three point shooter,” Utter said, “and he has really developed his ‘off the dribble’ and mid-range game.”

Hammonds, a 6’3” sophomore forward, was the sixth man last season for the Braves, but saw extensive action, playing in all 33 games.   He averaged 9.3 ppg while leading the team in field goal percentage, hitting nearly 65% of his shots.     While Hammonds was not a major perimeter threat, he could hit the occasional three pointer, making 5 of 14 on the season (35.7%).   On the glass, Hammonds wasn’t shy as a freshman, grabbing 4.8 boards a contest.

“Dylan Hammonds is a strong, hard-nosed, gritty player that will create challenges for people on defense and offense,” Utter commented.

Athletically, these two are two of the more talented youngsters moving up the ranks in the 8th Region; Utter will need them to also be locker room leaders.

The remaining starters will likely be determined based on who fits into Utter’s game plan for the season.

“We will have to play more young kids this year and our strength will still be playing fast and (getting into) a great transition game,” Utter asserted.  “We will struggle to grind it out in a half court game.”

Juniors Wayne Ziegler (6’1” guard, 1 ppg) and Colton Scalf (5’9” guard, 2.2 ppg) figure to fill two of the remaining starter roles.    Both played in about half the games last year, but neither was counted on as a major scoring contributor.   Still, Scalf showed some promise as a shooter; as a sophomore he hit 13 of 25 from the floor overall (52%), including 10 of 20 (50%) from beyond the arc.

The fifth starter remains up in the air as of this writing.   Utter thinks it could be either 6’2” junior forward Josh Day or perhaps 6’9” sophomore Micah Willis.

Coach’s Thought:  I would expect us to struggle most of the first half of the season due to lack of experience,” Utter said.  “We will get better with each game we play.   It will be a challenge this season when we see teams that are just physically stronger than my sophomores / freshmen.”

Outlook:  It will be hard for Grant County to maintain the pace of the last two seasons under Utter, when the Braves won 41 games and made a trip to the 8th Region tourney.   But what Utter has been quietly doing over the last four seasons is to create a program and a series of program expectations which should now start to help as he faces the challenges of an extremely young and inexperienced squad.    With a fairly wide-open District 32, the prospects of the Braves making a repeat trip to New Castle aren’t so far-fetched, but even if they don’t advance to the Region 8 tournament this season, this sophomore-junior dominated bunch would at least seem to be poised for a year that could spring them back to district and region prominence again next year.

 

16 – Trimble County (7-22, lost in the first round of the District 29 tournament, 92-41, to Oldham County) – Trimble County took a small step back last year in the win column as the Raiders adjusted to first-year head coach Marcus Mumphrey.  But after going through what he refers to as “the fire of discovery” last year with his team and coaches, Mumphrey is promising that the 2021 version of the Trimble County Raiders will be quite different, indeed.

The first change is already obvious.    In a KHSAA Board of Control meeting in December, the KHSAA voted to move Trimble County from the 29th District to the 31st District.    While the move wasn’t entirely a surprise, the timing was.   The Board of Control opted to make the move effective immediately, meaning that – for the first time in over six decades – the Raiders and the Oldham County Colonels will no longer be district rivals, effective this season.  (Anyone remember the great Trimble – Oldham battles of the mid-1970s?)

The change of scenery can’t help but speed up the day when the Raiders go back to the Region 8 tournament.    Trimble County hasn’t played in the Region 8 tournament in New Castle since 2000, when they finished as runner-ups to Carroll County in the “old” 31st district (Carroll, Trimble, Gallatin, Oldham County, South Oldham) and advanced as a district runner-up, only to be eliminated in round 1 of the region tourney by Scott County.   Jim Hurst was the veteran Trimble County coach at the time.   As time has gone on – and the schools have gotten bigger – Trimble has been somewhat left behind.   In today’s 8th Region, only Williamstown and Eminence are smaller than Trimble County, with an enrollment of 348.  The smallest of the remaining District 29 teams, North Oldham, has an enrollment of over 1,000.   While the Lady Raiders have continued to post some major successes, including winning the girls’ 8th Region recently, in 2016, the boys’ teams have not.

For the Raiders, this means re-establishing some old district rivalries.   Gallatin County and Carroll County, both right up I-71 from Bedford, represent old district foes from the “old” District 31 days.   Henry County and Eminence are nearby, in an adjacent county.    And Trimble knows Owen County well enough.   All six schools play each other frequently as part of the North Central Kentucky Conference (NCKC), and in the “All-A”.

On the court, Mumphrey is promising a whole new approach.

“This year’s team will be filled with guys who went through the fire of discovery last year,” he stated.  “Learning from those lessons last year has been a perfect starting place for our team’s and coaches’ progression into accomplishing our goals.   As a team this year, we have pretty big goals offensively and defensively.   As we mature into our roles, our strengths will become clearer.”

Mumphrey went on to clarify what that translated into on the basketball court.

“We will definitely be better on defense and rebounding,” he said.  “Our style of play will be uptempo and pressure defense.   As a team, our mindset is to be committed to our goals and tactically execute our plans.”

Gone are five seniors from last year’s squad, including Trimble County’s all-time career scoring leader, guard Reece Webster.    Webster led the team in scoring (14.6 ppg) and rebounding (3.2 rebounds) and pretty much made the team go.  One of the best shooters in the region, Webster was also solid beyond the arc, where he led the team with 47 threes (36.4%)

“Losing Reece Webster’s leadership is priceless,” said Mumphrey.  “It will be difficult to fill the void he left.”

Also gone are #3 scorer / #2 rebounder Beau Turner (7.4 ppg, 3 rebounds), Josh Petty (4 ppg), Austin Cissell (3.2 ppg), and Larry Lathan, all of whom had significant roles on last year’s squad.

The graduating group took the team’s top perimeter scorers (Webster, Petty, Cissell); only one remaining player made as many as ten three pointers.

Returning for Mumphrey in 2021 are three returning starters, headed by Dylan Jennings.   The 5’11” senior was the number 2 scorer on last year’s team at 12.8 ppg, and he was the top shooter of the bunch, hitting 54.9% of his field goals.   Mumphrey also pegged Jennings as the team’s premier defender.

Other returning starters include Tate Ogburn (5.4 ppg / 3.2 rebounds), a 6’0” junior who was tied with Webster for the lead in rebounds last season, and Ryan Long, a 5’10” senior  who averaged 5.6 ppg.

Long, a track star for Trimble County, is the reigning state champion in the 100 meter dash in track.

Jace Ogburn returns to the Raider roster after taking some time off.    A 6’4” senior, Mumphrey is looking forward to his ability to be a strong presence on the inside.  

Mumphrey didn’t list his fifth starter, but indicated that several other players, including Hunter Kelly, Dalton Penick, James Wilcoxson, and Ethan Horn will all be major contributors.

Wilcoxson, a 6’3” sophomore, started to emerge last year as a freshman.   He played in 27 games, averaging 3.4 ppg / 2.1 rebounds.

Mumphrey has plenty of players with varsity experience; Jennings, Long, Tate Ogburn, Wilcoxson, and Cameron Blackaby all played in 23 or more games last season

Coach’s Thought:  “We plan on making a few teams in and out of the region take notice,” Mumphrey stated.  “No matter how many games are played, this year’s Trimble County team will have a different look.”

Outlook:    Mumphrey isn’t dodging anyone in the 8th Region with his schedule this year; the Raiders are taking on all comers throughout the 8th, including the big boys.   Eight of the top nine ranked region teams in this ranking are on the Raiders’ schedule, including top-ten ranked Oldham County, plus Spencer County, Collins, Woodford County, North Oldham, South Oldham, Henry County, and Walton-Verona.

The Raiders lost a legitimate star in Webster, but may actually be better this season, Mumphrey’s second with the program, when his ways of doing things will start to fully take root.   We’ll see how the “new look” Raiders are better than the “old” Raiders, but either way, Trimble is probably relegated to middle-of-the-pack status in the 31st this year.  It’s a senior-dominated team, and this year is Dylan Jennings’ chance to shine, but watch out for the sophomore, James T. Wilcoxson as he may well be the future of the Raiders.

 

17 – Carroll County (10-19, lost in the first round of the 31st district tournament to Henry County, 55-43)   Sitting at 8-8 on the season after a 55-51 victory over Owen County on January 21st, 2020, the Panthers had to be feeling pretty good.   They had one of the top scorers in the state of Kentucky in Wyatt Supplee, a junior forward named Keishaun Mumphrey who was averaging a double-double, and they were sitting at 4-2 in the District 31 seeding standings, giving them a leg up on the competition for the #2 seed across from district favorite Gallatin County in the District 31 post-season tournament.

But then the roof caved in on Jonathan Moore’s first squad, and the Panthers dropped 11 of their final 13 games, exiting the post-season with a 12-point loss to Henry County in the first round of the 31st District tournament, the third straight year that the Wildcats had eliminated the Panthers.

In eight of those games, the Panthers failed to score over 50 points.

For Carroll, the wait continues for a trip to New Castle.   The Panthers last reached the 8th Region tournament in 2006, when they went as the 31st District runner-up.   Only the Trimble County Raiders – who last went in 2000 – have been on a longer drought.

Despite the early end to the season, there was a lot to celebrate in Carrollton.

Wyatt Supplee led the region in scoring at 24 ppg clip, which also ranked him 13th in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.    Supplee – who played on the varsity for five seasons – led the team in scoring for three consecutive seasons and wrapped up his career with 1,791 points.  

He finished his senior season with a tremendous statline:   24 ppg, 4.4 rebounds, 49.5% shooting from the floor, 58/146 from beyond the arc (39.7%), and 213/277 at the charity stripe (76.9%). 

Keishaun Mumphrey finished the season as the only player in the 8th Region to average a double-double, ending the year with averages of 14.9 ppg and 10 rebounds.   He recorded a double-double in a whopping fifteen of the Panthers’ 29 contests in 2019-20.   

But graduation wasn’t kind to Carroll, and four starters are gone from last year’s squad, plus the top two subs off the bench.    Moore will have to re-tool.

“Graduation from last year has changed my entire team except for Keishaun Mumphrey,” he said.  “If we get to have an actual season, it will be tough for us early on, missing half of our team early on due to football.   I like my young group a lot, but they just need game time and experience to become what they can.”

“By the end of the season, hopefully we have ourselves in a position to compete for the 31st district title.”

Mumphrey will lead the way for the Panthers in 2021.   One of the leading candidates for 8th Region Player of the Year, Mumphrey will be Carroll’s go-to guy.     One of a long line of Mumphreys who have played at the Carrollton school, Keishaun Mumphrey should eclipse the 1,000 point mark for his career sometime early this season.     He has an outside shot at graduating with over 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, but he would likely need to average 14+ rebounds a game to achieve that milestone.

Joining Mumphrey, who will start at power forward, will be four newcomers to the starting lineup.

Andrew Shaw, a 5’7” junior, looks to take the point guard spot.   Shaw rarely shot the ball in 2019-20, but he played in 25 games with the Panthers varsity.

Landon Isaacs will man the shooting guard spot.   A 5’10” sophomore, Isaacs only appeared in 9 varsity games last year, and only took four shots (making two) in varsity competition.

Jaxon Hewitt, a 6-0 junior forward, will start at shooting forward.   Hewitt saw substantial action on the varsity last year, averaging 3.0 ppg.

Finally, Logan Kelly, a 6’3” senior, will man the post.   Kelly only played in eleven games and took just five shots all year, but he made four of those shots. 

Moore hopes that all the new faces will improve the Panthers’ shooting, which has been a team flaw for years.  

In the last 12 seasons, only two Carroll County teams – the 2019 and the 2013 squads – have shot over 45% from the floor (both teams shot 46%).  Only three squads (2019, 2016, and 2010) have shot better than 33% beyond the arc (though none of the twelve has shot better than 37.6%), and only four teams have shot better than average (67%) at the line.

Last year’s team shot just 44.6% from the floor overall, 30..8% from beyond the arc, and 67.4% at the line.    Not surprisingly, despite the presence of Supplee and Mumphrey, the Panthers ranked in the bottom third of the region in scoring last year, averaging just 57.7 ppg.

“Offensively, I think we will be a much better overall shooting team from the field than in years past,” said Moore.  “These young guys are much better overall shooters than the group that graduated, however, they lack the physicality of the previous group.”

Look for the Panthers to work for the high percentage shot on the inside.   First, because the shooting percentages need to come up, but two, because there really aren’t any proven perimeter threats on the roster.    Jaxon Hewitt is the only returning player who made more than 3 three pointers last year, but Hewitt – who made 16 – shot only 29.1% from beyond the arc.   Carroll’s 102 made threes were the fewest in the region last season.

Miscellaneous notes:    Watch out for #22, 5’10” sophomore forward Kenyion Mumphrey.   Kenyion Mumphrey didn’t see much action last year as a freshman, appearing briefly in only two games, but it seems that every Mumphrey who’s come through the school has been special.    We’ll want to see how the younger Mumphrey matures.

Also keep an eye out on #44 Clayton McAllister.   Moore was real high on the potential of McAllister, a 6’5”, 225 pound senior prior to last season.  McAllister, who didn’t play as a sophomore, appeared in only three games last year, and didn’t score a point.    But Moore noted last year that he was one of the best athletes in the entire school, so the potential is there.  McAllister, who’s picked up about 25 pounds since last year, has had a year of learning Moore’s system under his belt; we’ll see if he can make a big contribution in the paint his senior year.

Coach’s Thought:  “I fully expect for most teams to trap and pressure our guards now that Supplee is gone,” Moore said.  “Our younger guys haven’t proven they can handle that pressure yet.”

Outlook:  It’s unfortunate that Moore graduated so many from his initial team in Carroll County.   It would have been interesting to see how Wyatt Supplee and Company fared in this season, Moore’s second at the school.   Still, the Panthers will benefit from this being the second year in Moore’s system.   Patience will probably be the operative word in Carrollton.  With so much inexperience in the starting lineup – particularly at the guard spot – the Panthers will almost certainly struggle in January.   How Carroll ends the season – and there are those among the region coaching ranks who think this team will be better than some think – depends upon how well the Panthers can take care of the ball and ultimately, how well they can shoot the ball.  

The schedule isn’t overly aggressive, with none of the top 5-6 Region 8 contenders on it.    Carroll will, however, face off against Walton-Verona, and Anderson County this year, as well as all their district opponents, including defending 31st district champion Gallatin County and defending runner-up Henry County.   In the final game of the season, the Panthers will go on the road to face their only ranked opponent, top 20 Scott County, in Georgetown.

 

18 – Eminence (5-26, lost in the 31st District semi-finals to Gallatin County, 67-29) – Gary Tuell took on the task of rebuilding the once-proud basketball program at the smallest school in the 8th Region last year.

As expected, the task isn’t going to be completed overnight.

The Warriors improved their win total by two over the 2018-19 season last year, but still struggled in posting a 5-26 record under their first-year coach.  

Eminence did manage a bright spot at the end of the season when the Warriors upset Owen County in the first round of the District 31 tournament, 52-49, after losing to the Rebels twice during the regular season. 

Last year’s Warriors struggled on the offensive end, averaging just 46.9 ppg, last in the 8th Region.   Shooting woes were a big part of it; Eminence hit just 42.3% of their shots, including 35.4% from beyond the arc.   At the line, the Warriors hit a region 8-worst 55.5%.

That’s the bad news.   The good news is that the top four scorers on the team all return for another season, one year older/wiser, and one year more physically mature.  

5’4” junior Devontaye Saunders returns after leading Eminence in scoring at 10.3 ppg.  Also back are 5’10” senior Adriene Bailey (8.1 ppg), 5’9” sophomore Elijah League (7.4 ppg), and 6’2” senior Bryce Sipes (7.0 ppg).  

Saunders, League, Sipes, and Bailey also bring back the Warriors’ top outside threats, as those four players combined for 129 of the 139 threes made by Eminence last year   Saunders, who made 50 threes, hit an impressive 43.9% beyond the arc.   The other three all made between 23 and 32 threes and shot between 33-36%; very respectable numbers.

Despite the solid three point shooting percentages, the Warriors will need to improve their overall shooting.   Eminence hit just 45.6% of their twos, and a region 8-worst 55.5% of their free throws.  Tuell would like to simply get more attempts at the line; the Warriors only attempted 13.5 free throw attempts per game last season.   Only two teams – Simon Kenton and Anderson County – attempted fewer free throws than Eminence.

Outlook:  Eminence is painfully short this year, with only one player listed over 6’0” (Bryce Sipes, 6’2” senior).    But most of the competition will come from other “All-A” schools, which typically are faced with the same dilemma.    The schedule looks work-able, and with so many key players returning after a year of playing under Tuell’s system, the possibility of increasing the win total – or even doubling it – is very good.  

Eminence is probably about a year away from being a primary contender in the 31st district, but don’t count the Warriors out just yet.    Keep in mind that Eminence dropped a game against Carroll County by just 4 points last year, beat Owen County in the tournament (and lost another game to the Rebels by just 4), and fell to arch-rival Henry County by a respectable 11 points in another game    It’s not hard to envision the Warriors getting hot at the right time and making it back to the Region 8 tournament.   Regardless, I’m thinking that we will see some clear improvement from the Warriors this year.

 

Transfers:

The eighteen teams of the 8th Region lost only a few transfers this year, but many would have made a big difference.   Of the four listed below, all but Hawley were starters for their team last year, and Hawley was one of the first players off the bench for Collins.  Hawley is expected to start for North Oldham this year.  

Gage Mabry, junior, formerly with Spencer County -  Mabry was #2 on the Bears last year in scoring at 14.2 ppg as a sophomore and was also tied for #2 in rebounding at 4.4 / game.   Albeit a slightly below-average shooter, that would have been expected to improve dramatically in his junior season.  Mabry led the team last year in made threes with 53.  Transferred out of region.

Jagger Gillis, senior, formerly with Anderson County – Gillis led the Bearcats in scoring in 2019-20, finishing as the only player in double digits at 10.7 ppg.   He was by far the leading rebounder at 6.8 a contest.   Transferred out of region.

Caleb Hawley, senior, formerly with Collins – Hawley, unlike the others on this list, stayed in the 8th Region, transferring to North Oldham.   He was a heavily used reserve for the Titans last year, but left the team before the season ended.    He averaged 5.2 ppg / 3.2 rebounds and hit 48% from the floor.

Blake Robinson, senior, formerly with Grant County – transferred to Covington Holy Cross.   Robinson was a starting guard for the Braves last season,  averaging 10.8 ppg and 4.4 rebounds.   Robinson led the team in made three pointers, making 58 while connecting on 36% of his attempts.

 

 

 

 

Coaches’ Poll:

The 8th Region head coaches were polled and asked to rank the top 5 teams in the region.   Points were assigned as follows:  5 points for each “first place” vote, 4 points for each “second place” vote, etc, down to one point for each “fifth place” vote.

Sixteen coaches responded.   One coach split their fifth-place vote, and both teams received one-half point.   Another coach ranked their fourth/fifth place teams equal, and both teams got 1 ½ points.   Some observations:

·       Until now, last year’s poll had been the closest thing to a consensus I had seen since I began conducting this poll, as Collins received all but two first-place votes prior to last season.   This year’s vote was even more decisive; Oldham County pulled 14 of the 16 first place votes, and got the second place vote on the other two ballots.   With four other teams splitting the second-place votes, and a total of nine other teams receiving at least some votes, the Colonels were the runaway favorites in this pre-season poll.

·       Being heavy favorites may be a good thing for Oldham; the heavily-favored Titans won the region last year, becoming the first pre-season favorite since Oldham County in 2012 to win the region.  On the other hand, prior to last year, no preseason favorite had won the region since Oldham did the trick in 2012.

·       No other team besides Oldham County appeared on all 16 ballots.  Spencer County appeared on fourteen ballots.

·       The defending champion Collins Titans appeared on nine ballots, but garnered only 15.5 points in finishing fifth.

 

1 – Oldham County        (14 first place votes)   78 points 16 ballots.

 

2 – Spencer County                                             43        14 ballots   

 

3 - North Oldham            (1)                               40        13 ballots

 

4 – Simon Kenton                                               37        13 ballots.

 

5 – Collins                                                            15.5     9 ballots

 

6 – South Oldham           (1)                               14.5     6 ballots

 

7 – Woodford County                                         7.5       6 ballots

 

8 – Walton-Verona                                             2          2 ballots

 

9 – Grant County                                                1.5       1 ballot

 

10 – Anderson County                                        1          1 ballot                 

 

Coaches – 8th Region Player of the Year Pre-Season Poll

The 8th Region coaches were asked to rank the top players in the region, and their ballots were scored in the same manner as the pre-season team rankings.   Fourteen of eighteen coaches in the region responded.  Two names stood out as the clear pre-season favorites – Kelly Niece of Simon Kenton and Sam Conley of Spencer County.   Deaton Oak was clearly in the running, finishing third in this poll.

Last season’s year-end vote for Player of the Year (“POY”) in the region was razor-thin, as Collins’ Dayvion McKnight edged out 2019 POY Luke Morrison of South Oldham by just one point.   If this year’s pre-season poll is any indication, the voting next spring could be equally narrow.

Interestingly, even though Niece and Conley were clear front-runners, neither appeared on all fourteen ballots.  Niece was mentioned on 13 of 15 ballots; Conley and Oak showed up on 12.  Illustrating how many players the coaches like, no other player was mentioned on more than 7 ballots.

With coaches ranking the top 5 players in the region, fifteen different players from twelve different schools picked up votes.  Although Niece garnered half the first place votes, five additional players got at least one first place vote.   Three players – now seniors – return from last year’s pre-season top ten:   Kelly Niece (ranked #5 pre-season last year), Sam Conley (#6), and Trevor Hardin (#8).

1 – Kelly Niece, 6’2”             senior              Simon Kenton                        55 points (7 first place votes)

Niece has been a mainstay for the Pioneers ever since he set foot on the Independence, KY campus.   Remarkably, this will be his fifth season on the SK varsity squad.  Niece – who has led the Pioneers in scoring for the last three seasons – is a shooter’s shooter, averaging 19.2 ppg last season while hitting nearly 61% from the floor, including 38% from beyond the arc and 79.5% from the line.  He was also #2 in rebounding on the team at 4.0 per game.   He managed all this despite seeing his time somewhat limited as he finished his recuperation from a severe knee injury from the previous season.  In the first 18 games of the season, while still getting the injured knee back into “game shape”, Niece averaged 12.8 ppg.   He failed to reach double digits three times and was held out of three games to rest his leg.   Over the final fourteen games of the season, Niece scored in double digits all fourteen times while averaging 23.2 ppg.  In nine of those fourteen games he scored over 20 points; in three of those nine games he tallied 30+.  Niece is a bit of a rarity; a true point guard who scores – prodigiously.   Niece’s performance against Collins in last year’s Henry County Classic was one for the premier performances in the region last year:   39 points on 9 of 11 shooting inside the arc, 3 of 5 outside the arc, and 12 of 17 at the line.   Plus six rebounds.  He later had a 38 point performance against Scott County (13 of 18 from the floor, overall) and 33 points against South Oldham in the region tournament (15 of 21 from the floor, overall).   In the preseason player poll, Niece got 7 of the 14 first place votes cast.

2 – Sam Conley, 6’4”            senior              Spencer County         51 points (4)

Much like Niece, Conley has been the “go-to” guy in Taylorsville for a long time; like Niece, he is entering his fifth season on the Spencer varsity.   Conley has led the Bears in scoring for three straight seasons; each year averaging more than the year before.   He averaged 22 ppg last season, and led the team in rebounding for the second straight season, averaging 6.8 rebounds per contest.   At one point last season, Conley lead his team in scoring in fourteen consecutive games.  At 6’4”, Conley can play inside-outside, and he’s made a name for himself with his defensive abilities on the perimeter and in the post.   The Bears have put a lot of pressure on Conley; with Spencer’s depth a concern last year, and Conley the best post defender on the team, he got very few breaks during ballgames.

3 – Deaton Oak, 6’2”                        senior              Oldham County            31.5 points (1)

Oak comes from athletic stock; both parents were star athletes and his father, Doug, was a star basketball player at Oldham County HS.   Deaton, who has already signed a Division 1 baseball scholarship with West Virginia, is one of the region’s elite shooters on the court.   Playing on a team that featured four double-digit scorers among the five starters, Oak wasn’t asked to take quite the scoring load Niece and Conley were, but he still averaged 15 ppg to lead the Colonels, while showing tremendous balance – he hit 83 two pointers, 86 three pointers, and 82 free throws.   Oak led the team in three pointers made and attempted, while connecting on 41% of his treys.   He also hit 76% of his free throws, while leading the team in makes and attempts.    Oak – who didn’t get a single vote in last year’s pre-season POY balloting – had a statement game against South Oldham in the 29th district title game last season when he hit 7 of 10 shots from beyond the arc – plus 5 of 9 inside it – and 6 of 9 free throws en route to a 37 point outing.  

4 – Trevor Hardin, 6’5”                   senior                          Henry County            15 points

For the second season in a row, Hardin led the Wildcats in both scoring and rebounding in the 2019-20 season, scoring 19.1 ppg and averaging 9.3 rebounds.   Following his sophomore campaign – in which he led the team in scoring and rebounding at 18.9 ppg and 8.8 rebounds – it was the second straight year he had just missed out on averaging a double-double.  Hardin was clearly the linchpin that kept the Wildcats going.   Plagued by an early season injury, Hardin missed five games in December and Henry went 1-4, with their only win a double-overtime victory over a 7-win Owen County squad.    Once Hardin returned, though, the Wildcats won 16 of their last 26 games, including 9 of their final 12 regular season games.    Hardin had 8 double-doubles in his last 10 games, missing out on a double-double only against Trimble County (30 points / 9 rebounds) and against Spencer County (20 points / 9 rebounds).   He averaged 20.5 ppg during that stretch and 12.5 rebounds, while hitting an astonishing 68% of his shots.   He made 13 of 13 against Trimble County, but perhaps had his best overall effort in his final game of the year, putting up 25 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in a first round loss to eventual champ Collins in the first round of the regional tournament. 

 

5- (TIE) – Dallas Roberts, 6’0”        sophomore     North Oldham                        12 points (1)

The top of this list is very guard-heavy this year, and that trend continues here with the first underclassman to show up on the list.   Besides being a guard, Roberts has another characteristic in common with Niece and Conley; he’s experienced beyond his years.   This will be Roberts’ third year in the Mustangs’ starting lineup.   He spent his 8th grade season as North’s starting point guard, and led the team in scoring at 13.8 ppg.   Last year, he moved to the off-guard position on a team with more scoring options.  He saw his average dip just a bit – to 13.5 ppg – but saw his shooting percentage go up by about eight points, and he evolved into a great outside threat, making 55 threes while hitting 44%.   A terrific free throw shooter, Roberts has hit over 80% of his freebies in both of his first two seasons as a starter.

5 - (TIE) – Brant Smithers, 5’8”     junior             Walton-Verona            12 points (1)

Another underclassman tied for the fourth spot in this poll, Smithers – like Oak at #3 – opened up some eyes with his play last year, lighting up the region with one of the most impressive displays of precision shooting in a year of sharpshooters.   Playing on a very young and very small Bearcat squad playing under a first-year coach, Smithers led the way with a team-best 19.6 ppg and 4.6 rebounds, good for second-best in that category.   Smithers’ shooting eye was often on display as he hit 51% of his shots, including a stellar 46.2% from beyond the arc – the best three-point shooting in the 8th Region among players returning this year.  Only Jeremy Davis of Simon Kenton – since departed due to graduation – made more threes in the 8th Region than Brant Smithers’ 92 last year.    At the line, Smithers hit 89.2% of his free throws - tops in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

7 – Hunter Penn, 6’4”                       senior              Woodford County                     11.5 points

Held up a bit by injury last year – Penn missed some games in mid-season, during which time the Jackets really struggled – Penn still managed to lead Woodford in scoring and rebounding at 13.7 ppg and 8.4 rebounds.   Working mainly in the paint, Penn did all his damage around the rim and with short jumpers, hitting a whopping 62.8% of his shots.   Though he did struggle a bit at the line, hitting only 58.6%, there is no doubt that Woodford was a different team when #30 was on the floor.   Penn had one of his best games in the region tournament in a round 1 loss to Oldham County, scoring a double-double (17 points / 10 rebounds), while hitting 7 of 9 shots from the floor and 3 of 5 free throws.

8 – Tyler Slone, 6’4”                                     senior                          Oldham County         11 points

Playing on a very talented, balanced, and deep Oldham County squad, it’s easy to see how Slone – and Deaton Oak and Sam Campbell – may get overlooked in comparison to other top region performers.   But Slone may be one of the most well-rounded players on this list.   The long, lanky senior excelled in about every facet of the game last year for the Colonels, averaging 12.6 ppg while hitting 55% of his shots.   Although Slone was usually one of the taller players on the court and often spent most of his time in the paint, he was a solid outside shooter, hitting more threes (39) than anyone else on the team not named Deaton Oak, while connecting on a solid 35%.   Slone also shot 75% at the line, and was second on the team in rebounding at 4.6 boards.

9 – Keishaun Mumphrey, 6’2”        senior                          Carroll County            5 points

The Mumphrey family has a long tradition in Carrollton with a long string of talented players.  Keishaun is the latest, and he is upholding the tradition well.   A rebounding monster, Mumphrey was one of the state’s top rebounders last season and led the 8th Region on the glass.  Mumphrey was the only player in the region to average a double-double, averaging 14.9 ppg last season to go along with 10.0 rebounds.  He finished with fifteen double-doubles in the Panthers’ twenty-nine games, including a 30 point / 13 rebound effort against Walton-Verona and a 29 / 19 outing against Eminence. 

10 – Teagan Moore, 6’5”                  sophomore                 Owen County                        4 points

Moore came out of the woodwork to wreck havoc on Owen County opponents last year, averaging a team-best in points (19.6 ppg) and rebounds (6.1) as a freshman.   At 6’5”, Moore is a matchup issue for 90% of the high school guards he faces, both outside and when he chooses to go inside.   Though he hit a team-best 40 threes last year, that wasn’t really the best part of his game as he hit only 25% from beyond the arc.    Inside the arc, however, Moore was a deadly 56.7% and he hit 77% of his free throws.   Impressively, he did this on a team that had just one other player who averaged in double figures and hit over 50% of their shots, meaning that every night, the opposing defense was keyed to stop him.  Moore missed 7 games last year due to injury.

Honorable Mention:

(TIE) Sam Campbell, 6’2”   senior                          Oldham County            2 points

Like Oak and Slone ahead of him in this ranking, Campbell plays on a balanced Oldham County squad that makes it difficult for any one player to stand out.   Still, Oldham coach Coy Zerhusen has to feel awfully good about seeing three of his starters showing up in a preseason ranking of the “Top 10” players in the region!   Campbell – famous among Oldham County fans for his last-second buzzer-beater that beat Collins in the first round of the 2019 Region tournament – has enjoyed a solid career in Buckner.   He averaged 11.5 ppg last season while retaining a reputation as a “clutch” shooter.    At 84.4% from the line, he was the #11 free throw shooter in the Commonwealth of Kentucky (#2 in the region behind Brant Smithers).   Playing primarily as the off-guard in the Oldham offense, Campbell continues to show strong passing skills, and Zerhusen had no qualms about moving him at the point when the Colonels primary two point guards were hampered by fouls.

(TIE) Austin “Rico” Carr-Cole, 5’6”                junior       North Oldham          2 points 

Carr-Cole may be the most interesting story of the players on this list.   As sophomore last year, “Rico” began the year on the bench, and, while he was a productive bench player – averaging 6.8 ppg over the first 8 games of the season – it seemed unlikely he would see more minutes than any other bench player on the Mustang team, and with Mr. Basketball candidate Justin Powell and all-region candidate Dallas Roberts occupying the two starting guard spots, a starting role seemed unlikely.   But Powell suffered a season-ending injury in late December, and after North suffered some additional injuries, the lineup suddenly saw a great shift, and Carr-Cole was elevated to the starting five.   Few players have ever seized the brass ring the way he did.   Carr-Cole quickly became one of the team’s most reliable scorers, and displayed a great stroke from the outside.   Impressively, he seemed at the top of his game against the top competition, and he saved his best for last, averaging 24.6 ppg over the final five games of the North Oldham season, and hitting 24 of 47 threes (51.1%!!) over that stretch.   During those five games, he never failed to score at least 20 points, including a 31 point outing against Meade County, and a 26 point effort in a losing cause against South Oldham in the first round of the District 29 tournament.   For the season, “Rico” averaged 13 ppg and hit a team-high 63 threes at a 40% clip.   At the line, he hit a blistering 82.5%.   Not too shabby for a player previously known primarily for his energetic defensive shutdown efforts!

 

Winningest Teams in the 8th Region over the past Five Seasons:

Oldham County          130-39             4 district titles; 1 region title

South Oldham             118-44             1 district title; 1 region title

Walton-Verona           111-49             3 district titles, 1 region title

Collins                        111-57             2 district titles, 2 region titles

Gallatin County          101-61             4 district titles

Spencer County          93-55             

Simon Kenton               86-62             2 district titles

Anderson County          84-65             3 district titles

North Oldham               80-71

 

Answer to the trivia question about the 8th Region and the Kentucky Mr. Basketball award:   Prior to 1999, the previous 8th Region player to win the Mr. Basketball award was Jimmy Dan Conner of Anderson County, in 1971.


Good luck to all this season!

ColonelMike

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Great works always @ColonelMike! Awesome in-depth analysis and research! Should be a fun season and am looking forward to getting the teams back on the court.

Do you know if all the 8th Region teams are in action next week?

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2 hours ago, ConverseAllStar said:

Great works always @ColonelMike! Awesome in-depth analysis and research! Should be a fun season and am looking forward to getting the teams back on the court.

Do you know if all the 8th Region teams are in action next week?

They are not.

The Oldham County School Board delayed the start for the Oldham schools until 1/11, so those three schools will start a week later than the rest.

As far as I know, the other 15 schools all kick things off the week of January 4.   All of their current schedules show games that week.

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I proofed and re-proofed this before posting, and still an error got through.

In the section on Simon Kenton, I mention that the Pioneers will be tested early in a game against Oldham County on January 8th.

Sorry - that piece of the preview was written before Oldham County Public Schools pushed back the start of the season for the Oldham County high schools to January 11th.   To my knowledge, that game has not been re-scheduled.

My apologies for the error.

CM

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1 hour ago, HoopJunkie said:

Always a great write up. You never disappoint!

Thanks, HoopJunkie!  🙂

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I am getting some questions about heights.   

Just so everyone is aware, part of my outreach to the coaches includes a request for their most current roster.    A few coaches send the roster that they generate in-house to me, but in this day and age most simply direct me to the official roster that they submit to the KHSAA, which is readily available online.

These rosters are taken from the information the coaches submit to the KHSAA and compiled in a nice format that includes name, jersey numbers, height, weight, position, and class.    They are generally pretty accurate.

But for some reason, the heights on these rosters are frequently wrong.   I have no idea why and where the information gets twisted in the process, but it does - and frequently.  I seriously doubt that the coaches send the information in wrong.   Although it may happen occasionally, I can't imagine the coaches making as many mistakes as I find on these "official" rosters.   So I have no idea how this information becomes so flawed.

Often I'll spot errors myself, simply because I saw the team the year before and I remember that "Johnny" was 6'6" - not 5'9"(!!)   But I don't get to see every kid every year, so some mistakes make it through to the preview, unfortunately.

So - if your son just lost four inches off his height in my write-up - my apologies.   🥴

CM

 

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UPDATE:

I can tell everyone right now that Shelby County is almost certainly moving up a notch.

I just became aware today that the Rockets have a 6'4" sophomore wing who has transferred from Great Crossing.   

Tim Fuller, Jr., may be just what the doctor ordered for a Shelby County program that has lost a few key athletes to transfers over the past 3 or 4 years.  This time, the Rockets are on the receiving end.

Fuller played on the Warhawks varsity last year as a freshman, appearing in 11 games and averaging 5.1 ppg / 2.3 rebounds.   He shot 35.5% from the floor and 25.6% (10 / 39) from beyond the arc.   He only took two free throws - but made both.   

Although his statistics as a freshman aren't exactly mind-blowing - they look decent for a freshman - the lowdown on this young man sounds very promising.

A mobile wing with a 6'4" frame, Fuller brings length and athleticism - a lethal combination - to the court for the Rockets.   He'll certainly help their challenge in regards to height, and will likely help Eddie Oakley press the pace.

Had I had this information before, I would have ranked the Rockets 12th and Gallatin 13th (instead of the opposite).   They may move up more in short order.  I think he potentially fills a big hole in the Shelby County puzzle.

Of course, he's still just a sophomore, but there's been a few impactful sophomores in Shelby County navy/gold over the years....anyone remember a kid named Hurt?  😊

CM

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The rankings, by district:

District 29

Oldham County

North Oldham

South Oldham

District 30

Spencer County

Collins

Woodford County

Anderson County

Shelby County

District 31 

Henry County

Owen County

Gallatin County

Carroll County

Eminence

District 32

Simon Kenton

Walton-Verona

Williamstown

Grant County

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43 minutes ago, ColonelMike said:

The rankings, by district:

District 29

Oldham County

North Oldham

South Oldham

District 30

Spencer County

Collins

Woodford County

Anderson County

Shelby County

District 31 

Henry County

Owen County

Gallatin County

Carroll County

Eminence

District 32

Simon Kenton

Walton-Verona

Williamstown

Grant County

Trimble County is homeless?!   Moved to the 31st, correct?

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18 minutes ago, ConverseAllStar said:

Trimble County is homeless?!   Moved to the 31st, correct?

whoops!

Yes - see the rankings above - the Raiders moved to the 31st effective this year.

The full 31st rankings are:
1 - Henry 

2 - Owen

3 - Gallatin

4 - Trimble

5 - Carroll

6 - Eminence

This should be a very competitive group this year....wouldn't be surprised to see any of the top three win the district, and Trimble and Carroll are real wild cards this year.

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With so many new faces inheriting key roles on their teams this year, there's going to be a lot of breakout performances, I think....among the ones I'm going to be watching closely:

(some of these were varsity last year, but not their team's big scorers ....others missed a ton of time due to injuries and other factors last year....still others were primarily backups last year)

- Brax Ward, freshman, Owen County - young and big.   What a combo....and a returning starting big man as a freshman.   Tremendous upside at both ends of the court.

- Carson Wooldridge, Anderson County - led team in scoring in first two games last year before injury bug hit and never regained his form.   2021 could be special.

- Tim Fuller, Shelby County - 6'4" transfer from Great Crossings hit for 5 ppg as a freshman for the Warhawks.   Size and mobility fits in well with what Rockets need.

- Caleb Hawley, North Oldham - big senior was a sub at Collins before leaving their team in mid-season last year.   Is the exact piece to the puzzle that North needed.    5 ppg last year for Titans; probably doubles or triples that this year.

- Carter Krohman, Walton-Verona - as a freshman last year, averaged over 10 ppg and hit 74 threes.    Sophomore encore could be stunning.

- Clayton McAllister, Carroll County - 6'5" senior was noticed by coach Moore last year and brought into the program, but issues held him to just a couple of appearances.   Panthers need a true big man, and Moore says he's one of the school's top athletes....?

- Ben Michel, South Oldham - 6'6" junior forward/center was a starter last year, but gave ground to seniors on a talented Dragon squad, averaging just 6.5 ppg / 3.5 rebounds.   Now, as the only returning starter and the only Dragon with real varsity experience, he is the focal point.   Has the size, shooting ability, and mobility to be one of the region's most explosive players.

- Dylan Hammonds, sophomore, Grant County - as the team's sixth man, averaged 9.3 ppg last year.   Aggressive on the glass and extremely soft touch with the ball (65% FG).   With the Braves having just two experienced players, look for him to get the ball in his hands a lot in 2021.   Would not be surprised to see his numbers double - or more.

- Hayden Burgess, 6'10" junior, Oldham County - When you have a 6'10" player, you automatically get a little more excited - but so many bigs never really mature athletically.   Coach Zerhusen things Burgess may be ready to start coming into his own this year, both defensively and offensively.   Moves very well for one so tall, and gets up and down the court in Oldham's defensive sets quickly.   Will be expected to be a contributor in the 10-man Colonel rotation.

There's others I could list....

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Excellent job as always Colonel.  I missed on the trivia question as I thought Charles Hurt might have won Mr. Basketball in 1978 when he led Shelby to the title but Doug Schlomer won it that year.

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Wow, this is an excellent preview of the 8th Region!  Thanks so much!  It may take a few games to get going, but I think we're going to see some scoring in the 8th region this year with many offensive threats.  OC is certainly the team to beat.  Their length at many positions, along with considerable experience... they're going to be tough.  

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