It’s been a long time since 13th Region fans have seen basketball as good as they witnessed this past season as four teams won at least 24 games and five were likely among the top 10 in the mountains.
South Laurel showed how strong the region was with its run to the state semifinals at the Sweet Sixteen, knocking off Christian County and pounding South Oldham before falling to Louisville Doss in a hard-fought semifinal game. It was the best showing for a 13th Region team since Harlan lost in the semifinals of the 1995 tournament.
Whether the 13th can be as strong overall again in 2017 is uncertain, but it looks like the region will be very competitive again. From looking at returning players, and, yes, I know that can change a lot between now and Oct. 15, I think at least four teams, and possibly five, have a shot to represent the region next year at Rupp Arena.
Anyone keeping count from last year will know I had South Laurel and Clay County meeting in the 2016 championship game, but I was wrong about the winner as Clay County seemed to peak early while South continued to improve. Harlan County may have been the biggest surprise with 24 wins despite having no seniors on the roster and may have the early edge going into 2017 with more experience than anyone else. You could make a case that Harlan County, Corbin, South Laurel or North Laurel have a chance to win the region, with Knox Central not far behind.
The following is my look back at the best of 2016 and what I expect to see in 2017:
G – Cameron Carmical, Harlan County
G – Andrew Taylor, Corbin
G – Blake Smith, Clay County
G – Peyton Broughton, North Laurel
C – Caleb Taylor, South Laurel
G – Jared Grubb, South Laurel
G – Brent Perry, Barbourville
G – Treyce Spurlock, Harlan County
G – Trey Farmer, Clay County
C – Chad Marsee, Knox Central
G – Luke Woods, Whitley County
G – Markelle Turner, Barbourville
G – Cody Carnes, Pineville
F – Andrew Griffith, South Laurel
C – Zach Partin, Bell County
G – Corey Johnson, Whitley County
G – Trent Lefevers, Pineville
F – Wade Liford, Knox Central
F – Wes Wolfe, Clay County
C – Bryson Asher, North Laurel
Peyton Broughton, North Laurel
Cameron Carmical, Harlan County
Jared Grubb, South Laurel
Treyce Spurlock, Harlan County
Cody Carnes, Pineville
Andrew Taylor, Corbin
Markelle Turner, Barbourville
Corey Johnson, Whitley County
Ryan Anders, South Laurel
Tyrese Simmons, Harlan County (tie)
Drew Nolan, Harlan County (tie)
J.J. Ramey, South Laurel
Adam Sizemore, North Laurel
Kilian Ledford, Harlan
Isaac Collett, Bell County
Chase Sanders, Corbin
2016-2017 predictions (players listed by next year’s grade)
1. Harlan County — In winning 24 games without a senior on the roster, the Bears caught some teams by surprise last year as they lost only twice to 13th Region opponents. They won’t be able to surprise anyone in 2017.
The Bears won with defense and hustle last year but showed in a loss to Clay County in the regional semifinals that they can’t overcome a bad shooting night from the perimeter or free throw line against a quality opponent.
Senior guards Cameron Carmical (17.3 points per game last year) and Treyce Spurlock (15.2) could be the region’s most potent 1-2 combination after breakout junior seasons, but the Bears can’t win the region without continuing improvement from junior guards Drew Nolan (8.2), Tyrese Simmons (9.6) and Andrew Creech (2.0). Senior center David Turner (6.8) will also return after a steady performance last year in his first as a starter. The Bears will also need continued improvement from junior forward Lamar Burkhart (2.5). Junior forward Jacob Branson could also help, along with sophomores Gabe Price and Alex Pace and a couple of incoming freshmen.
2. Corbin — The Redhounds bring back everyone, including star junior guard Andrew Taylor (25.6), who was too often a one-man show in the Corbin offense, a problem that coach Tony Pietrowski addressed after Corbin lost to Harlan County in the first round of the regional tournament. Also returning are senior guard Zach Maguet (10.9) and sophomore guards Chase Sanders (8.8) and Cameron Maguet (2.6). Seniors Sam Taylor (4.8), A.J. Moore (3.8), Tanner Barnes (5.6) and Blake Burns (3.3) will likely continue to alternate at the forward spots. Junior guard Camron Sizemore also saw extensive action last year.
3. South Laurel— Losing big men Caleb Taylor and Andrew Griffith will obviously be a blow, but the Cardinals will rebuild around an improving backcourt led by senior Jared Grubb (15.6), who came through big in South’s impressive postseason run. Junior point guard Ryan Anders (7.4) and sophomore wing J.J. Ramey (6.5) also had strong seasons and should continue to get better.
There are several candidates to round out the roster, including senior guard Blake Phelps (3.0) and 6-3 senior forward Zach Feltner. The Cardinals also had one of the region’s best freshman teams, which means quality depth is rarely an issue.
4. North Laurel — A first-round exit was a disappointment for the Jaguars, who missed the regional tournament the previous two years. North will be a contender again with a roster led by star senior guard Peyton Broughton (22.5), who has been among the region’s elite players for four years. Sophomore point guard Adam Sizemore (4.2), junior wing Brian Gray (9.0) and 6-8 senior center Bryson Asher (9.5) are also back, but the Jaguars did lose three of their top seven players to graduation.
5. Knox Central — With four-year starting center Chad Marsee graduating, the Panthers have a big hole to fill in the middle and will need a bigger year from their guards, including junior Jermel Carton (9.6) and senior Jeremy Stewart (7.7). Wade Liford (15.8), a 6-6 senior forward, is developing into one of the region’s best players. Austin Allen (3.1), a 6-6 senior center, could take over for Marsee in a frontcourt that also includes senior Tanner Wells (7.1) and sophomore Nick Martin (3.4). Sophomore guards Dane Imel (3.2) and Jaylen Adams (3.9) will also be in the chase for starting jobs.
6. Whitley County — Getting past South Laurel and Corbin in the always tough 50th District has been a difficult task for the Colonels, and it probably won’t be much easier in 2017 with three starters and four of their top eight players graduating.
The Colonels can rebuild around junior guard Corey Johnson (12.0), senior guard Josh Richardson (3.6), 6-4 senior forward Tyler Downs (3.1) and 6-8 junior center Bayley Rice (4.6).
7. Clay County — With six of their top eight players graduating, including starters Blake Smith, Trey Farmer and Wes Wolfe, you could make a case for putting the Tigers even lower, but I have a hard time not ranking Clay in the top five after so many years of excellence. Clay will need big seasons from senior guard Will Sexton (7.6) and 6-6 senior center Logan Gabbard (2.4) to stay ahead of North Laurel in the 49th District. No other player on the Clay roster averaged more than 2 points per game, which means some freshmen could contribute.
8. Pineville — The Lions were an upset winner of the regional All “A” Classic last year but will go in as the favorite in 2017 with four senior starters returning — forwards Cody Carnes (19.1) and Will Adams (7.2) and guards Trent Lefevers (14.1) and Tucker Woolum (3.7). Josh Lawson (7.9), a junior guard, will likely round out the lineup. Depth, as usual, could be a problems with no other players coming back who averaged 2 points per game or more.
9. Barbourville — Losing guards Brent Perry and Tate Carter will be hard to overcome, but the Tigers will be led by one of the region’s best players in junior point guard Markelle Turner (19.4). Zach Deaton (10.0), a 6-3 senior forward, returns to a lineup that could also feature senior guard Bradley Warren, who missed all of last season with an injury. James Witt (5.1), a 6-1 senior center, could also start. Junior forward Christian Bunch and sophomore center Connor Bain will also be in the mix after strong seasons on the junior varsity squad.
10. Bell County — The loss of center Zach Partin (17.5) to graduation, along with forwards Jacob Hunley and Peyton Collett, will force senior guards Victor Morris (11.9) and Ethan Gambrel (4.1) to take over as the Bobcats’ primary scorers. Senior guard Dalton Callebs (4.7) will likely move into the starting lineup. Sophomore guard Isaac Collett (3.1), a key reserve toward the end of the season, should play a key role after leading Bell to the freshman regional title. Kyle Burnett, a 6-3 junior, and Tyler Partin (2.0), a 6-5 sophomore, are the top candidates for starting jobs inside.
Best of the rest:
11. Jackson County — After two straight trips to the 13th Region Tournament, the Generals struggled through a rebuilding season in 2016. Most of Jackson’s top players will be back next year, led by 6-1 junior forward Tanner Harris (15.2). Also returning are senior guard Lucas Moore (8.8) 6-2 junior forward Dylan Rose (3.6), sophomore guard Zach Bingham (8.9), junior guard Jackson King (2.8) and junior point guard Drew Akemon (7.5).
12. Harlan — Senior guard Noah Busroe (5.9), sophomore wing Kilian Ledford (13.4) and senior forward Trent McKenzie (8.5) are back for the Dragons, who will try to build on last year’s winning record and crack the top 10. Senior guard Ethan Morton (2.4) could work his way into the lineup after playing a key reserve role last season. Other potential starters include sophomores Cade Barnes (3.6), Jarrett McKenzie and Carter Barnes and junior forward Kendal Brock.
13. Lynn Camp — A fast start under first-year coach Dinky Phipps helped the Wildcats post one of their best records in several years last season. Repeating that success won’t be easy with post players Austin Weddle and Austin Maier graduating. Senior guards Bruce Hopkins (12.2) and Jayden Elliott (6.2) are back, along with sophomore forward Jacob Bundy (8.2). Antonio Tepesano (7.7), a 6-3 senior, and Andrew Jones (2.7), a 6-4 sophomore, could take over inside.
14. Williamsburg — The Jackets crashed hard as expected after their 2015 run to a regional title with a senior-dominated team. Williamsburg showed signs of improvement through the season and should continue to get better with junior guard Tanner Boggs (15.9) coming back, along with freshman guard Dalton Ponder (9.6), senior guard Hagen Hawn (4.6), junior guard Alec Poore (3.6) and 6-2 junior center Stohn Hunter (2.5).
15. Middlesboro — Isaac Wilson tried numerous combinations in his first season with the Jackets but nothing worked in a 1-29 season. The experience gained by several young players against varsity competition could help in the future. Sophomores Christian Hubbard (6.7), Drake Thomas (9.4), Rhyan Rogers (3.4) and Nick Poindexter (4.2) showed some potential and could help begin a turnaround. Senior point guard Tyler Wilson (4.4) and junior post players Ben Bowling, Andrew Padgett and Danny Williams should also be in the mix for playing time next year, along with freshman guard Jabari Kyle.
16. OBI — No one loses more to graduation than the Mountaineers, who will graduate all five starters and six of their top seven players. Junior guard Hera DeCaines (3.2) is the only player back with extensive experience. Senior guard Jeremiah Taiwo and 6-1 senior center Ola Onitiri saw limited action last season.
17. Red Bird — With a lineup dominated by players from outside the country with little basketball experience, the Cardinals showed some improvement but still finished at the bottom of the region. Red Bird should feature a senior-dominated team next year led by Steven Leath (9.0), Jonathan Kobongo (10.5), Max Kitoko (3.1) and Junior Kitoko (4.2).
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134