2002-2003 Kentucky High School Boys’ Basketball Preview

2002 Ron Harrison

This should be another interesting year for high school basketball in the state of Kentucky.  I will attempt to provide my pre-season top teams based on several factors:  last year’s performances, returning players, summer play, etc.  I have also spent hours discussing hoops with Ken Farley at the Kentucky Basketball Academy.  Ken probably observes more games and players than anyone else in the state.  I also value the opinions and observations of the people who contribute to BluegrassPreps.  However, there were some late developments that made this year’s picks even more difficult.  Evidently, North Laurel has some foreign exchange students who can play and could have a big effect on the rankings.  Since I have not seen these players perform, I did not make a prediction on their ranking.  My pre-season top 20 teams are as follows:

1.

Pleasure Ridge Park

 

11.

Ft. Thomas Highlands

2.

Lexington Catholic

 

12.

Mason County

3.

Louisville Ballard

 

13.

Tates Creek

4.

Scott County

 

14.

Wayne County

5.

North Hardin

 

15.

Corbin

6.

Warren Central

 

16.

Dixie Heights

7.

West Jessamine

 

17.

George Rogers Clark

8.

Male

 

18.

Oldham County

9.

Rose Hill Christian

 

19.

Elizabethtown

10.

Louisville Eastern

 

20.

(Tie) Louisville DeSales

 

 

 

20.

(Tie) Simon Kenton

#1 Pleasure Ridge Park – Dale Mabrey’s Panthers finished 24-8 last season, and lost five players from last year’s squad including 6-7 Sr. Brad Lightle, but should be even better this season.  PRP is one of the programs that doesn’t rebuild but merely reloads.  PRP won the state high school AAU championship this summer and has all the weapons to challenge for a Sweet 16 title this season.  They have a talented senior class consisting of 6-2 Maurice Blakey, 6-5 Donte Sweatt, 6-1 Carlos Williams, 6-3 Kevin James, and 6-0 DeShawn Pendleton.  The Panthers received a blow when Kevin James re-injured his ACL but hopefully he will be able to return sometime this season.  Pendleton is a talented transfer from Butler who will be eligible the second semester.  PRP is set in the paint with 6-10 Jr. Terrence Farley.  Farley is extremely mobile, rebounds well, and is an excellent shot blocker.  5-11 So. JuJuan Spillman started as a freshman, possesses tremendous quickness, and extended his shooting range this summer.  PRP as usual will have very capable players coming off the bench, including 5-9 Jr. Phillip Morrison, 5-4 So. DeShondre Watters, 5-11 So. “Jazz” Neal, etc.  The “Panther Press” is a given and this veteran coaching staff could reach their lofty goals if they get consistent shooting from the team.

#2 Lexington Catholic – finished 33-2 last season and captured the state championship.  Coach Danny Haney resigned to take a coaching position and athletic director job in Florida.  The new coach is Bart Flener, who had a very successful five year run at Glasgow.  Catholic returns four of their top six players but will miss the inside defense and rebounding of graduated seniors 6-5 John Rompf and 6-4 Ryan Morton.  They return the bulk of their scoring in 6-4 Jr. Demetrius Green, 6-3 Jr. William Graham, and 6-3 Jr. Harrison Morton.  They have a very capable point guard returning in 5-11 Sr. Brian Smith (son of UK head coach Tubby Smith).  They also expect a big season from 6-4 Jr. Mark Balthrop.   Catholic will also get help from 5-10 Jr. Drew Morton, 6-2 Sr. Chase Hillenmeyer, 6-5 Sr. Cory Canter, 6-4 Robbie Riddell, etc.  Catholic has a load of talent returning and most polls will probably rank them number one entering the season.  They were shaky at times this summer but Brian Smith was absent from some of the summer events.  Veteran assistant coach Tommy Huston stayed with the Knights and he will be a big help to Coach Flener this season.  The keys to Catholic repeating this season will be to develop their normal deep rotation, remain hungry, and survive a dangerous 11th Region this year

#3 Louisville Ballard – finished 27-6 last season and Coach Chris Renner returns a small but quick team that will press on defense and hit the outside jumper.  The Bruins will be led by 6-2 Sr. Sean Booker, who can jump, bury the outside jumper, and can slash to the basket at will.  5-10 Sr. Jordan Whitaker can also score from beyond the arc.  They will also have experience with seniors 6-3 Alex Hedges, Chaz Hammond, and Sherman Gulley.  6-3 So. Ravon Lee is a very talented, athletic player who should make an impact in the ‘Ville this year.  Veteran observers say this young man is the real deal.  6-5 So. Will Reeves and 6-1 So. Jordan Newby should also be key contributors.  It has been reported that 5-11 So. Dominic Tilford has transferred from Jeffersontown and, if true, will give Ballard another weapon.  This should be a very exciting team that could make waves come tourney time.

#4 Scott County – finished 25-6 last season but for the second consecutive season did not make the trip to the Sweet 16.  Coach Billy Hicks has the Cardinals poised to make a trip to Rupp Arena this year.  Coach Hicks’ son Tyler Hicks, a 6-1 Jr. point guard, averaged 16 ppg last season and will direct the offense.  He will have help in the backcourt, including 5-11 Sr. Nick Reed, 6-1 Jr. Troy Harris, 6-2 Jr. Matt Jarvis, etc.  The Cardinals have size in the middle with 6-10 Sr. Justin Lee and 6-10 So. Jared Carter.  Lee is poised for a big senior campaign and appears to be over some nagging injuries.  Other key players will include 6-3 Sr. Jeremy Nettles, 6-8 Jr. Zach Van Guilder, 6-3 Jr. Alex Cassady, 6-6 So. Anthony Coote, etc.  Nettles had an excellent summer, can be a force in the paint, and has added range to his jump shot.  Coach Hicks has size, quickness, and depth at his disposal and could be a force this season.  He also has some good young players waiting in the wings, including a promising 5-10 Fr. guard, Jesse Thompson.

#5 North Hardin – is coming off a 31-5 record and even though the Trojans lost four starters they should be near the top again this year.  Coach Ron Bevars had quality players coming off the bench and the JV team was undefeated last season.  They will be led this season by 6-6 Sr. Andre Woodson, who is also a highly recruited football quarterback and has verbally committed to Kentucky to play football.  The fans in Radcliff are excited about 6-4 Jr. Demetrius Guions, an explosive leaper who should have a breakout season.  North Hardin lost their veteran backcourt of Quentin Smith and Larry Fox, but have very capable replacements in 6-1 Sr. K. B. Fulks and 5-10 Sr. Maurice Sanders. 

#6 Warren Central – finished 28-4 last season and Coach Tim Riley’s Dragons should be a force again this year.  Any discussion of Warren Central must start with 6-5 Sr. Leroy Wilson, a very athletic combination forward.  He will get plenty of help from 6-6 Jr. Lonnell DeWalt, who can shoot the mid-range jumper, take the ball to the basket, and is an excellent rebounder.  6-8 Jr. Matt Maresca has size and potential and should provide quality minutes for the Dragons.  6-0 Jr. Ryan Anderson passes well, handles the ball, and can shoot the trey.  6-1 Sr. Brandon Cummings is another guard who can direct traffic and handle the ball.  Cummings also has the ability to take it to the basket as well as hit the jumper.  6-2 Jr. Brock Whitney and 5-10 So. Troy McFarland should also be key contributors this season.  The Dragons have size, athleticism, and some players who can shoot the basketball.

#7 West Jessamine – finished 17-9 last season and Coach Matthew Yates returns ten seniors and enough talent to give the Colts a chance of upending Lexington Catholic in the 11th Region this year.  Among the senior talent up front will be 6-5 Scott Tarvin, 6-6 Brett Johnson, and 6-6 Joey Searle.  The Colts should get excellent guard play from 6-2 Sr. Cameron Jackson and 5-8 Sr. Daniel Thompson.  West Jessamine will get a lot of help from several players including Sr. Andy Placido, Sr. Ben Spann, Jr. Brian Richardson, and So. Michael Spann.  The Colts finished second to PRP in the State AAU Championship and played together at camps this summer.  Make no mistake about it, this team is for real and they have a talented, veteran squad who could make a run for state honors this season.  

#8 Male finished 29-8 last season and, although they lost a lot of talent, Coach Bryce Hibbard should have them in the running for the 7th region crown again this year.  6-3 Sr. Michael Bush returns for his final season and is one of the favorites to be named “Mr. Basketball” as well as a favorite to be selected “Mr. Football” this season.  Bush should be extremely hungry as some observers have questioned his being a frontrunner for “Mr. Basketball” this season.  Bush has the ability to dominate a game and as a senior this should be “his” team.  6-1 Jr. guard Stephen McKinney had an excellent summer and is expected to have a big season.  Male should also get plenty of help from 6-3 Sr. Casey Shumate and 6-7 Jr. Scott Green among others.  Shumate is a physically strong player with the ability to take the ball to the hoop.

#9 Rose Hill Christian – finished 27-4 last season and Coach Jeff Hall’s Royals should be even better this season.  The discussion must be started with highly touted 6-3 8th grader O. J. Mayo, who averaged over 22.0 last season.  6-5 Sr. Marques Dawson averaged 19.1 ppg last season and also hits the boards.  6-4 Sr. Mark King also returns and reportedly had an impressive summer.  Also expected to be contributors are Sr. Josh Magnusson, Sr. Marcus Thomas, and 7th grader Matt Thomas.  Rose Hill also got some transfers including Zac Gillum and 6-3 David Frazier. The Royals have upgraded their schedule and should be tourney tough by the end of the season.  

#10 Louisville Eastern  – Coach Doug Bibby’s Eagles only finished 11-16 last year but they possibly have as much returning talent as any team in the state.  They will be led by 6-0 Jr. Rajon Rondo who is jet quick and can take it to the basket at will.  Rondo is the complete package, but must play under control to fully realize his tremendous potential.  6-6 Sr. David Cornwell, who transferred from Ballard at the start of the second semester, is another who must play under control.  Cornwell is very athletic and has the ability to take over a game.  6-1 Sr. Russell Miller will be in the shadow of his highly touted teammates, but he has the ability to break presses, find the open man, and shoot the ball.  The Eagles should also get help from 6-1 Jr. Jermaine Bentley, 5-6 So. Keith Nash, 6-6 So. Mark Patton, 5-11 Jr. James Ray, and others.  Coach Bibby has a lot of talent at his disposal and if they develop the proper chemistry they could turn the always brutal 7th Region upside down and make a lot of noise in the state rankings. 

#11 Ft. Thomas Highlands – finished 23-8 last season but Coach John Messmer graduated five seniors including Derreck Moeves and Craig Forbes.  Coach Messmer does return one of the best players in the state and one of the top candidates for “Mr. Basketball” in 6-8 Sr. Ross Neltner.  Neltner averaged 18 ppg and 10 rpg last year and is very capable of improving these numbers this season.  Neltner has good hands and is an excellent passing big man.  He will get help from 6-1 Sr. Jeff Guidugli and 6-5 Sr. sharpshooter Kevin Gilles.  Coach Messmer will also get contributions from several players plus he has some young talent that could factor in the equation.  The Bluebirds face a challenging season as there are several teams capable of capturing the 9th Region crown.    

#12 Mason County – finished 28-6 last season, lost four starters, but still figures to be at or near the top of the 10th Region this season.  Coach Kelly Wells’ team doesn’t have a lot of height, many of the players play football, and the Royals will need a few games to get their basketball “legs”, but they have talent returning led by 6-3 Jr. Chris Lofton.  Lofton is a versatile performer who can play the 2, 3, or 4 positions and averaged 18 ppg last season.  6-0 Sr. Nathan Myrick is an excellent defender and uses his speed to slash to the basket.  6-3 Jr. guard Dustin Grutza averaged 7.8 ppg last season and is solid in all aspects of the game.  The Royals also expect contributions from several players including 6-3 Jr. forward Jarrod Litzinger.

#13 Tates Creek – finished 22-7 last season and Coach Joe Pat Covington’s Commodores could be a real sleeper this season.  They will be led this year by 6-6 Sr. Michael Cross, who averaged 15 ppg and 9 rpg last season.  This could be the breakout year for the very athletic 6-2 Jr. guard Justin Taylor.  Taylor has showed flashes of brilliance but his best basketball is ahead of him.  Coach Covington should also get key contributions from several players including 6-2 Jr. Cameron Cross, 6-2 Sr. Josh Bell, 6-4 Sr. Jonas Adams, and 5-10 Sr. Albert Hughes.

#14 Wayne County – finished 30-3 last season and Coach Rodney Woods will have the Cardinals in the hunt for the 12th Region crown again this year.  The Cardinals don’t have a lot of height, lost Evan Dick, who led the team in scoring and rebounding last year, but expect to have several players step to the forefront this year.  They should be led by 6-1 Jr. Jerrod Gibbons, 6-2 Jr. Tyrone Greene, 5-10 Jr. Bradley Bell, and 6-0 So. Steven Sexton.  Several teams could challenge in the 12th Region this year, but Coach Woods is just like “Old Man River”—he keeps rolling along each year and should be at the top or very near the top of the region at season’s end. 

#15 Corbin – finished 21-8 last season and Coach Tony Pietrowski has a deep, talented squad that should challenge for the 13th Region crown this year.  Corbin has been a perimeter-oriented team and they return seniors 6-2 Johnny B Hammons, 6-0 Jeremy Farmer, and 5-11 Tyler Henson. The Redhounds have additional perimeter help in 5-9 Jr. Anthony Haban, 6-1 So. Jeremy Brock, and 6-1 So. Jordan Noble.  6-2 Jr. Jarrod Lawson is capable of adding scoring punch.  Corbin has a distinct advantage in the region in 6-9 Sr. Isaiah Mills who can dominate if he can get the ball in the paint.  6-5 Sr. Tyler Faulkner provides depth at the position.  Corbin should be tough this season if Hammons is healthy and the team plays to its considerable potential.

#16 Dixie Heights – finished 25-5 last season and Coach Scott Draud returns eight seniors to battle for the 9th Region crown.  One of those seniors, 6-5 265  pound Doug Jones could be the key to the season.  Jones injured his ACL during a football passing camp and is questionable for the season.  Jones is a monster in the paint and could really boost the Colonels chances if he returns.  6-2 Sr. guard Russ Bramlage is a slasher who can also shoot the ball. 7-0 Sr. Steve Mays has size and potential and is still in the developing stage.  The Colonels have additional size up front in 6-6 Sr. Drew Clayton.  6-2 Sr. Matt O’Toole and his brother 6-1 Jr. Michael O’Toole add strength at the guard position.  6-1 D. J. Corbitt is a promising So. guard.  Coach Draud always gets the best out of his players and emphasizes team defense.  This team could gel quickly if Jones returns and rapidly move up in the rankings. 

#17 George Rogers Clark – finished 18-10 last season but Coach Mike Reitz’s Cardinals should challenge for the10th Region crown this season.  The Cardinals return four starters and eight of 11 players.  Clark County has a strong senior backcourt in 5-10 Marc Midden and 6-1 Randall Gentry.  Gentry is an excellent floor general who can shoot the ball.  6-11 Sr. Andrew Preston really improved over the summer and college coaches are noticing this slender post player.  Preston is adding more post moves and should improve on his 12 ppg scoring average.  The Cardinals will also get help from 5-11 Sr. Jake Barnes, 5-10 Sr. Barrett Bridgewater, 6-2 Sr. Byron Burdell, and 6-1 Sr. Stephen Columbia, etc.  They have some good talent moving up including 5-11 So. Matthew Martin, who lit up the scoreboard in the 15 and Under AAU championship tourney this summer.

#18 Oldham County – finished 29-3 last season and advanced to the Sweet 16 quarterfinals.  Coach Gary Forrest lost regional player of the year Donta Smith and senior center Travis Liedke but the cupboard is hardly bare.  The spotlight this year should shine on 6-5 Sr. Matt Jacobson, who averaged 12 ppg last season and can score both inside and out.  The Colonels will also get help from 6-3 Sr. Brock Neal, 5-11 Sr. Jarriott Huddleston, 6-0 Sr. Joel Gastright, and  6-1 Sr. Adam Bird. 6-9 Jr. Max Kuiper will be expected to add rebounding strength this season.  6-3 Jr. Brandon Gathoff returns this season after missing most of last season with a broken hand.  Oldham County will also get contributions from 5-10 Jr. Brandon Berry, and Sophs. 6-2 Ryan Phillips and 5-10 John McCarthy.  Scott County will be favored to win the 8th Region but Oldham County should be their chief threat. 

#19 Elizabethtown – finished 26-5 last season and while they lost three starters, Coach James Haire’s Panthers are talented and experienced.  5-11 Sr. Josh Taylor and his twin brother Chris are capable of putting points on the scoreboard.  5-10 Jr. Jerry Turner came on strong late in the season and is expected to carry on this season.  6-8 Jr. Kyle Martin has a nice shooting touch, runs the floor well, and could have a big year. 6-5 Jr. Robert Broughton has reportedly transferred from Ft. Knox and will add additional scoring punch.  Sr. guard Chad Robinson will also help this season.  The Panthers have all the necessary ingredients to challenge North Hardin for the 5th Region crown.

#20 (Tie) Louisville DeSales  – finished 21-7 last season and Coach Tom Crews’ Colts should be a major challenge to PRP in the 6th Region this year.  They will be led this year by 6-3 Sr. sharpshooter Bryan Miles who averaged 22.3 ppg last season and is a deadly three point shooter.  6-7 Sr. Chris Cahill is a force in the paint with ability to nail the jump shot.  The Colts also expect key contributions from Thomas Britt and Michael Beasley. 

#20 (Tie) Simon Kenton  – finished 17-10 last season and Coach Scott Humphrey’s squad should be a strong contender in a balanced 9th Region this season.  The Pioneers will be led by 6-7 Sr. Mike Brock, who averaged 20 ppg and 11 rpg last season. Brock has the ability to score both inside and out, and has outstanding work ethics.  6-6 Sr. Eric Reed returns as a three year starter and should have a good senior campaign.  6-3 Sr. Mike Kannady is an excellent shooter who has developed into a good all-around player.  5-11 Jr. Evan Stowers returns to man the point this season.  The Pioneers should get help from several players including 5-11 So. Jordan Nevels, 6-1 So. Keifer Clarke, 6-3 Jr. Michael Schoborg, 5-11 Sr. Joseph Nevels, etc. 

There are several teams that I have omitted that could crack the Top 20 and make a shambles of my picks.   Mayfield, Hopkins County Central, Daviess County, Owensboro, and Monroe County should all field strong teams this year.  The city of Louisville is always loaded, with Fern Creek, Trinity, and St. Xavier ready to make their move if any of the favorites falter.  Frankfort and Henry Clay should have good seasons, while Lafayette won the “Hooping on the Hill ” classic this summer.  Watch out for North Laurel—they have some good young talent and if the foreign exchange players pan out—look out!!! Rockcastle County, Clay County, and Jackson County will have good teams and Jackson County could be a sleeper with all their young talent.  Some team will always come to the forefront from Eastern Kentucky.  The Mountain Regions always feature some deadly long-range shooters.

I usually view 100-125 games a season, plus summer camps and the AAU circuit.  I read everything I can find about high school basketball.  I respect the opinions of all my fellow basketball junkies.  I respect the writers who put together The Cats’ Pause high school basketball preview.  They have such an early deadline and make an excellent effort to put together a good preview.  I have learned much from Rick Bolus, one of the best talent evaluators in the game.  I regularly talk with coaches who have taught me so much.  However, one thing is certain:  Predictions and the ranking game will teach you humility.  Surprises and upsets are a major part of high school hoops but this uncertainty is what makes high school basketball in the Bluegrass State such a treat.