Before we get started I want to say, pre-season rankings are an absolute guess, there is no scientific equation that goes into deciding the placement of these teams prior to the regular season kicking off. When talking about the teams from Eastern KY/Southern WV you will get a little more informed opinion here at D&D Sports Network then most media outlets, simply because we watch more Mountain basketball then any other media outlet. In these pre-season rankings we will depend on our knowledge of the team, their coaching staff and how they looked this Summer with the pieces they have returning.
#1 For the second consecutive season, the Pikeville Panthers take the top spot on our Pre-Season Mountain “Top10”. Everyone knows Coach Elisha Justice has stopped producing teams, he now has a program there in Pikeville, KY that has become a perennial power in the Coalfields and this group is set up to bring a load of hardware home this season. The Panthers star Rylee Samons is the best prospect in the Mountains and he’s already inked a deal to play basketball at Tennessee Tech next season, he will be a big mismatch for most small forwards he will be going up against. Keian Worrix left a big void at the point guard position, but during the off-season the Panthers picked up Menifee County’s Eli Johnson, a kid that averaged over 22 points last season for the Wildcats. In the Mountains there only three legit centers (by that I mean prospects north of 6’7) and Pikeville has one of them in Charlie Fitzer, a talent who has blown up over the off-season. Heath Jarrell is a poor mans Steve Kerr, he’s got a beautiful jump shot that extends past the three point line, he will be a scorer Pikeville can depend on. Another name that will surprise most, but not those who have watched him play over the last 6 months is junior Josh Hughes, he’s a player that has took a huge leap forward and may be the deciding factor in Pikeville repeating as “All-A” State Champs. The other pieces are all young talent that has flourished in Coach Justice’s off-season program, Ian Onkst is a versatile wing that has good size and knowledge of the game, EB Walters is a blue-collar worker that has shredded the pounds, he’s made himself a next level prospect if he continues to work, they’ll need his physicality and ability to stretch the floor. The Panthers have 4-5 others that can produce this season, depth combined with their star power and coaching made them a shoe-in at the top spot of our pre-season poll.
#2 The second spot on our pre-season list goes to the Ashland Tomcats, yes they graduated an impressive class and lost Colin Porter to College a year earlier then expected but they have enough contributors returning with a transfer or two coming in to be a bonified favorite up there in the 16th Region. Guard Zander Carter was on fire the past Summer, he has picked up numerous next level offers and the mixture of size with talent at the guard slot has him not only a problem for area coaches but a very intriguing college prospect. Tucker Conway caught everyone outside of Ashland off guard last season with his blistering hot three point shooting, he allows the Tomcats to really stretch out their offense and cause opposing teams issues. Asher Adkins & LaBryant Strader are two more that contributed last season and will be expected to increase their production this season, James Mayor is a big body down low, if Coach Mays can count on him to come in and protect the rim a few minutes a game, it will make the Tomcats alot more dangerous. With all that being said, Ashland is in that two spot because of the addition of former Boyd County guard Rheyce DeBoard, much like Pikeville’s Keian Worrix last year, this kid could be the quickest guard in the coverage area, his game is electrifying and it will push the Tomcats over the top in the 16th Region.
#3 The three spot goes to Coach Brad Napier and the Chapmanville Tigers, when it comes to the West Virginia side of the river the Tigers are picked to possibly win Class-2A. Chapmanville has been the story of the off-season because of the pick-up of stud guard “Swaggy” Sal Dean, a kid who led Belfry in scoring last season and may have been the best guard returning in the 15th Region, if he would have stayed. Team captain Brody Dalton is another blue-collar talent that comes to compete night in/night out, he can bang down low or step out and bury a clutch three, very important piece for Napier’s Tigers. Chapmanville completes what may be the best “Big-3” in the Mountains with center Zion Blevins, he is the #1 “Big” in the area and his growth on offense with make him a matchup nightmare for the Tigers. Surrounding the Tigers tremendous trio is a couple very dangerous guards, Isiah Smith when hitting can be one of the top shooters in Southern WV but his defense is what makes him so important to the Tigers, this dude can lock down the best scorers across the Coalfields when given the task and Devan Workman is a “fox hole” guy, he will do anything he is ask while also having the ability to knock down clutch shots at the end of games. Chapmanville is a very dangerous team, they have a veteran squad returning with the addition of one of the biggest names in Mountain basketball, if things click, this could be another State Title season in the “Ville”!
#4 Letcher Central will be a favorite to win a top heavy 14th Region, Coach Matthew Taylor has the Cougars a lot of court time together and that mixed in with a tremendous amount of experience returning will make them a great team, especially early on. Nigel Nichols may be the best floor general in the Mountains, he is lightning quick, has precise floor vision and great handles, he is the leader of his tribe. The off-season transfer portal was very kind to the Cougars as well, Letcher Central picked up a quality front court piece with Jayden Huff transferring over from Knott Central, Huff averaged 13 points and 6 rebounds for the Patriots last season. When healthy Kaden Adams will be a big piece, him combined with Huff will give the Cougars a big edge in the paint. Coach Taylor benefits from a deep roster too, other players to pay attention to are Peyton Dixon, Avantae Higgins, Ethan Whitaker, Brady Boggs and Peyton Wright. This is a special group, it wouldn’t shock me one bit to look up early January and see the Cougars on top of the D&D Sports Mountain “Top10”, they are my personal pick to represent the 14th Region in Rupp Arena this March!
#5 Coming in at #5 is the Logan Wildcats, they will rely on great guard play this upcoming season, the team you see early won’t be the team they will be at the end, quite a bit of their talent will be coming over late from football season. The Wildcats have one of the top perimeter scorers in the Mountains in Scotty Browning, he can not only score in bunches, he’s also the one you want with the ball at the end of ball games. Garrett Williamson has a high basketball I.Q and good size at the point, his physical style of play gives Logan an edge in the backcourt. Jaxon Cogar showed last season the impact he can make on the hardwood, he is the post player that can separate the Wildcats from being a good team and a great team, he’s going to be vital to their success. Aiden Slack will help Cogar out on the boards and he’ll also give Logan a versatile defender that can guard multiple positions on the floor, hard nosed player with a punch the time clock mentality. They are 3-4 other players you could see produce this season for the Wildcats, Julias Clancy & Derek Browning could be two names your hear alot, as the season tips-off. Logan is ranked so highly because of the respect we have for Coach Zach Green, he’s got some talent to work with and could be a contender when the post season rolls around.
#6 The Shelby Valley Wildcats will have one of the most physical teams in the 15th Region, Coach Rodney Rowe has guards that like to pressure and get after it, with “bigs” that like to bang. Senior guard Chaz Brown is long and lengthy, he takes pride in defense, kid shoots a high percentage from the field and doesn’t make many mistakes. Collier Fuller will be the primary scorer for the Wildcats along with Russ Osborne, the two combined for nearly 20 points a game last season. Shelby Valley won’t have any issue in the paint, the duo of Caleb Lovins & Riley Phillips will allow the Wildcats to have a decisive advantage on the boards in most games. Eli Stewart, Jordan Tackett, Bruce Colman, Braiden Tackett and Brady Johnson are other names you could hear as the season starts to gear up. Shelby Valley has a deep roster with great Coaching, they will be one of the teams with a chance to dethrone Pikeville as 15th Region Champs, they’ll get better as the season moves along.
#7 The Tug Valley Panthers are ranked lucky number 7, this team lost there “MVP” from last season but they have reloaded and their ready to make a run at a Class-A State Title in 2023. With a legendary Coaching staff on the sideline led by Garland “Rabbit” Thompson, the Panthers have all the pieces to compete against the smaller schools in West Virginia. You can’t mention the Panthers without talking about the return of Parker “Dunkasauras” Davis, a kid that was on pace to be named D&D Sports “Player of the Year” last season, before he left the team. Davis is a 25 point a game scorer if used that way, he’s very physical and likes to play the mind games with the opposition, he’s a fan favorite. Joey Gollihue stepped in after Davis’s departure last season and showed he can also be the teams primary scorer, if needed. Buddy Marcum & Ashton Davis are as valuable to this team as Gollihue & Davis, they both star in their own role, Panther guard Kaden Hale also raised his stock alot last year when he stepped up to help the team in the scoring column. You can’t talk about Tug Valley without mentioning their off-season transfers Braydun Ferris & Julian Vance, two kids that grew up dreaming of playing in Naugatuck, WV but went elsewhere first. Ferris & Vance will provide much needed depth and scoring to the Panthers roster, Vance is a kid that will battle on both sides of the ball while Ferris can set players up or knock down his own shot. Tug Valley will flirt with the “Top5” all season and will be able to score with anyone, there “Achilles heel” will be teams with strong front courts. With the few weaknesses this team may have, Tug Valley is still a strong contender for a State Title in West Virginia.
#8 At the eight spot we have the Pike Central Hawks, a team that shocked everyone last season by making it to the 15th Region Championship. Although the Hawks spectacular year ended in the Region Finals, we can’t help to worry about them losing 40% of their scoring load to graduation in Josh DuToit. Pike Central has one of the best duo’s in Mountain basketball returning with Jaylen Rigdon & Jaden Stewart, a really flamboyant pair that likes to get up and down the floor. Surrounding Stewart & Rigdon will be a really nice group of role players that know how to execute the roles they are given. Blake Adams, Justin Adkins, Hunter Adkins and Isaac Reynolds are all grizzled veterans that muck it up on defense, Brad Billiter & Kaden Crum will help on the glass while also giving the Hawks a little more offensive fire power. Coach Eric Ratliff’s Pike Central team will be a very dangerous basketball team this season, the one worry we have with this group is scoring, especially on the perimeter.
#9 Coming in at the ninth spot of our pre-season rankings is the Boyd County Lions, a team that made it to the 16th Region Championship last season. Boyd County lost a few key pieces off last years squad, including Rheyce DeBoard who transferred inside the District and will be suiting up for the rival Ashland Tomcats. Boyd County brings back some fire power but the Lions will be one of the youngest teams in the area, they’ll put all the weight on freshman Jacob Spurlock’s shoulders. Spurlock is an elite scorer who has a very mature offensive game, he is a top 5 prospect in the 2026 class. The Lions will also return Jason Eliis & Cole Hicks, two players that made the Cat’s Pause Top10 list in the 16th Region. This group will be extremely dangerous, youth does scare us when ranking them so highly on this list, but we give the Lions alot of respect because of their legendary Coach Randy Anderson. Early on Boyd County may struggle but when March rolls around, this is going to be a team nobody will want to see.
#10 Martin County takes the final slot, Coach Jason James has a Region Championship on his resume and he’ll have to put that experience to the test with this young group of Cardinals. Trey James & Brady Dingess aren’t walking through that door, so Martin County will have to move on to the Peyton Davis era, this Summer Davis showed tremendous growth in his offensive game and he may be the best perimeter defender in the Mountains. “Cool Hand” Luke Hale will compete for the 15th Region scoring title, he’s a 20-25 point scorer and he provides the Cardinals with some much needed veteran leadership. Brayden Mckenzie is a kid that has Cardinal fans excited, he is also a very gifted scorer and could be an “X” factor for Martin County this season. Dray Duff & Ethan Ferrell will add depth on the perimeter while Martin County’s front-court will determine whether they’re good or not. The Cardinals have 4-5 post players that could start on 90% of the teams throughout the Mountains, if their “Bigs” produce they could be the 15th Region “dark horse”. Jacob Sturgill & Devan Maynard will shock folks that haven’t seen Martin County in a long time, both have stepped their game up over the past 6 months. With all that being said, Matt Linville & Braxton Maynard are the keys to this teams success, you know what your getting in Martin County’s guard play, but the consistency down low will be the Cardinals deciding factor. Martin County is a feast or famine type team, we expect them to jump in & out of our rankings all season long but they should have enough experience by March to be scary in the post season.
FINAL THOUGHTS: The 2022 D&D Sports Network Pre-Season “Top10” hasn’t been an easy list to compile, we had 5-6 other teams that could have been ranked in them final few spots but we had to juggle things like reported injuries, with team rosters not being complete due to football, amongst other things and to start the season we think these are your ten best teams in November. The teams that would barely miss the cut was Scott High School, a team that returns “Player of the Year” front-runner Reece Carden. The Betsy Layne Bobcats got a slew of “Top10” votes, returning Brady Robinson, Andrew Kidd & Cameron Pente along with incoming freshman Carter Parsons, Coach Derek Newsom’s squad will make a push for the 58th District Championship in March. Johnson Central returns one of the Mountains most impactful centers in Ryan Rose, a kid who had a big off-season, Jacob Grimm, Mason Lawson and transfer Conner Hopkins will allow Tommy McKenzie to possibly see another appearance at the Appalachian Wireless Arena in the 15th Region Tournament. Then in the 16th Region Coach Shawn Thacker’s Rowan County Vikings and Bath County with Zack Otis will be a huge threat to Ashland repeating as 16th Region Champs.