16th Region Boys Basketball Preview

Written By: JMF

All across the Bluegrass state, basketballs started bouncing once again in high school gyms on October 15th. Teams could finally start their first official practice of the 2023-2024 basketball season. Regular season games begin on November 27th, with dreams of winning a district championship, regional championship, and making it to the state Sweet 16, bouncing in young men and women’s minds.

Whistles blow as players run sprints and complete drills. Coaches watch, observe, teach, and mold young players. Sweat drips onto floors, shoes squeak as players make cuts and do defensive slides. For basketball junkies, it is the best time of the year!

In the 16th region, 16 teams are preparing for the season ahead. Which team will prevail and win the region and secure a spot in the Sweet 16? Will the Ashland Blazer Tomcats win their 6th consecutive regional championship? Will the Boyd County Lions avenge last year’s loss in the regional championship game and end the reign of the Tomcats? Don’t overlook the Cougars of Morgan County or the Panthers of Fleming County, both teams looking to improve upon last season’s successes.

The journey begins for 16 teams. Who will prevail and cut down the nets in Ellis T. Johnson Arena in Morehead? Let’s look at team.

Pre-season Rankings

1) Ashland Tomcats
Coach Ryan Bonner is entering his second season as the Tomcats head coach. Last season he guided the Tomcats to a 23-12 record and the 16th regional championship. The Tomcats season ended in the Elite 8 with a loss to eventual State Champion, Warren Central.

Having won 5 straight regional championships and returning junior Zander Carter, the Tomcats sit at top of the region. Carter is 6’5” and averaged 22 points and 6 rebounds per game last season. Carter has committed to play for Liberty University and presents a host of problems for defenses and defenders.

If the Tomcats want to stay atop the 16th region, they will have to find some scorers to go with Carter. With Tucker Conway, Tristin Davis, and Rheyce Deboard graduating, the Tomcats will be missing their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th leading scorers off of last season’s team. Deboard averaged 17.4 points per game, while Conway averaged 8.3, and Davis averaged 7.9.

The Tomcats will look for Asher Adkins and Nate Frieze to step up and fill in some of the scoring void. Last season Adkins averaged 5.8 points per game, while Frieze averaged 3.3 points per game. Tyson Lalonde and Braxton Jennings will also be asked to increase scoring production.

Something to watch for the Tomcats this season is the improvement of James Mayor. The 6’10” senior, could have an impact for the Tomcats on the interior.

The Tomcats definitely have some questions to be answered, and if players other than Carter don’t step up, this could be the year to end the Tomcats reign at the top of the region.

2) Boyd County
Lions Coach Randy Anderson is entering his 14th season as the Lions head coach. Anderson helped to guide the Lions to an impressive 27-6 record last season and defeated Ashland to win the district championship in the 64th district. Anderson and the Lions are looking to avenge last season’s loss in the regional championship and end the reign of Ashland in the 16th region. The Lions definitely have the team that can do just that.

The Lions return their top 3 scorers from last season’s team. Jacob Spurlock has a fantastic freshman season. Spurlock let the team in scoring, averaging 19.8 points per game. Spurlock made 120 threes last season for a 3-point % of 40.1%.

Backcourt mate, Cole Hicks, enters his junior season looking to improve upon last season. Hicks averaged 17.8 points per game last season and shot 49.5% from the field and 37.1% from three.

Senior, Jason Ellis is poised to have an outstanding senior campaign. The six-five forward averaged 12.2 points per game and 8.6 rebounds per game last season. Don’t be surprised if Ellis doesn’t average a double-double this season.

Throw in returnees Rhett Holbrook and Griffin Taylor, and the Lions have over 80% of their scoring back from last season’s team. The Lions definitely have a team that can take down the Tomcats and make a run in the Sweet 16.

3) Fleming County
Panthers Panthers’ coach, Buddy Biggs enters his 4th season. Last season, Buddy, helped guide the Panthers to a 22-9 record and the Panthers were the champions of the 61st district. However, after losing to Russell in the first round of the regional tournament, the Panthers are hungry to go further this season.

The Panthers had no seniors on last year’s team, and return all 5 starters this season.

Guard, Seth Hickerson led the team last year in scoring averaging 18.7 points per game. The six-three guard looks to improve in his junior season and help the Panthers make a deep run in the post-season this year.

Senior, Adam Hargett was 2nd in scoring for the Panthers last season, averaging 15.7 points per game. The six-five guard is one of the best all-around players in the region and will look to provide senior leadership to help the Panthers make some serious noise in the 16th region this season.

Isaac Frye led the region in rebounding last season averaging 10.8 rebounds per game. Frye averaged a double-double last season, scoring 11.2 points per game last season as well.

The x-factor for the Panthers will be a healthy Lucas Jolly. The junior is coming off his sophomore campaign in which he averaged 14.6 points per game and shot 58.3% from the field. If Jolly is healthy and able to play, the sky is the limit for the Panthers this season.

4) Morgan County Cougars
Reece Griffith enters his 2nd season as head coach of the Cougars. In his first season, he led one of the best turn-arounds in the state of Kentucky in boys’ basketball. In the 2021-2022 season, the Cougars only won 2 games. In Griffith’s first season the Cougars would win 22 games and finish with a 22-8 record. The Cougars were the 62nd district champions last season and look to defend that championship this year, while contending for a 16th regional championship.

The Cougars are returning the majority of their offensive production from last year’s team. Six-five junior, Preston Hoskins led the team in scoring last season averaging 14.8 points per game. Hoskins hit 99 three’s last season good for second most made in the region. He shot 40.9% from beyond the arc and 46.8% from the field.

Last year Eli Griffith, Gatlin Griffith, and Cameron Adams transferred from Elliott County. This will be the second year of this unit playing together and there are big expectations from this team.

Senior guards, Eli and Gatlin Griffith and Cameron Adams look to improve upon last season’s production. Gatlin averaged 14.1 points per game last season. Cameron Adams averaged 14.0 points per game and Eli averaged 9.6 points per game.

Senior, Logan Spencer averaged 8.3 points per game last year for the Cougars. With all 4 of those seniors and junior, Preston Hoskins, the Cougars are loaded with experience. Morgan County has a reason to be excited about the possibilities this coming season.

5) Rowan County Vikings
Shawn Thacker is entering his 16th season at the helm of the Vikings’ program. Thacker is looking to get the Vikings back to the top of the 16th region after their worst season since the 2008-2009 season. The Vikings finished 13-16 last season and missed the regional tournament for the first time in 20+ seasons.

With the return of Colby Wilburn (Sr), Dashawn Watson (Sr), and Jayson Ingles (Jr), the Vikings are looking to bounce back in a huge way. With the addition of Lexington Christian Academy transfer Brayden Mirus (Sr), the Vikings are expecting to return to form.

Colby Wilburn led the team last year in scoring with 14.1 points per game. Dashawn Watson averaged 11.1 points per game. Jayson Ingles averaged 10.6 points per game and led the team with 72 made threes.

Brayden Mirus averaged 6.7 points per game last season for LCA. Mirus shot 48.4% from the field last season. Senior F/G, Weston Maxey averaged 8.0 points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game last season for the Vikings.

The biggest question for the Vikings will be their lack of size. They will be very guard oriented. Look for the Vikings to climb back up the mountain and make some moves in the 16th region this season.

6) East Carter Raiders
Coach Cole Brammer is entering his third season as the head coach of the Raiders. Last season the Raiders finished 19-11 and their season ended in the first round of the regional tournament in overtime against the regional runner-up, Boyd County. The young coach led the Raiders to the most wins in thirteen seasons last season. Brammer is hungry for more this season.

The Raiders will be led by a trio of seniors: Evan Goodman, Blake Hall, and Ty Scott. Goodman averaged 15.2 points per game last season and led the team with 67 made threes. Hall averaged 15.2 points per game and 8.6 rebounds per game last year for the Raiders. Scott averaged 11.0 points per game and was second on the team with 44 threes made.

East Carter will compete with anyone in the region this season and look for them to get some upsets and make some noise.

7) Russell Red Devils
Coach Derek Cooksey is entering his 3rd season as the Red Devils head coach. Last season he helped guide the Red Devils to their best season in 10 years. The Red Devils finished 26-7 and lost to Ashland in the semifinals of the regional tournament.

However, this season, the Red Devils will be without Damon Charles. Charles averaged 16.5 points per game and 10.7 rebounds per game last season for the Red Devils. He is now at Shawnee State University.

The good news for Russell is the return of Caleb Rimmer and Elijah Neel. Both Rimmer and Neel were 8th graders last season. Yes, you read that correctly, they were both 8th graders. Caleb Rimmer is six-four and averaged 10.2 points per game and 7.1 rebounds per game. Elijah Neel averaged 6.4 points per game and hit the 2nd most threes on the team last season.

If Rimmer can have a breakout freshman season, and Neel can increase his production, look for Russell to have another good season. They may not reach last season’s win total, but the future is bright for the Red Devils.

8) Raceland Rams
Coach Joe Bryan is entering his third season with the Rams. Many expect the Rams to move their way back to the top half of the region this season.

The reason for optimism around the Rams’ program is the return of Christian Large, Connor Thacker and Jonah Arnett.

Christian Large is entering his senior season and last season he averaged 15.6 points per game and led the team in made threes (68). He will look to improve upon that production this season.

Connor Thacker is a junior this season. Last season, as a sophomore, he averaged 10.7 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game. With Jacob Gauze gone, look for Thacker to increase his rebound numbers this season. Thacker was second on the team with made threes (30).

Jonah Arnett was third on the team in scoring last season. Arnett averaged 8.4 points per game as an 8th grader. Entering his freshman season, look for Arnett to take a huge step forward and have even better production this season.

The question mark for the Rams will be filling the loss of Jacob Gauze. Gauze averaged 8.3 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game last season for the Rams. The Rams are hopeful that senior, Conner Sutton can step in and produce similar or better numbers this season, in place of Gauze. Sutton is six-seven and could really have a big impact for the Rams this season.

Sutton averaged 4.4 points per game and 3.5 rebounds per game last season. With increased production from Sutton and if the combination of Large, Thacker, and Arnett prove to be as good as expected, look for big improvements from the Rams this upcoming season.

9) Bath County Wildcats
The Wildcats of Bath County are entering the season with a new coach, Matthew Perry. Last season the Wildcats went 16-14 and were the 61st district runner-up. The Wildcats’ season ended in a first-round loss in the regional tournament to Lewis County.

Bath County has a huge void to fill. Leading scorer, Zachary Otis (26.9 ppg), has graduated. He was the only double-figure scorer for Bath County last season. With the loss of the all-time leading scorer in Bath County history, the Wildcats have some huge shoes to fill.

There are some reasons for optimism. In spite the Loss of Otis, Bath County returns Montana Brashear, Jayce Smith, and Taylan Sorrell. Brashear averaged 9.1 points per game last season. Taylan Sorrell averaged 8.9 points per game and Jayce Smith averaged 7.0 points per game.

If Brashear, Smith, and Sorrell can all increase production this season, and at least one of the three step in and take on the leadership role of Otis, there is hope for a good season for the Wildcats.

10) Lewis County Lions
Scott Tackett is entering his third season as the head coach of the Lions. Last season, the Lions finished 12-19, won the 63rd district championship. Their season ended in a loss to Boyd County in the 16th regional tournament.

Leading scorer from last season, Trey Gerike (16.4 ppg) has graduated. The Lions are hopeful that junior, Drew Noble, can step up and take over the Lions and lead them to a good season in the ’23-’24 season.

Noble averaged 12.9 points per game and 7.9 rebounds per game last season. For the Lions to repeat as district champions, Noble will need to increase his production and someone will need to step in and join Noble in a big way.

There is hope that senior, Xavier Prater can be just that person. Last season Prater averaged 6.7 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game. For the Lions to repeat as district champions and make noise in the regional tournament, Prater will need to increase that production significantly.

Looking To Surprise The Region

The remaining six teams: Greenup County, Fairview, Menifee County, West Carter, Elliott County, and Rose Hill will be looking for improvements from last season and to surprise the rest of the field in the region. The remaining six are in no particular order.

Rose Hill
The Royals have a new coach, Ryan Whetsel. Whetsel will look to improve upon last season (7-23) as he gets his era started as the head man of Rose Hill.

The good news for Whetsel, is that he will have the two leading scorers return from last season’s team. Christian Blevins and Collin Wilburn are back and are looking for an even better senior season. Blevins averaged 18.5 points per game. Wilburn averaged 14.0 points per game. Blevins led the Royals with 75 made threes. Wilburn was second on the team with 50 made threes.

However, the Royals only have 7 players on the roster, three of which, are 8th graders.

Elliott County
Greg Adkins is entering his 15th season as the head coach of the Lions. Last season was tough. The Lions finished 3-25.

The Lions are a young team with a bright future, if the youngsters will stay together and continue to improve.

Of the Lions’ 13-man roster, 9 players are either freshmen or 8th graders. Nick Martin, Ryland Brickey, and Nathan Sturgill are seniors. Corbin Craft is a junior.

Nathan Sturgill was the team’s second leading scorer last season with 11.0 points per game. Sturgill also led the team in rebounding with 5.6 rebounds per game.

The Lions are expecting big things from freshman Lake Adkins. Adkins led the team in scoring last season as an 8th grader (11.5 ppg). Fellow freshman Elijah Faulkner was 4th on the team in scoring last season (8.5 ppg). With the departure of Kyler Fannin, expect both Adkins and Faulkner to take their games to a next level.

With all the youth and inexperience, expect the Lions to struggle again this season, however, with all the youth they have, watch out, the Lions are poised to be making some serious noise in the 16th region in a couple of seasons.

West Carter
Coach Jeremy Webb is entering his 18th season and the seasoned coach is looking to get the Comets turned around this season. After suffering their worst season in over 20 years, the Comets have some reason for optimism.

The Comets will return their top 4 scorers from last season’s team. Brett Daily (11.7 ppg) and Nathan Webb (11.0 ppg) will look to provide senior leadership while improving on last season’s production. Webb led the team with 54 made threes and shooting 41.5% from beyond the arc.

Junior, Jacob Waddell was third in scoring last season for the Comets, averaging 9.2 points per game. Waddell was second on the team in rebounding, averaging 5.2 rebounds per game.

Fellow junior, Jordan Fuston also returns. Fuston was first on the team in rebounding, averaging 5.9 rebounds per game, while averaging 6.3 points per game.

With another season under their belts and continued improvement, coach Webb and the Comets are looking to improve upon last season’s 7-20 record.

Menifee County
Coach Derrick Robinson is entering his 2nd season. Last year the Wildcats finished 10-20. There could be a vast improvement this season for the Wildcats.

The optimism centers around Brevon Ricker. Entering his junior season, Ricker could eclipse 2,000 career points this season. Last year as a sophomore, Ricker averaged 24.2 points per game and 5.9 rebounds per game. Look for Ricker to improve those numbers this season.

Joining Ricker is Aiden Manley and Jameson Williams. Manely was second on the team in scoring last season (13.2 ppg). Williams was third in scoring (10.7 ppg).

The trio of Ricker, Manely, and Williams could propel Menifee to a much improved season this year. The Menifee County Wildcats will be looking to climb into the top 10 of the region this year.

Clarence Thompson is entering his second season leading the Eagles of Fairview. Last year, the Eagles were almost a .500 team, finishing 15-16.

The Eagles lost leading scorer Tanner Johnson (21.1 ppg) to graduation. However, the Eagles return their second and third leading scorers from last season: Steven Day and Tamel Smith. Both Day and Smith will be seniors this year.

Steven Day averaged 18.0 points per game last season and was third on the team with 52 made threes. Tamel Smith was second on the team making 69 threes last season. Both Smith and Day shot over 40% from beyond the arc last season.

Smith averaged 11.4 points per game, and with the departure of Johnson, look for that average to increase significantly this upcoming season.

The 1-2 punch of Day and Smith should create some exciting moments for the Eagles this season.

Greenup County
Corey Allison is entering his 2nd season leading the Musketeers. Last season Greenup County finished 11-18.

The Musketeers are looking to build off the second half of last season. After starting 3-12, the Musketeers went 8-6 over the final 14 games of the season.

The Musketeers’ leading scorer last season, Carson Wireman (11.7 ppg), has graduated. However, the Mustketeers will look to Cohen Underwood and Eli Adkins to step in and replace that loss.

Underwood and Adkins enter their senior seasons with the spotlight squarely on them. Last season, Underwood averaged 9.8 points per game. Adkins averaged 9.6 points per game last season. Look for both players to average double figures this upcoming season.

Two players to watch this season for the Musketeers are sophomores Kasey Gammon and Bradley Adkins. Last season, Adkins averaged 6.6 points per game and Gammon averaged 5.9 points per game. If these two sophomores can take the next step, the Musketeers could easily slide into the top 10 of the region and compete for a district championship and get back to the regional tournament.

As always, expect some exciting basketball from the 16th region.

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