It’s basketball time in the Bluegrass, and there’s no better feeling in the world. The 2022-23 Kentucky high school basketball season officially began across the state on Monday night, highlighted by a big win from UK commit Reed Sheppard and No. 3 North Laurel against No. 7 Lexington Catholic. With the season underway, we’re continuing our region-by-region preview series. Today we’re checking out Regions 5 and 6.
- Highlighted numbers in parentheses are what the team is ranked in the entire state, according to KSR’s rankings created by Troy (@teeroyhowell) and Clark Howell (@rezinc).
- My rankings take into account The Cats’ Pause Preseason Top 10 and the BluegrassPreps.com Preseason rankings for each region.
Region 5 Preview
2021-22 champion: John Hardin
The Byrdwell Pre-Season Top 8
1. Elizabethtown – E-Town enjoyed back-to-back champions before being dethroned in the regional final in OT last season to end their reign. The Panthers will look to regain power in one of the most balanced regions in the state. They will be led by the 6-8 (checks notes) JUNIOR Ayden Evans in the post. Evans is a four-star prospect according to On3 and has offers from Missouri, West Virginia, Texas A&M, and Seton Hall while also receiving interest from Louisville. He is my pick for preseason player of the year in the region, as I expect him to only climb from his last season averages of 12.4 points and nearly eight rebounds per game.
The big man will be flanked by brothers Jaquan and Jujuan Williams who transfered in from District 17 rival North Hadin. Jujuan averaged 7.5 points for the Trojans last year, but will used in a larger role within the E-Town offense. When asked about the inexperience of his guards, head coach James Haire said, “The difficulties of our upcoming season will be to find leadership especially from the guard position.” If all of the pieces come together for the Panthers, there is little doubt they are one of the favorites to come out of the 17th District again.
2. Central Hardin – The other heavy hitter within the 17th District is head coach Matt Nickell’s Bruins. This may be the most talented team that has ever represented Central Hardin. Extremely talented junior Brett Decker (who is committed to Liberty) will look to bring the Bruins their first-ever regional title. Decker led all of Region 5 with 22.3 points per game last season as a sophomore. It won’t all fall on him though, as he will be joined by F Jakob Fredrickson and SG Ace Jaggers. The Bruins may be the most talented team in the entire region, and they could easily be the number one team by December.
3. Washington County – Beau Baker leads the District 19 favorites with plenty of talent returning alongside him. The junior was as close to averaging a double-double as you can be last season (15 pts and 9.7 rbs), and will only get better in his third year. Head coach Stephen Woodson will be delighted to return a combined 23 points with juniors Kamar Phillips and Noah Reynolds. Not only do the Commanders return a ton, but they also added guard Riley Brown from Thomas Nelson. I expect Washington County to contend for the 19th District championship, and have a chance at making it back to Rupp Arena for the first time since 1985.
4. Bethlehem – This is Casey Steadmon’s team, there is no doubt about that. The question lies in how much a team that went 14-14 in the 19th District and lost to a good Thomas Nelson squad last season in the district semifinals can improve. The good news for head coach Jordan Cooper-Livers and Eagles faithful is that they return all of their roster. Not only does this include Steadmon, but also Hayden and Nicholas Osborne who combined to average 24 points a season ago. The Eagles will be Washington County’s biggest test to take the 19th District this season.
5. Larue County – Head coach Paul Childress’s Hawks have mowed through the rest of the 18th District over the past few seasons. However, they have yet to capture the regional championship since 1988. The trio of Carson Childress, Daniel Allen, and Jaxon Thomas give the Hawks a great chance of continuing their domination of the 18th. Childress averaged a smooth 15.3 points per game while making 87 threes at 39.5 percent. He has a serious chance of breaking the 100 threes in a single season threshold that was only reached by four players last season.
6. Taylor County – The Cardinals boasted a solid 19-12 record a season ago before falling to eventual champion Campbellsville by 20 points in the 20th District final. They were the overwhelming favorite to avenge that loss this season until Mason Duffey unfortunately tore his ACL. The timetable for the injury is unknown, but it seems as though there is a chance the 18-point-per-game scorer can return. Going through an injury like that is awful especially for a high school student, so all good wishes to the senior! Sophomore Layken Lyons will be tasked with stepping up from the guard position. Lyons averaged 15 points a game as a freshman, so his raw talent is up with the best of the 20th District.
7. Bardstown – The Tigers of Bardstown have represented the 19th District in the regional tournament every year since 2011 (Trivia Question: Who last won the district not named Bardstown?). The domination that head coach James “Boo” Brewer has led the Tigers to cements him as one of the best coaches in the region. “Boo” is best known around the commonwealth for his knockdown three-point shooting for the Louisville Cardinals from 1988-1993. He will now be hoping to lead Bardstown back to Rupp Arena for the first time since 2014. The Tigers will be led by senior shooting guard Grant Bowling this season.
8. North Hardin – Michael Baffour has been tasked with being the new head coach after a forfeit against Bardstown. “The North Hardin boys’ basketball season is complete,” North Hardin principal Jeff Maysey explained after the scuffle in February of this year. “With a tradition of success comes a tradition of high expectations.” Baffour has been given the keys to a program that was embarrassed at the end of last season, luckily he will have junior guard Taveon Smith to shoulder some of the pressure that comes with the new job. The Trojans are not only looking for a great season on the court, but also to build a great culture.
Region 6 Preview
2021-22 champion: Jeffersontown
The Byrdwell Pre-Season Top 8
1. Evangel Christian (#10) – Cyr Malonga may have a case for being one of the best bigs not only in the region, but in the entire state. The Eastern Carolina commit who stands at an impressive 6-11 will control the post for the Eagles, and will bring a much sought after rebounding presence. Malonga was born in Pointe Noire, Congo, and made his way to the Bluegrass in 2020. He’ll play alongside junior ball-handler Kyran Tilley, who averaged 11.2 points per game as a freshman. Tilley transferred in from Male and has seen a much larger role with the Eagles, boasting a solid 41 percent from three-point land.
Head coach Larry Miller has all the talent in the world to bring Evangel Christian their first ever regional title. They were able to bring home the 23rd District title last season. The Eagles fell to Doss on March 3rd of this year to fall short of making the Cinderella run. However, It is not far-fetched to say that the Eagles may be one of the favorites to not only win the 6th Region, but to make it to the Final Four in Rupp.
2. Western (#14) – The Western Warriors return an almost complete starting five that went 23-5 last season. This includes all-region and leading scorer Trent Hinkle, 6-6 Julius Edmonds, Ondre Wicks, and post monster Jayden Miles. The biggest loss for the Warriors is Kaden Magwood, who transferred to national powerhouse Oak Hill Academy — the alma-mater of Rajon Rondo, Doron Lamb, Keldon Johnson, and Chris Livingston. However, head coach Brandon Britt will look to summer standout and sophomore Elijah Clinton to fill Magwood’s role.
The Warriors enter the 22-23 season with talent that can match the best in the entire region. My pick for the biggest standout for Western is the aforementioned Julius Edmonds. Being 6-6 as a sophomore is impressive in its own right, but Edmonds averaging 13 points and eight rebounds as a freshman speaks volumes. The Warriors will look to run through the 22nd District and take J-Town’s crown.
3. Pleasure Ridge Park – It’s all about the seniors for the PRP Panthers this season. They return an all-region selection in senior Keith Robinson, who averaged an impressive 17 points and nearly six rebounds a game last season. The guard/wing role will be filled by Mali Hamilton and Greg Cole. Cole is known for his ability to make shots from behind the arc, making 34 last season at a 41 percent clip. The Panthers will look to capture the 21st district title.
4. Iroquois – The 22nd District may be the most crowded district in the 6th region. One of the talented squads vying for the title will be the Iroquois Raiders. The Raiders have a great mix of talent, experience, and coaching. Since head coach Jeff Morrow took over for Michael Stinnett in 2012, the Raiders have become a steady challenger in the 22nd District. However, they have yet to enjoy success in the district tournament. This is Morrow’s best chance to do so, as the Raiders return dynamic duo Jordan Williamson (12.7 points per game) and Jamir Ford (12.3 points per game).
5. Jeffersontown – The defending champions feel they are getting no respect from the media. The Chargers lost most of the core that brought them to Rupp Arena last season. Head coach Richard Duncan Jr. will look to return the Chargers to dominance. Seniors Xavier Price and Brandon Gatewood will be called upon to take giant leaps forward. With both getting the keys to a Cadillac, the Charger faithful should be confident that a return is possible. J-Town are the favorite to come out of the 24th District this season, just as it did in 2021-22.
6. DeSales – The DeSales Colts are a tough team to predict in the 6th Region. They are led by head coach Damien Anderson and Liberty Flames commit Will Gibson, along with Brady Cummins and Crew Gibson. Cummins is a surgical scorer, as his percentages from free throw (90 percent), field goal (54 percent), and behind the arc (49 percent) are all well above average. However, the Colts’ main attraction is the aforementioned Gibson. The junior averaged 15 points and almost eight rebounds last season and will only continue to develop under Coach Anderson.
7. Doss – The Dragons are transitioning between former head coach Blake Stone and new hire Zach Allender from Nelson County. But, after a season that included a 22nd District championship and an appearance in the regional championship, optimism is high. Marcus Baker will look to lead the Dragons in scoring, as he averaged 10 points last season with 55 made three-pointers. They may struggle early on but watch for a late-season run from Doss.
8. Fairdale – Dalton Hicks leads a Bulldogs team that is chalk-full of juniors. Hicks scored 19 points per game and Jakob Tucker added 17.5 points to that to combine for a dangerous Bulldogs offense. Head coach David Hicks will look for production from the rest of his squad to form a team that can score with the best of the 21st district.