The Letcher County Central Cougars open their new basketball season tomorrow (Thursday) night at home against a good East Ridge team — even after the transfer late this summer of highly regarded 6’8” senior forward Ray Kasongo to Pikeville.
The Warriors graduated two seniors off last year’s 19-13 squad. Talented 6’0” sophomore guard Johnny Miller leads a team loaded with perimeter players, which means the Warriors may struggle to score and defend in the paint with the loss of Kasongo. The Cougars, who scrimmaged Pikeville this past Saturday and struggled to contain Kasongo, will face him for real when Pikeville visits on February 5.
The Cougars’ inside game is relatively inexperienced this year and rebounding and defending in the paint will be a learning experience for sophomore Zane Blair and juniors Josh Owens and Dylan Kincer. However, the trio have some size and talent. All three are in the 6’4” range with Blair appearing to be the only ‘banger.’ Kincer and Owens appear to be more comfortable facing the basketball and both can score if left open, and that should open up opportunities for senior point guard Cody Gregory to get to the basketball where he can be very effective.
The Cougars travel to Jenkins next Tuesday (December 4) to take on what should be a much improved Cavaliers team led by seniors Kody Sexton and Casey Hall. Both were double figure scorers last season. Juniors Jordan Bentley and Donald Quillen are returning baseline players with sophomore Randy Potter returning at guard.
In the Lexington Herald-Leader Top 25 Preseason Poll released last week, the 14th Region received good recognition with Perry County Central ranked 14th, and Knott County Central, the defending regional champ, ranked 19. The Commodores are still waiting for Sheldon Clark transfer Justin Johnson, a 6’7” junior and one of the hardest working kids on either end of the floor, to become eligible. PCCHS returns ample talent with freshman guard Braxton Beverly and 6’6” senior, Dalton Cornett.
Knott County Central, despite losing a lot of scoring and leadership in Zack Davis, returns four talented sophomores led by 6’2” guard Cameron Justin, Chance Cornett, Simon Christian and Evan Hall. Justice just may develop into the best guard to come out of eastern Kentucky since Bob Tallent at Maytown in the 1960s.
Both Justice and Johnson were selected as two of the top-25 players in the preseason by the Herald-Leader.
In the opinion of the 14th Region coaches, Perry County Central and Knott County Central are deserving of their statewide recognition, but their preseason vote for the team most likely to be playing in Rupp Arena in March is Breathitt County. The Bobcats return both size and scoring in seniors Alex Hamilton, 6’7”, Bobby Fraley and junior 6’5” Wesley Noble.
Joining this mix will be experienced seniors Richard Trent and Ryan Cox. The homestanding Cougars inflicted one of the Bobcats’ six losses last season in early December, but after that Breathitt County lost just twice, with the last one coming in the regional semifinals.
The team that could surprise the most just may turn out to be Hazard. The Bulldogs return a lot of perimeter experience and with the transfer of 6’5” junior Christopher Hudson and the return of 6’3” senior Jordan Olinger, the Bulldogs will match up on the inside with nearly everyone.