Letcher County Central Cougars coach Robert Hammonds agrees that the 14th Region is going to be a strong and very competitive region this season.
Defending regional champion Perry County Central, 25-6 last year after losing 68-58 to Wayne County in last March’s opening round of the Sweet Sixteen, is the preseason choice as the team to beat this season in the 14th. The Commodores return a trio of solid, experienced players in senior guards Kyle Huff and Trevor Combs, and in 6-6 sophomore center Dalton Cornett. The ‘Dores also return the darling of last year’s state tournament action in 8th grade fireplug guard Braxton Beverly.
Perry Central will be strongly challenged this season by three other teams, Buckhorn, Letcher County Central and Hazard.
Buckhorn, 19-7 last year, will be led by the region’s top preseason player in 6-7 senior Matt Day, who averaged 27 points per game and 13 rebounds last year. Four other starters also return.
Hazard, 16-12 last year, will be led by 6-3 senior B.J. Combs, who will be joined by junior forwards Jordan Olinger and Evan Whitaker. The ‘Dogs may struggle in the backcourt.
Knott County Central is expected to be a strong contender despite being very young. The Patriots, 19-10 last year, got richer when 6-1 freshman guard Cameron Justice transferred in from East Ridge where he averaged 20 points last season. The Patriots will be led by senior guards Zack Davis and Seth Adams with the inside size being provided by freshmen Evan Hall and Simon Christian.
Letcher County Central, 21-12 last year, lost just one starter to graduation.
“ We only lost Brian Roark, which was a big hit for us because he was our leading scorer,” said Coach Hammonds. “But with so many kids coming back that have experience, I feel like we should be in the mix again like we were last year — there at the end.”
The Cougars return two of the top players in the region in seniors Logan Johnson, a 6- 2 guard/ forward, and 6-6 center Koree Steward. Also returning are two other starters in junior point guard Cody Gregory, perhaps the glue to the team’s success, and senior 6-4 forward Kendall Ballou, who has outstanding athleticism. The fifth starter will come from the duo of 6-4 senior Matt Boggs and 6-4 junior Matt Neace.
“I feel like with the experience coming back and because we’ve got a good sized team with kids that have been in big games, we hope to do well this year,” Hammonds said.
Hammonds says this year’s depth will come from sophomores Sam Robinson, Josh Boggs, Chippy Frazier, Dylan Kincer, Max Hall, Cody Sexton and Josh Owens.
“I’ll be real honest with you,” said Hammonds. “I think we’ve got some sophomores that are very talented. This is a real good group that I’m going to rely heavily on and who will probably play some major minutes for us this year.”
In recognition of his returning talent, experience and size, Hammonds has upgraded this year’s schedule. The Cougars will take on highly regarded West Jessamine in Rupp Arena on Dec. 11, Montgomery County in the Joe B. Hall Clas- sic on January 21, and Oldham County at Jackson on Feb. 4. The Cougars will also travel to Florida next month and then participate in the WYMT Classic in January.
The Cougars’ first preseason scrimmage will be against Leslie County at home on Saturday. The Letcher County middle schools will also be playing Saturday afternoon at LCCHS.
LCCHS’ final scrimmage will be next Wednesday (Nov. 23) at Wolfe County High School against Lexington Catholic at 12:30 p.m.