Whitesburg KY
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The ‘real’ high school season is near

Kentucky’s high school basketball teams have been allowed to play regular season games since the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend, but most fans and school officials don’t really consider hoop season in full stride until the KHSAA state football playoffs have been finished. Now that the gridiron sport has crowned its six new champions (special note: eight of the 12 participants on football’s championship weekend were traditional rich and/or private schools), the basketball-hungry fans across the Commonwealth can now settle in and start following their teams’ efforts toward a trip to Rupp Arena and March Madness in 2008.

There’s only one problem – because of injuries, player defections over the summer, and the extra week of football, it’s going to be a while before the top-level teams are in prime form and basketball shape.

For example, over in the 13th Region Corbin’s fine 6’4″ junior Josh Crawford is nursing a knee injury and word is he won’t be healthy until early to mid January. His services will raise the Redhounds to a much higher level of play. Already in this young season there’s one very obvious item of note to me, you might want to keep your eye on a couple small Class A schools in Cumberland and Pineville. They will be in the hunt in this region. No longer will South Laurel be a level above everyone in the 13th.

Jackson County is another school that has a lot of raw physical talent if it can ever put it all together. Knox Central is another school to keep an eye on with Cody Miller leading the charge. Middlesboro raised a few eyebrows with its summer AAU play as well. Clay County is young at some positions, but it’s still Clay County and has a certain mystique about it, especially in Manchester.

Bell County lost its coach Eddie Whitaker and his son, Josh, a very impressive sophomore point guard, to Hazard in the off season. Lewis Morris returns to Bell County as its new head coach and should have the Bobcats competing well by March.

In the 14th Region the injury bug has stung the Letcher Central Cougars by putting its best all-around player, 6’3″ junior Charlie Banks, on the sidelines. With Banks out it’s really not fair to put a spin on where LCC will fall in the pecking order yet.

Breathitt County and Coach Steve Banks had a turnaround year last winter going 21-4, and had high hopes going into the off season returning four starters from that team, but a couple player defections out of town has put a little bit of a damper on the Bobcats entering 2007-08. The Bobcats football team had another deep run into the playoffs, which forced some last minute creative schedule changes and now Breathitt’s first game isn’t until mid December. The two transfers, Nick Noble to Owsley County and Josh Salyers to Jackson City, plus the schedule changes will put the Bobcats a little late into the season before their team really gels into a unit.

Hazard and June Buchanan have the most raw physical basketball talent on their two teams, but they don’t play each other in the regular season. However don’t worry, between the WYMT Mountain Classic and the 14th Region All A Classic these two teams have a good chance of meeting several times before March.

Perry Central and its new coach Allan Hatcher haven’t been immune from problems either. Junior guards Jacob Watts and Demetri Travis, two mainstays in the Commodores’ guard rotation last year, will not get to play in 2007-08. Watts was to undergo ACL surgery Dec. 11 and Travis has decided to concentrate on his football career in the weight room this winter. That leaves freshman Eric Back and sophomore Jordan Amis to run the point for Allan Hatcher, which is a very important role in Hatcher’s offense.

In the 15th Region it looks early like another tough and bitter run to the end between Shelby Valley and Paintsville. Both teams have plenty of offensive firepower, depth, and experience to lean on. With the 15th Regional tournament set for the East Kentucky Exposition Center again, there is no home court advantage for either of these two powerhouses. Like in the 14th Region, these two regional front runners don’t play in the regular season but should clash at least once in the 15th Region All A Classic regional held at Betsy Layne. Two teams to keep an eye on as possible dark horse candidates by March are Pikeville and Allen Central.

Listed below are a few other random notes and observations from the first two weeks for the mountain high school basketball fan to ponder:

• The Wayne Supply WYMT Mountain Classic will be held at Knott County Central’s Morton Combs Athletic Complex Jan. 8- 12. The pairings are: Jan. 8, 6:30 p.m. June Buchanan vs. Knox Central; 8:15 p.m. Breathitt County vs. Pikeville. Jan. 9, 6:30 Knott Central vs. Cumberland; 8:15 Hazard vs. Clay County. Jan 10, losers’ bracket games 6:30 and 8:15. Jan. 11, winners’ bracket semifinals 7:00 and 8:45. Jan. 12. finals losers’ bracket 3:30, third place 7:00, championship game 8:45. Friday and Saturday games are televised live by WYMT Channel 57 except for 3:30 game on Saturday.

• One of the better nights of high school basketball this season will take place this Friday, Dec. 14, at Clay County with the annual Bobby Keith Classic. June Buchanan and Lexington Catholic will hook up in the first game at 6:30 p.m. with the host school Clay County battling defending state champ Scott County in the nightcap at approximately 8:15.

• Congratulations to 14th Region referee Tommy Hutton. He was notified by All A Classic state tournament officials last week that he has been selected to officiate the 2007-08 tournament at Eastern Kentucky University again. Hutton is also believed to be only one game shy of having the record for calling the most state tournament championship games at the Sweet 16 in Rupp Arena. He has called seven over his illustrious career, one short of the legendary Burney Jenkins of Georgetown.

• Two early season candidates for most improved players of the year are 6’5″ junior Josh Jones of Hazard and 6’2″ sophomore Chris Noble of Perry Central. Jones was a part-time starter for Hazard last year and Noble came off the bench a few times. However, both are definite main cogs for their respective teams in the early going of 2007-08. Clay Maggard, a 6’4″ forward/center, is another impressive newcomer on the Commodore scene this season.

• The sophomore class across the mountains is full of top-level talent this year. Here are a few that are worth a trip to the old high school gym to watch this winter: Josh Whitaker, Hazard; Stuart Stamper, Knott Central; Tate Cox, June Buchanan; Ashley Hatfield and Elisha Justice, Shelby Valley.

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