What do you get when you return four starters from a team that lost to the eventual state champions in 2017? Your preseason favorite to win it all in 2018.
Aside from departing senior Cooper Watts, Scott County has its entire starting lineup back for the 2017-18 boys’ high school basketball season. The Cardinals edged Trinity as the coaches’ preseason favorite to win the 101st Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen come March. Division I signee Cooper Robb (Charlotte) could end up in the Mr. Basketball discussion this year while Michael Moreno, a junior, will definitely be in the 2019 mix.
The Herald-Leader’s preseason rankings were derived from ballots submitted by coaches during an annual survey. A total of 94 schools returned surveys to the Herald-Leader, but some schools who participated declined to vote due to unfamiliarity with players and teams outside of their own. A complete list of schools that returned surveys is below.
Preseason Top 25 teams
(Team’s 2016-17 record in parentheses)
1. Scott County (31-6): Not only did the Cardinals return 89 percent of their scoring from a season ago, but they added Diablo Stewart, a junior who averaged 18.5 points at Franklin County last year. Kobi Harris, a 6-foot-1 junior, and Jalen Barber, a 6-7 sophomore, also should start seeing more varsity action for the defending 11th Region champion.
2. Trinity (29-4): Starting in 2012 when it won the state title, Trinity has alternated winning the 7th Region with Ballard. If the Shamrocks win this season that pattern will hold, and it will afford them an opportunity to make a better impression than their most-recent state-tournament appearance (a 48-33 defeat to Newport Central Catholic in the first round in 2016).
3. Covington Catholic (29-6): One of the Colonels’ only losses last year was to Cooper, with whom it’s expected to battle for the 9th Region crown again come March. CJ Fredrick, a Mr. Basketball contender who’s signed with Iowa, is the torch-bearer for CovCath but Jake Walters (Xavier) is a steady force in the post.
4. Fern Creek (35-3): Head coach James Schooler said that his team has “tunnel vision to a state title.” The Tigers boast 10 seniors, among them Ahmad Price and Anthony Wales, the former a point guard with Division I athleticism and the latter a Samford signee who will contend for Mr. Basketball recognition.
5. Ballard (29-7): The Bruins’ two leading scorers from last season graduated, but they remain a preseason favorite thanks to four of the next five 2016-17 scorers being part of a senior class that goes seven deep this season. Marshon Ford, also a football standout, led the returnees with 8.4 points and shot 35 percent from three-point territory.
6. Lexington Christian (23-9): LCA’s front court features a Division I signee in Carter Hendricksen (North Florida), a junior who will go Division I in Kyle Rode and senior Austin Hall, who’s headed to Cumberlands next season. The Eagles are one of the biggest teams in the state, an advantage not just in playing for an 11th Region title but also when vying for their first All “A” Classic championship.
7. Cooper (31-5): The Jaguars set the bar high in their first trip to the Sweet Sixteen, where they fell to Bowling Green in a battle of potential first-time champs last season. Gone are three seniors, including Dante Hendrix (now playing football at Indiana State) and Sean McNeil, the Jags’ leading scorer and rebounder.
8. Hopkinsville (28-7): Jalen Johnson, who led the Tigers with 17.7 points as a junior, left the school for Aspire Academy in Louisville but reportedly rejoined the team a few weeks before the season began and is listed on the team’s roster filed with the KHSAA. Assuming Johnson plays, he and Steven “Shorty” Cager (15.9 ppg last year) give Hoptown one of the most entertaining backcourts in the state.
9. Pleasure Ridge Park (18-11): Trey Hill, who’s been offered by Eastern Kentucky University, leads a deep group that lost just two seniors to graduation, but might not have Bryant Robinson, the team’s second-leading scorer from a year ago who in the fall was uncertain he would return to the team because he wanted to focus on earning a football scholarship.
10. Clark County (20-13): The Cardinals won 20 games for the first time since 2011-12 under first-year head coach Josh Cook last season. Cook believes four or more players on this year’s squad could average double-figure scoring; three — Ryan Cooper, Jordan Graham and Will Philpot — did it last season.
Coaches’ next 15: 11. Lexington Catholic (24-9), 12. John Hardin (23-11), 13. Bowling Green (36-2), 14. Corbin (27-6), 15. Adair County (32-2), 16. Pulaski County (27-8), 17. Mercer County (25-8), 18. Madison Central (19-15), 19. Christian County (27-8), 20. Oldham County (26-6), 21. Paul Laurence Dunbar (21-9), 22. Walton-Verona (26-7), 23. Southwestern (24-6), 24. University Heights (13-15), 25. Anderson County (21-12)
Schools that returned surveys: Adair County, Allen County-Scottsville, Apollo, Atherton, Ballard Memorial, Bath County, Berea, Bourbon County, Bowling Green, Boyle County, Breathitt County, Brown, Bryan Station, Buckhorn, Burgin, Carlisle County, Christian Academy of Louisville, Christian County, Clark County, Cooper, Corbin, Covington Catholic, Daviess County, DeSales, Eastern, Eminence, Estill County, Fern Creek, Fleming County, Floyd Central, Frankfort, Franklin County, Frederick Douglass, Garrard County, Glasgow, Graves County, Harrison County, Henry Clay, Heritage Academy, Holmes, Hopkins County Central, Hopkinsville, Iroquois, Jackson County, John Hardin, Johnson Central, Knox Central, Lafayette, Leslie County, Letcher County Central, Lexington Catholic, Lexington Christian, Louisville Holy Cross, Madison Central, Madison Southern, Mason County, McClean County, McCracken County, Mercer County, Metcalfe County, Middlesboro, Model, Newport Central Catholic, Oldham County, Owensboro Catholic, Paris, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Pendleton County, Perry County Central, Pineville, Portland Christian, Powell County, Rockcastle County, Rowan County, Sayre, Scott County, Shelby Valley, Sheldon Clark, Somerset, South Oldham, Southwestern, Spencer County, St. Patrick, St. Xavier, Tates Creek, Trinity, Waggener, Walton-Verona, Wayne County, Western Hills, Whitefield Academy, Whitesville Trinity, Williamsburg, Wolfe County, Woodford County