Warren Central Dragons
Region: 4 Record: 22-8 Enrollment: 1,130
Tim Riley (280-119, 13 years) took Warren Central to six consecutive state tournaments, 2002-2007. The Dragons won the title in 2004 and have reached the semifinals three of their last four trips. Riley also made it to the 1990 tourney as an assistant coach with Holmes.
Jacob King 6-0 sr. 9.5 ppg
Jordan Shanklin 6-0 jr. 9.1 ppg
Troy Halcomb 6-1 sr. 9.3 ppg
Shamarcus Wells 6-3 sr. 7.9 pp
George Fant 6-7 jr. 15.7 ppg
This is a veteran team with six seniors and three juniors making up the top nine players. The Dragons' strengths are down-and-dirty basics: defense and rebounds. Defense, most often, is man-to-man and pressing. "We've only been outrebounded four times all year long," Riley said. "Since the new year, we've been outrebounding our opponents by about eight a game." That has helped offset poor free-throw shooting (57.2 percent). George Fant, a 6-foot-7 junior, leads Central with 15.7 points and 8.4 rebounds a game. Riley said multiple mid-majors have made offers to Fant; some majors have shown interest, but not offered. Jacob King, Troy Halcomb and Jordan Shanklin each average just over nine points. Shamarcus Wells adds 7.9 points and 7.2 rebounds. Central went 5-5 while Shanklin was sidelined because of a stress fracture. Since his return, the Dragons are 17-3.
Brother vs. brother
Senior guard Troy Halcomb shares a bedroom with his brother Tyson. Nothing unusual about that — except that Tyson plays for archrival Bowling Green, the team Warren Central defeated in double overtime for the regional title. According to Riley, the Halcombs live close to the school district boundary and had the option of choosing schools. Troy, who is a year ahead of Tyson, made his decision when he enrolled in middle school.
Player to watch
Halcomb earned MVP honors in the 4th Region Tournament. "He tends to guard the other team's best player," Riley said. "He played the point guard; he plays the two guard. He had 13 rebounds in the regional championship game. He's kind of been our team leader. ... Everybody knows about Shanklin and Fant, but the guy not getting the attention he deserves is Halcomb."
Warren Central will be making its 11th State Tournament appearance. The Dragons won the title in 2004 and finished as runner-up the next year.
East Carter Raiders
Region: 16 Record: 23-5 Enrollment: 810
Brandon Baker (124-75, seven years) will be coaching his 200th career game Thursday. He was a sophomore point guard on East Carter's only other state tournament team, in 1986, coached by his father Charlie Baker. Brandon Baker, who went on to play for Eastern Kentucky, still holds the East Carter record for assists (331) and ranks second in scoring (1,538).
Colt Barnhill 6-7 sr. 20.1 ppg
Kyle Bair 6-2 sr. 10.8 ppg
Caleb Adams 5-9 sr. 7.7 ppg
Tyler Clay 6-3 jr. 3.7 ppg
Dylan Genung 6-0 so. 5.1 ppg
Predominantly man-to-man on defense, the Raiders have held their last 10 opponents to 56 points or less, and have not yielded more than 49 points in a post-season game. Baker said his team, which has a six-game winning streak, also will "press at various times throughout the game just to break the rhythm." Offensively, East Carter is controlled but opportunistic, the coach said. "We run when the opportunity's there. When it's not there, we're a quarter-court type of team because one of our better players is a 6-7 forward-center, Colt Barnhill. So if we don't get anything early, we like to get in the offense and let him touch the ball, let our offense run through him."
Player to watch
Colt Barnhill, a 6-foot-7 senior, is Player of the Year in the 16th Region. Said Baker: "He's not just your back-to-the-basket post player. He can play out on the floor a little bit, has a good skill set. Has a pretty good future in basketball at the next level." According to Baker, Barnhill is intrigued by attention he's getting from the Air Force Academy. Many of the in-state schools are interested, he added, including Northern Kentucky and Georgetown.
East Carter's only other tournament appearance came in 1986, falling to Tilghman in the opening round.