Region: 16th Record: 28-6 Enrollment: 696
Mark Starns (168-117 in 10 seasons overall) is in his first season with the Panthers. He led Johnson Central to the Sweet Sixteen in 2006, and also coached at Burgin and Henderson County.
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Player Height Class Points
Darion Burns 5-11 Jr. 17.3
Austin Crisp 6-1 Jr. 10.9
Desmond McAdams 6-3 Sr. 3.5
Troy Steward 6-4 Jr. 18.4
Brady Saunders 6-1 Jr. 10.6
Fleming County has what Starns calls "deceptive speed," with the athleticism to create matchup problems for opponents. Atop that list is Burns. "Darion is the heart and soul of our team," Starns said. "Our kids wait for him to start taking games over." The Panthers are quick and shoot well, but, Starns said, "it's been our pressure defense that's won us most of our basketball games. We've been able to adapt to different styles of play."
Not his first rodeo
At 51, Starns is doing the same thing his father Tommy did at the same age — taking a team to the state tournament. Tommy Starns directed Lexington Catholic to the 1985 tourney. In addition to an extensive high school coaching résumé, Mark Starns' experience includes time as the Boston Celtics' video coordinator (1997-2001). He estimates he broke down game film of 1,600 NBA games over four years. "I saw a lot of good stuff that I kept in my ol' memory bank," he says.
Player to watch
Troy Steward's cousin is former Mr. Basketball and Mason County/Tennessee standout Chris Lofton. "He's becoming more multi-dimensional, not only as a shooter, but he has become somewhat more aggressive going to the basket," Starns said of Steward. "Chris has worked with Troy. Chris even worked with this team over the summer while they were in limbo (looking for a coach). ... Troy can shoot like his cousin Chris; Chris is probably a little bit better shooter. Chris has been on him about playing with more heart and being more aggressive. That's been good for Troy, hearing that not only from me but from his cousin Chris."
This marks Fleming County's fourth state tournament appearance, and its first since 1999. The Panthers are 2-3 all-time.
Region: 5th Record: 28-3 Enrollment: 1,012
Mark Wells is 107-37 in five seasons at John Hardin. He was an assistant for 11 seasons, including 2006, when the Bulldogs reached the Sweet Sixteen. A native of southern Indiana, he played at Oakland City University.
Player Height Class Points
Brandon Price 5-9 Sr. 17.8
Daveon Greene 6-3 Sr. 17.7
Keon Williams 6-4 Jr. 12.7
Patrick Anderson 5-10 Jr. 10.8
Ricky Burns 6-4 Sr. 1.9
With four starters averaging double-digit scoring, the Bulldogs present problems for opposing defenses. "Our strength is our speed and quickness," Wells said. "We're fairly athletic and we get up and down the floor, pushing the ball." What John Hardin lacks in size, it makes up for with moxie. Greene averages just under seven rebounds a game. Williams — who has drawn interest from Belmont, Virginia Commonwealth and College of Charleston — adds 5.6. "It's going to be a tough (opening) game for us," Wells said. "Fleming County is very talented."
Persistence pays off
Ricky Burns barely made the team as a freshman, the last player picked. Then, he was cut his sophomore year, and was the last jayvee player chosen last year. "He didn't play much," Wells said. "... Just kept coming back to the gym and really worked hard, and ends up starting on our championship team." Burns is brother-in-law to New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker.
Player to watch
Point guard Brandon Price is the fuel in the Bulldogs' tank. He tied a 5th Region record when he poured in 37 points in last year's finals, and he had 32 in this season's region semifinals. "He's our leader. He makes us go," Wells said. "Just an exciting player to watch. He's been a three-year starter. Leads the team in scoring and in assists." Wells says several small colleges are interested, including Bellarmine and Transylvania.
John Hardin is making its second straight tourney appearance and third overall. The Bulldogs are 1-2 overall, having won in last year's first round.
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Mike Fields: You never know at the state tournament
Sweet Sixteen tournament bracket
Pre-season team, player ratings
Game 1 (Noon, Wed.): Wayne Co. vs. Madison Central
Game 2 (1:30 pm, Wed.): Holmes vs. PRP
Game 3 (6:30 pm, Wed.): Graves Co. vs. Ohio Co.
Game 4 (8 pm, Wed.): Hopkinsville vs. South Oldham
Game 5 (Noon, Thu.): Warren Central vs. Montgomery Co.
Game 6 (1:30 pm, Thu.): Fleming Co. vs. John Hardin
Game 7 (6:30 pm, Thu.): Johnson Central vs. Ballard
Game 8 (8 pm, Thu.): Knott Co. Central vs. Clay Co.
Region players and coaches of the year
Past boys' Sweet Sixteen champions