Unfortunately for Lexington basketball fans eagerly awaiting the end of Scott County’s monopoly on Georgetown’s talent pool, Great Crossing High School won’t open until the 2019-20 school year.
That makes Scott County, the defending champion from the 11th Region, an easy pick to repeat in the region this season. The Cardinals, who have four of their five starters back from last season’s run to the state quarterfinals and have added Diablo Stewart, the leading scorer at Franklin County over the last two seasons, were a unanimous No. 1 selection by the region’s coaches.
The Cardinals, ranked No. 1 statewide in the preseason, will trot out four players who averaged double-figure scoring last season: Michael Moreno (21.8 points), Stewart (18.5), Cooper Robb (14.9) and Bryce Long (11.8). While Moreno, who has received a scholarship offer from Iowa, is only a junior, the Cards do have a potential Mr. Basketball candidate this season in Robb, a three-sport standout who’s signed to play at Charlotte under Mark Price.
Tabbed behind Scott County are Lexington Christian and Lexington Catholic, respectively, ranked sixth and 11th overall in the state. Madison Central, ranked 18th in the state, is fourth in the 11th Region preseason rankings.
Henry Clay is considered the favorite among Fayette County public schools, who were Nos. 5-10 in the 11th Region rankings. Dunbar, the city’s strongest public school the past two seasons, was ranked fifth among those programs in the region but 21st in the statewide rankings, a credit to the reputation it has built. The addition of Frederick Douglass, ranked eighth in its debut, should provide even more intrigue in a city built on basketball.
Names to follow
Troy Amanor, Western Hills: Wolverines Coach Geoff Cody thinks Amanor ranks among the best players in the 11th Region. The 6-foot-6 senior forward led the Wolverines with 14.1 points (on 51.2 percent shooting) and 8.2 rebounds last season. “He has a nice touch from the outside for a big man,” Cody said. “... I am excited to see what he’s going to do this season.” Amanor is on pace to score 1,000 points in his career.
Eric “Boss” Boone, Bryan Station: Boone, a senior who led the Defenders with 14 points per game last season, was featured last season on SportsCenter’s Top 10 thanks to a half-court heave that upset Lexington Christian at the buzzer. He said he and his friends still watch that frequently. “I never thought it would come,” Boone said. “ ... That’s still big homie. It was just so much excitement.”
Keaston Brown, Henry Clay: A shoulder injury halted a promising sophomore season for the son of Henry Clay head coach Daniel Brown, who’s in his 12th year leading the Blue Devils. Keaston, a 6-foot-1 guard, missed the AAU season but grew a couple inches and put on about 25 pounds of muscle in the offseason. “He’s come off of it pretty well,” said Daniel.
Isaiah Cozart, Madison Central: Indians head coach Allen Feldhaus said, “I have never seen a player in my 32 years of coaching that can control a game on the defense end” like Cozart, a 6-foot-8 junior who set a KHSAA single-season record with 216 blocked shots in 2016-17. EKU and Winthrop have offered the Indians’ big man.
Jared Gadd, Paul Laurence Dunbar: With JaQuice Gray sidelined with an injury, Gadd is Dunbar’s leading returning scorer from last season. Coach Scott Chalk called Gadd an excellent three-point threat and the best defender the Bulldogs have.
Justin Mitchell, Frederick Douglass: Henry Clay’s leading scorer from a year ago (14.5 points per game) now will suit up for Frederick Douglass, giving the Broncos a possible Division I player in their first year as a program. “He has the potential to be a high-level rebounder and defender,” said Coach Kurt Young, who was at Mercer County last season. “If he can continue to improve his shooting he will have a breakout year.”
Michael Moreno, Scott County: Longtime Cardinals Coach Billy Hicks has said previously that Moreno is among the best to ever play for him — a list that includes Mr. Basketball winners Scott Hundley and Rick Jones. The 6-foot-6 forward will be among several contenders for the award in a deep 2019 class.
Zan Payne, Lexington Catholic: The son of UK assistant coach Kenny Payne doesn’t have any Division I offers at the moment. He’s going to play out the season then consider his options, which include prep school or possibly walking on for the hometown Wildcats. “He’s gonna leave here being a 1,000-point scorer and is probably one of the best rebounders we’ve ever had in school history,” Coach Brandon Salsman said of the 6-foot-5 forward.
Kyle Rode, Lexington Christian: Moreno’s AAU teammate has eight Division I offers, among them Northern Kentucky, which currently boasts eight Kentuckians on its roster. Rode, a 6-foot-6 forward, wants to play for a coach who values relationships with their players. “Who you’re gonna be around in those four years kind of helps with the rest of your life,” Rode said. “That’s a big part of it, just me wanting to improve not only as a basketball player but also a person at the next level.”
RJ Smith, Sayre: Smith averaged 13.9 points in what was arguably the greatest season in Sayre boys’ basketball history and, with prolific scorer Jake Duby graduating, Smith will shoulder more of an offensive weight. “RJ is one of the most under-rated players in the state,” said Spartans Coach Rob Goodman.
Henry Clay at Frederick Douglass (Nov. 28): Douglass’ first game, ever, is on the second night of the regular season and it won’t be a walkover. Henry Clay is one of the deepest teams in the city and will be motivated to buck the newborn Broncos.
Lexington Christian at Scott County (Dec. 7): The state’s No. 1 team hosts the No. 6 team in a potential 11th Region finals matchup. Does it need any more billing than that? The Cardinals will be coming off a road game at No. 5 Ballard six days earlier on Dec. 1, the same night LCA is set to battle No. 14 Corbin in the Nissan Classic at North Laurel.
People’s Exchange Bank Holiday Classic (Dec. 20-22 at Henry Clay): Lafayette and the host Blue Devils represent Lexington in the second annual edition of this event, which also features defending 3rd Region champion Meade County and Doss, state runners-up in 2016.
Traditional Bank Holiday Classic (Dec. 26-Dec. 30 at Lexington Catholic): Bryan Station, Dunbar, Franklin County, Lafayette and Madison Central all will participate from the 11th Region in addition to the host Knights. Four defending region champs — Cooper (9th), Elliott County (16th), Pikeville (15th) and Taylor County (5th) — are in the field, as is University Heights.
Jock Sutherland Classic (Feb. 3 at Lafayette): Scott County takes on 5th Region contender John Hardin, ranked 12th in the preseason, while Lafayette will battle No. 25 Anderson County as part of its annual one-day showcase. No. 14 Corbin and No. 17 Mercer County, both featuring Mr. Basketball hopefuls in Andrew Taylor and Trevon Faulkner, respectively, also will play, as will Cordia and West Jessamine.
Bryan Station at Pulaski County (Feb. 10): The Defenders head south to the defending 12th Region champs, ranked 16th in the preseason. If Station can stay healthy — it’s had bad luck in that department in recent years — how it fares in this challenge as well as a season-ending home game with LCA (Feb. 15) could prove pivotal heading into the postseason.
Covington Catholic at Madison Central (Feb. 16): After this game the Indians should have a thorough understanding of what they can handle. They will have played the state’s preseason No. 1 team on the road (Scott County on Jan. 9), No. 2 Trinity (home, Jan. 26), No. 5 Ballard (home, Feb. 3) and the No. 3 Colonels — and that’s just after the calendar turns over into 2018; they get No. 10 Clark County at home on Dec. 5.
11th Region preseason rankings
(Rankings derived from preseason ballots submitted by 11th Region coaches; 2016-17 record in parentheses)
1. Scott County (31-6)
2. Lexington Christian (23-9)
3. Lexington Catholic (24-9)
4. Madison Central (19-15)
5. Henry Clay (11-16)
6. Lafayette (15-16)
7. Bryan Station (13-13)
8. Frederick Douglass (inaugural season)
9. Paul Laurence Dunbar (21-9)
10. Tates Creek (4-26)
11. Woodford County (14-16)
12. Madison Southern (26-6)
13. Frankfort (11-22)
14. Franklin County (14-19)
15. Sayre (23-10)
16. Western Hills (10-21)
17. Model (9-21)
18. Berea (12-18)