High School Basketball

Sweet Sixteen newcomer Estill County on track after sluggish start

Caleb Bonny leads Estill County in scoring at 19.4 points per game.
Caleb Bonny leads Estill County in scoring at 19.4 points per game.

The 101st Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen basketball state tournament tips Wednesday at Rupp Arena in Lexington.

Below is the team profile for the Corbin Redhounds, who will meet Estill County in the first round at noon Wednesday.

ESTILL COUNTY

Region: 14th

Record: 26-7

Enrollment: 697 (362 boys)

Coach’s résumé

Jon Bentley is in his eighth season in charge of Estill County and has a 144-110 record. The Hazard grad was a two-year starter for Travis Ford at Eastern Kentucky University.

Starters

4) Joe Benton, 5-10, So., 7.9 ppg

5) Kevin Richardson, 5-10, Sr., 5.5 ppg

22) Caleb Bonny, 6-1, Sr., 19.4 ppg

34) Lane Doty, 6-6, Sr., 6.3 ppg

40) Andrew Doty, 6-6, Sr., 11.2 ppg

How they got here

The Engineers lost four of their first five games this season (and five of their first seven) before finding their chemistry. Estill County is 20-1 in its last 21 games, capping that run with a 44-40 victory over Knott Central in the region title game. “We just got better as the season went along,” Bentley said. “There’s nothing exactly that we started doing right. We just became stronger as the year went on, and that’s what great teams do.”

Bentley described the Engineers as “efficient” offensively (they’re making about 52 percent of their shots and shooting 37 percent from three) and a team that can mix it up on the defensive end.

Player to watch

Senior guard Caleb Bonny has scored more than 2,000 points for his high school career and is averaging 19.4 points per game this season. He averaged more than 20 points per game as both a sophomore and a junior, and he’s shooting 39.3 percent from three-point range this season. “He’s just a joy to coach — a once-in-a-lifetime player,” Bentley said. “He’s worked incredibly hard and put in a lot of time and sacrifice. … He wants the ball in his hands. He’ll make and take big shots. He’s a slasher and a shooter. And he’s a good defender, as well.”

11th Region alums

Estill County is in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in school history, and this season marked only the second time that the Engineers advanced to a region title game. The only other such trip came in 1955, when Estill County was in the 11th Region and got eliminated by Berea with a trip to the state tournament on the line. The Engineers were actually in the Lexington-centric 11th Region until the 1970s, then moved to the 10th Region, their home through the 2005 season. They’ve been in the 14th Region since then, and now — finally — they’ll be playing in the state tournament. “It’s been a crazy few days here,” Bentley said. “We’re just tickled to death.”

Sweet history

This is Estill County’s first appearance in the Sweet Sixteen. The school’s basketball program has been around since 1940.

Chris Ware | Herald-Leader staff
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