Last season, Great Crossing’s young core of boys’ basketball players oozed potential, but maybe not very much in the way of expectations outside of the bypass in Georgetown where the 4-year-old school is located.
The Warhawks’ stunning win over defending region champion Madison Central in the first round of the 11th Region tournament last March changed all of that.
Great Crossing comes into this season believed to be the 11th Region’s top team, according to a vote of the region’s coaches. A statewide vote of coaches ranked the Warhawks’ at No. 7 in Kentucky this preseason.
Coach Steve Page said his team is ready to rise to the challenge. A set of talented sophomores, including highly recruited big man Malachi Moreno and double-figure scoring guards Vince Dawson and Junius Burrell have all been starting varsity since eighth grade. And they’ve added experience with senior Bourbon County transfer DeJohn Blunt.
“It’s obviously going to be a role reversal for us,” Page said. “Last year, we felt good about the team going into the season. We didn’t know we’d win 27 games, by any means. … I think our kids understood in our first scrimmage (this season) that we’ve got a target on our back and teams are going to come play us hard.”
While preseason scrimmages against 6th Region contender Western and defending 13th Region champion North Laurel were eye-opening, they also revealed that Great Crossing can hang with some of the best when it gets its bearings.
“I think the kids responded,” Page said. “It was a good experience for them to realize that we can be as good as people are saying we are.”
Great Crossing received seven No. 1 votes from the region’s coaches in our @HLpreps preseason survey. Madison Central garnered four, Lexington Catholic three, Frederick Douglass two, and Paul Laurence Dunbar one.
Here’s a rundown of the 11th Region’s best teams for the 2022-23 season in order of how they were rated in our survey with last year’s record and a brief summary. Coaches were asked to “rank the top 10 teams” in the region.
1. Great Crossing (27-7)
The Warhawks have all the makings. Top sophomores 6-11 Malachi Moreno (11.9 points, 12.0 rebounds), 6-5 Vince Dawson (15.6 points), 6-4 Gage Richardson (8.3 points) and 5-11 point guard Junius Burrell (10.9 points) have more than proven they can play.
Mix in 6-7 junior Jeremiah Godfrey (6.0 points) and 6-3 senior transfer DeJohn Blunt (11.7) and you can begin to see the problem their opponents will face.
“Can they grow up and play with urgency all the time?” Coach Steve Page asked, rhetorically. “That’s our biggest question mark.”
If they can, they’ll certainly add more hardware to the trophy case that only has last season’s 41st District trophy in it, right now.
And you can bet the rest of the region isn’t looking forward to two more years of this core group.
2. Madison Central (20-12)
It should be no surprise that Coach Allen Feldhaus Jr. can lose an 11th Region player of the year winner (Will Hardin) and still have his team be considered a threat for the region title.
The freeing of 6-1 senior playmaker Hagan Harrison from eligibility purgatory is some of that. He averaged 24.4 points per game at Montgomery County in 2020 but had to sit out last season due to transfer rules. The Indians also return 6-5 senior guard Jaylen Davis (17.6 points) and 6-7 senior forward Robby Todd (12.8), giving Feldhaus three of the best players in the region in his starting lineup.
It’s also notable that super-athletic football standout Jayden West, a 6-3 senior, is also back on the roster.
That should help a Madison Central program that suffered shocking upsets in both the 44th District finals and the 11th Region tournament last season.
“Experience should definitely be a strength of our senior dominated team,” Feldhaus said. “Our biggest concern is getting everyone on the same page and playing together. … As a whole, it’s’ probably one of the most talented teams I have ever had at Madison Central.”
3. Lexington Catholic (26-6)
Coach Brandon Salsman said he has one of his deepest teams, which should help the defending 43rd District champs keep up their fast-paced, pressing style for the full 32 minutes.
Reece Potter (16.1 points), LexCath’s 6-11 center and Miami (Ohio) commit will draw a lot of attention.
Woodford County transfer Tyler Doyle (7.1 points), a 6-5 junior point guard, will start the offense. “He’s a great defender and distributor of the ball,” Salsman said.
Starters John Reinhart (10.5 points), a 6-1 junior three-point threat, and Hudson Sparks (8.2), a 6-5 senior wing, also return.
“We will play through Reece, but we have quite a few guys that can put the ball in the basket,” Salsmon said.
4. Madison Southern (21-12)
Longtime assistant Bill Bevins takes over a Madison Southern team that seems primed for another run at the 44th District title after winning it for only the third time last season.
The Eagles bring back 75 percent of their offense, led by Jay Rose (21.5 points), Zach Hudson (11.6) and Braden Hudson (11.2). Hudson sat out much of last season with a wrist injury, but made a huge impact upon his return to the lineup late in the year.
“We have solid guard play in point guard Casen Nobbe and Braden Hudson,” Bevins said. “We come into the season with high goals and expectations, a new head coach, and one of the toughest schedules we’ve ever had. It should be an interesting season and we will find out how good we can be.”
5. Frederick Douglass (19-15)
The Broncos lost last season’s leading scorer and rebounder, Tyson Barrett, to transfer in the offseason and had a head coaching change after the start of the school year, but they should remain plenty dangerous for a run at a fourth straight 42nd District title.
Kai Simpson (12.9 points) and Tylon Webb (10.7), both seniors, return to lead a talented, athletic group, including sophomores in Armelo Boone (10.1), Aveion Chanault (4.6) and Logan Busson (4.2).
Douglass relies on several football players, including Webb, who has a few Division I college offers in that sport, so interim coach Wes Scarberry will have to wait until after the Class 5A football state championship to see what he’s really got.
“Getting everyone on the same page in a short amount of time will be a key to the season,” Scarberry said.
6. Henry Clay (27-9)
Coach Daniel Brown returns four of the top seven players who helped the Blue Devils capture the 11th Region title last season, including his son and point guard Konlin Brown (11.0 points), a 5-11 senior.
And Brown said 6-8 junior Payton Mayhorn has the potential to “become one of the best players in the 11th Region.”
Henry Clay returns seven seniors, including Mason Hawkins (5.1 points), Henry Lynch (2.9) and Kyan Miller (4.4), who must step up on offense to replace the points lost to graduation.
“There are always ups and downs but for us the strengths will be shooting and defense,” Coach Brown said. “ Our concerns will be consistent play from our young guys each night.”
7. Paul Laurence Dunbar (14-13)
Second-year coach Murray Garvin thinks he “may have the top guard rotation returning in the region.”
Nick Spalding (20.1 points), a 6-1 senior, has been terrorizing opponents with his playmaking and three-point shooting for years. Fellow senior Max VanDyke (12.3 points) a 6-2 guard, can fill it up from deep, too. Senior Ben Haggard and junior Jaden Sweatt will figure into that equation.
Murray will also look to 6-3 senior Cade Hilt, who is coming off a knee injury but is regarded as the team’s best athlete.
8. Scott County (10-18)
The Cardinals are looking to rebound off a tough season that was hurt by the injury to coach’s son and two-year starter Micah Glenn (7.3 points), a 6-1 senior.
Glenn returns to a team that gained valuable varsity experience in his absence and added senior Great Crossing transfer DaQuis Brown, who had to sit out last year.
Also back are seniors Nick Mosby (10.9 points), a 6-4 forward, and JZ Middleton (6.4), who averaged six assists per game after stepping into Micah Glenn’s role at point guard.
Coach Scott Glenn said: “We shoot the ball really well … rebounding can be a concern for us if we don’t rebound by committee.”
9. Bryan Station (12-12)
The Defenders offered glimpses of what they could do under Coach Champ Ligon Jr. in his return to the Northside last season, especially in a 68-54 midseason win over the eventual region champions.
Jaden Biggers (11.7 points), a 6-6 senior forward, returns along with three-sport standout Trenton Cutwright (13.8), a 6-0 junior, who helped Station to its first football region championship in 23 years as its quarterback.
Ligon’s success now and in the future could depend on eight varsity sophomores, led by 6-6 Felix de los Santos Gonzalez and 5-11 point guard Ethan Dunn.
“I’m very excited about this team. We have size, depth and athleticism,” Ligon said. “We may take some lumps early, but we have the potential to be very good for years to come.”
10. Lexington Christian (9-23)
The Eagles have six returners with varsity starts, led by 6-4 senior Tyler Hall (14.5 points), Coach Ted Hall’s son and LCA’s leading returning scorer. Brayden Mirus (10.4 points), a 6-0 junior, and Anderson Green (9.8), a 6-2 sophomore, also return.
Hall acknowledged the Eagles are still very young, but he looks for them to contend in the region and the small-school All “A” Classic midseason tournament.
Other teams in order of votes: Tates Creek, Western Hills, Lafayette, Frankfort, Sayre, Berea, Franklin County, Model and Frankfort Christian.
The 11th Region’s 19 coaches were asked to rank the 10 best teams in the 11th Region. The list reflects the rating of the 17 coaches who responded to the “top 10 team” question in the survey.
2022-23 SEASON PREVIEW
This is the sixth of eight stories the Herald-Leader and Kentucky.com is publishing in the coming days previewing the 2022-23 high school boys’ and girls’ basketball seasons, which are scheduled to tip off Nov. 28.