Typically when preseason rankings come out, coaches will try to talk down their teams’ ranking, especially when they’re picked to win.
That’s not the case in Kentucky’s Sixth Region boys race. Not only has Fern Creek accepted its role as regional favorite, but the school right behind them, last season’s state runner-up Doss, has taken the coaches’ selection as a slight.
“To say we’re not in the top five in the state right now is disrespectful in itself,” said Doss coach Tony Williams earlier this month at The Courier-Journal’s High School Basketball Media Day.
Any time Williams sees the media promoting another school or player over his own, he said he lets his two-time defending regional champs know. Jokingly, Williams said he’d have preferred if his Dragons were picked in the middle of the pack, as they were last season.
21ST DISTRICT PREVIEWS | Beth Haven, Fairdale, Holy Cross, PRP, Valley
“We use that as our fuel throughout the season,” said Williams, a former University of Louisville star now entering his third year at his alma mater.
The Dragons graduated three starters from last season, but they have a strong core coming back, led by seniors Jaylon Hall and Cam Maddox. In addition, Williams has an eighth-grader, 6-5 swingman Darrius Washington, who may get some time at the varsity level this season, too.
Meanwhile, Fern Creek returns a couple of starters in junior guards Anthony Wales and Ahmad Price, but the Tigers also get a boost thanks to Eastern transfer Chance Moore coming over for his senior season.
Last season. Fern Creek started out the season as one of the region’s favorites as well. However, after winning their first five games of the season, the Tigers struggled to be consistent through the rest of the regular season. They lost one key player, Trey Hill, who transferred to PRP last December, and then Wales suffered a sports hernia, which sidelined him toward the end of the regular season.
However, the Tigers recovered once the postseason began and knocked off Bullitt East to win their first district title in nine years. Fern Creek lost just one senior from that team, which fell to Doss in a regional semifinal, and returns six of its top eight scorers as well.
22ND DISTRICT PREVIEWS | Butler, DeSales, Doss, Iroquois, Western
“I think Fern Creek returns the most experience,” said Pleasure Ridge Park coach Dale Mabrey. “After Fern Creek, I think it’s all a wide-open shooting match right now.”
Fern Creek coach James Schooler said in the last couple years his young team did not have the toughness needed to be competitive, but that should not be an issue any more.
“They’ve been down a long, hard road,” he said. “Now it’s our time to come out and compete. We’re not scared to say it. We’re coming for the Sixth Region title. No disrespect to any other program and what they do, but we worked on some of the toughness issues and our chemistry is getting better.”
The two schools will get a chance to see who is better in the first week of the season as Doss will host the Tigers on Dec. 2.
23RD DISTRICT PREVIEWS | Bullitt Central, Evangel Christian, Moore, North Bullitt, Southern
Beyond Fern Creek and Doss, there are several teams just behind them that could provide an obstacle to either squad making it to Lexington and the Sweet 16 come March.
Mabrey’s Panthers return 10 players from last season, including leading scorer B.J. Robinson. The backcourt of Robinson, Hill and Gerald Gray should be one of the best in the state, Mabrey said. While PRP has some height, the frontcourt is not quite as far along as the perimeter players, he said.
DeSales and Butler both return several experienced players to make the 22st District more competitive this season. The Colts are likely to be led by senior guard Jaxon Burgess, who scored at least 33 points in four games last season, and Butler returns five of its top six scorers from last season. However, with Doss in the district, it likely means only one of the schools will have a chance to advance to the regional tournament.
24TH DISTRICT | Bullitt East, Fern Creek, Jeffersontown, Whitefield Academy
There also are some new but not unfamiliar faces who will be working the sidelines in the region this season. At Valley, former University of Louisville and Ballard star DeJuan Wheat begins a new career as a high school coach. He takes over a Vikings program that returns its top seven scorers from the team that made its first regional appearance since 2010.
At Bullitt East, Jason Couch takes over for Bob Blackburn. Couch, who won two Seventh Region titles at Eastern before moving to Shelby County, takes over a Chargers program that lost all five starters from last season’s regional runner-up squad, but he believes there is talent there that can step up and be competitive come March.