Dragons begin quest for fourth straight All ‘A’ regional title on Saturday


Jon Dickenson

Harlan senior forward Jaedyn Gist drove in for two points in last year’s All “A” Classic state semifinal game agianst Breathitt County. The Dragons begin their quest for a fourth straight regional All “A” title on Saturday in Barbourville.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

When it comes to All “A” Classic basketball in the 13th Region, the Harlan Green Dragons of the mid 1990s set the standard with state championships in 1994 and 1995 while making four straight trips to state competition.
The current group of Harlan Green Dragons have worked their way into the conversation with the Dragons of that era with three straight trips to Richmond, capped by a run to last year’s semifinals before falling to Breathitt County. Harlan can match the mid 90s teams for the longest win streak in 13th Region history if they can capture a fourth straight regional title. The tournament opens Saturday with four games at Barbourville High School, and the Dragons again find themselves as the favorite with an 11-2 record that includes the first WYMT Mountain Classic title in school history.
“We’re the hunted now and we’re on the road, so we don’t take anyone lightly,” said Harlan coach Derrick Akal. “I think anyone is capable of winning in a one and done game. I think there are several teams that have an opportunity to win the tournament.”
Harlan has featured a balanced attack this season with all four returning starters averaging double figures, led by junior guard Kyler McLendon (21.6 points per game, 3.1 rebounds per game). Senior forwards Jaedyn Gist (13.6 ppg, 10.3 rpg) and Will Austin (10.9 ppg, 11.0 rpg) are each averaging a double-double. Senior guard Kaleb McLendon (12.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg) provides another perimeter threat, along with eighth-grader Trenton Cole (7.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg), who is coming off a 30-point game in a tournament last week at Bath County. The Dragons play Lynn Camp (3-8) and star senior guard Micah Engle (28.9 ppg) in a first-round game at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Several teams are playing well coming into the tournament and could give Harlan a challenge, including Pineville (8-3) after winning last week’s Chain Rock Classic. Sophomore guard Sawyer Thompson (21.5 ppg) is among the state’s top-rated players in his class and has led the Lions, along with Ashton Moser (16.5 ppg) and Evan Biliter (11.7 ppg). The Lions will play Middlesboro (3-10) at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The Jackets are led by junior guard Cayden Grigsby (115.9 ppg) and sophomore guard Jerimah Beck (15.2 ppg).
Williamsburg (7-5) will take on Jackson County (10-5) in what could be the best first-round game. The Jackets have been led by Jerod Roark (21.0). Henry Bowling (13.8) and Andrew Smith (13.7), while the Generals feature Jude Lakes (16.1 ppg) and Tydus Summers (15.5 ppg).
Barbourville (8-5) is also a top contender and one of the more successful programs in the tournament through the years. The Tigers feature a senior-dominated squad this year led by guards Matthew Warren (16.4 ppg) and Travis Scott (14.7 ppg) and will play Oneida Baptist (5-7) in the final quarterfinal game at 6 on Saturday. The Mountaineers are led by Canaan Tyree (22.2 ppg) and Daniel Etokwudo (12.6 ppg, 10.1 rpg).