From The Sidelines: HCHS edges Corbin, North for top spot in 2024 boys basketball rankings


Brendon Miller

Harlan County guard Trent Noah worked to the basket during the WYMT Mountain Classic. Noah’s Black Bears are the early favorite in the race for next year’s 13th Region Tournament title.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

Just as predicted in this space, and pretty much all others, the North Laurel Jaguars and star guard Reed Sheppard repeated as champions of the 13th Region, rolling past South Laurel in the semifinals and Corbin in the finals after surviving a scare from Harlan in the first round.
It was another good season for predictions in 13th Region high school basketball as my top four teams and seven of my top nine made it to this year’s 13th Region Tournament with North Laurel, last year’s top pick, and Corbin, ranked third, making it to the finals. Harlan County, picked second, fell to Corbin in the first round after earning a statewide RPI ranking of sixth. South Laurel, picked fourth, and Barbourville, picked seventh, lost in the semifinals.
It’s time for my annual look back at the best of the season that just ended and a look ahead to what you can expect next year.

All-Region Team
First team
G — Reed Sheppard, North Laurel
G — Trent Noah, Harlan County
G — Hayden Llewellyn, Corbin
G — Parker Payne, South Laurel
F — Ryan Davidson, North Laurel

Second team
G – Maddox Huff, Harlan County
G — Kyler McLendon, Harlan
G — Dawson Woolum, Bell County
F — Will Austin, Harlan
C — Gavin Chadwell, North Laurel

Third team
G — Ashton Reynolds, Whitley County
G — Sawyer Thompson, Pineville
G — Matthew Warren, Barbourville
F — Jaedyn Gist, Harlan
F — Jordan Mabe, South Laurel

Fourth team
G — Jude Lakes, Jackson County
G — Kaleb McLendon, Harlan
G — Eli Gover, South Laurel
G — Micah Engle, Lynn Camp
F — Hayden Harris, Clay County

Best juniors
Trent Noah, Harlan County
Kyler McLendon, Harlan
Gavin Chadwell, North Laurel
Hayden Harris, Clay County
Brody Brock, North Laurel

Best sophomores
Maddox Huff, Harlan County
Jordan Mabe, South Laurel
Sawyer Thompson, Pineville
Colton Rawlings, North Laurel
Jerrod Roark, Williamsburg

Best freshmen
Blake Burnett, Bell County
Eli Pietrowski, Corbin
Aiden Wagers, Clay County
Reece Davidson, North Laurel
Reggie Cottrell, Harlan County

2024-2024 rankings
 (Players are listed by their class for the 2024 season)
1. Harlan County (27-6) — One of the best seasons in school history had the Black Bears ranked sixth in the state in the RPI system going into the postseason, but an ugly first-round loss in the regional tournament will give the Bears plenty to prove. Senior guard Trent Noah (26.5 points per game, 12.8 rebounds per game) is in the chase for Mr. Basketball as a five-year starter with over 2,500 points to his credit. Junior point guard Maddox Huff (16.9, 4.7) is among the best in his class and one of the region’s top players. Senior guard Jonah Swanner (9.3, 3.2) and 6-4 junior center Jaycee Carter (3.0, 3.5) also return, along with 6-3 senior forward Caleb Johnson (4.0, 3.1), last year’s sixth man. Sophomore guard Reggie Cottrell (2.6) could round out the lineup after providing a spark in several games last year. Junior guard Brody Napier and sophomore forward Hunter Napier are also in the mix, along with junior guard Ethan Simpson.

2. Corbin (23-8) — After a loss to North in the regional finals, the Hounds will be hungry to take the next step and will bring back five members of this season’s eight-man rotation, including seniors Carter Stewart (10.7, 2.7), Trey Worley (8.2, 5.3) and Zander Curry (7.8, 6.4), along with 6-3 sophomore Eli Pietrowski (8.8, 4.8) and junior guard Kade Elam (3.8). Senior guard Connor Middleton could also be in the mix.

3. North Laurel (25-10) — No one in the state will lose two players the caliber of Reed Sheppard and Ryan Davidson, but the Jaguars won’t fall apart with senior guard Brody Brock (9.9 2.6) and 6-5 senior center Gavin Chadwell (11.3, 6.4) returning, along with sophomore guard Colton Rawlings (6.6, 2.0). Sophomore wing Reece Davidson (2.8) and junior guard Kole Jervis (2.4) saw extensive action as reserves and could fill out the lineup.

4. Clay County (15-16) — After improving from six wins to 15, the Tigers could take the next step as a regional contender with everyone returning. Senior forward Hayden Harris (18.4, 6.5) developed into one of the region’s best players this season and formed a solid 1-2 tandem much of the year with junior guard Landon Dezarn (13.9), Aiden Wagers (8.8, 6.4), a 6-1 center, was among the region’s best freshmen. Junior point guard Ethan Jackson (9.5, 6.8) and junior guard Grayson Hooker (4.1) are also back. Seniors Elijah Bundy (5.5, 6.5) and Tate Rice (2.9, 2.0) also played key roles off the bench.

5. Whitley County (20-10) — Even though their three leading scorers graduate, the Colonels should stay competitive with a deep roster from last season gaining valuable experience. Senior guard Bryce Anderson (7.2, 3.3) and senior forward Jackson Petrey (5.1, 4.8) are returning starters, with senior guard Dre Ellis (4.0, 2.3) and freshman guard Evan Ellis (9.8) also seeing extensive action off the bench. Senior forward Lucas Queener also returns.

6. South Laurel (24-9) — No one will be harder hit by graduation than the Cardinals, who lose four starters and around 41 points per game. Jordan Mabe (14.4, 6.8), a 6-5 junior forward, will be among the region’s top players next season. Junior guard Joshua Steele (3.1, 2.3) was the top reserve a year ago and will play a bigger role, along with senior guard Hunter Bundy, junior forward Max Fullmer and sophomore guard Garrison Brown.

7. Pineville (18-11) — With four starters back from the 51st District runner-up squad, the Lions appear to have the early edge in both the 51st District and All “A” Classic. Junior guards Sawyer Thompson (22.7, 4.6) and Ashton Moser (15.9, 6.8) give Pineville one of the region’s best backcourt tandems. Sam Caldwell (7.6, 4.8), a 6-6 senior center, and Wyatt Caldwell (4.9), a junior guard, are also returning starters. Senior guard Logunn Littles (3.4) could round out the lineup.

8. Bell County (15-16) — After losing seven seniors from a regional final four squad, the Bobcats went through some growing pains this season. Bell should continue to improve with only two of their top six players moving on this time around. Point guard Blake Burnett (15.2, 4.3) was among the region’s best freshmen this season and will again team with junior Cameron Hall (10.7, 2.9) in the backcourt. Returning at forward are 6-4 freshman Ethan Buell (8.2, 3.8) and 6-2 sophomore Cayden Huff (4.8, 4.7). Cooper Miracle, a 6-3 junior, played a key reserve role last season and returns, along with freshman Jaxon Thomas (2.6).

9. Harlan — With three starters graduating, taking away 40 points and 26 rebounds per game, the Green Dragons will face a big challenge to continue their run of All “A” regional championships. Senior guard Kyler McLendon (22.3, 3.5) returns for his third season as a starter and is one of the region’s top players. Freshman guard Trent Cole (6.7, 2.5) and sophomore guard Dylan Cox (2.9) give Harlan a pair of 3-point threats on the wings. Candidates to take over in the post are 6-2 senior forward Matthew Pennington (2.1) and 6-3 junior center Hunter Clem.

10. Jackson County (17-13) — Three starters and several key reserves return for the Generals, who should be in the mix for the All “A” Classic title. Junior Tydus Summers (13.4, 3.9) was among the region’s top young guards this season and is back, along with 6-3 senior forward Carter Cunagin (10.5, 6.8) and 6-5 junior forward Keagan Ward (8.7, 6.8). Sophomore guard Ashton Clemons (2.9), senior guard Jameson Marcum (2.9) junior guard Braxton Clemons (3.1) and 6-3 junior center Peyton Singleton (3.9, 2.2) are in the mix to round out the lineup.

Best of the rest

Knox Central (4-26) — With all five starters from the previous year’s regional runner-up team either graduating or transferring, the Panthers struggled mightily in 2023, but they showed some grit late in the season and could make strides next winter with four starters returning, led by senior forward Brayden Mills (13.6, 3.9) and junior guard Austin Bargo (12.0, 4.1). Seniors Jacob Smith (5.5, 2.6) and Ethan Mills (2.1, 3.7) also return. Sophomores Jay Mills (10.4), Christian Bargo (9.1, 6.1) and Trevor Jordan (2.8, 2.0) should play bigger roles.

Middlesboro (9-22) — With six seniors, including two starters graduating, the Jackets will continue their rebuilding efforts in 2024 after matching last year’s record this season. Middlesboro brings back its two best players in junior guard Jerimah Beck (12.7, 4.2) and 6-5 senior forward Trey King (12.5, 9.3). Several others saw extensive action last year, including senior guard Brayden Barnard (7.9), junior forward Jack Smith and sophomore guards Joseph Killion (4.3) and Mekhi Young.

Bsrbourville (19-11) — After an impressive run to last year’s 51st District title, the Tigers will have to start over with six of their top seven players graduating. Senior guard Ty Clark (6.3, 2.5) returns to lead the rebuilding effort. Junior forward Jasper Hubbs (2.2) should move up, along with senior forward Dalton Alsip, junior guard Riley Corey and 6-3 sophomore forward Ethan Fisher.

Williamsburg (15-15) — The Jackets bring back four starters, led by junior guard Jerrod Roark (20.9, 6.1). Also returning are sophomore guard Henry Bowling (12;5, 2.6), junior forward Andrew Smith (10.7, 6.1) and eighth-grade guard Ryder Adkins (10.5, 2.5). Junior guards Cooper Prewitt (4.8, 3.3) and Conner Saylor (2.5) should also play key roles.

Oneida Baptist (11-21) — Senior guard Canaan Tyree (20.7, 4.3) was among the region’s top scorers a year ago and is one of four starters back for the Moutaineers. Jacob Rogers (8.5, 3.2) and Skyler Roberts (7.7, 2.9) played big roles as eighth-graders and should continue to get better. Tommy Branstutter (2.2, 2.7), a 6-2 freshman center, also returns, along with sophomore guard Andre Collett (2.0).

Lynn Camp (5-24) — Improvement won’t be easy for the Wildcats with six players, including three starters, graduating, led by guard Micah Engle and his 30-point per game average. Senior guards Ian Agosto (2.2) and Tate Mills (6.0) are the returning staters. Sophomore forward Ethan Chaffin (5.1) could also play a big role.

Red Bird (5-23) — Felix Onusumba (12.5, 3.1) returns for his senior season as the Cardinals try to build on their improvement that took them from two wins to five. Three sophomore starters are also back in guards Landon Belcher (3.5) and Trevor Osborne (3.0) and 6-0 center Daughson Whitehead (5.6).

Corbin guard Carter Stewart drove against North Laurel’s Reed Sheppard in the 13th Region Tournament. Stewart and the Hounds will again be among the favorites in the 2023-2024 season. (Les Nicholson)