North picked to repeat as 13th Region champions


Les Nicholson

All-state guard Reed Sheppard, pictured in action during a 13th Region Tournament win against Bell County, will try to lead North Laurel to a second straight regional title in 2023.

By John Henson, From The Sidelines

After two straight seasons of picking North Laurel over Knox Central in the 13th Region Tournament finals, I finished 1-1 as Knox won in 2021 and North gained revenge in 2022.
I’ll pick North for a third straight year In 2023 with Reed Sheppard back for his senior season, but I expect the Jaguars to face a different opponent in the finals with Harlan County, Corbin and South Laurel in the mix.
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 – Jordan Akal, Harlan

G – Trent Noah, Harlan County

G – Jevonte Turner, Knox Central

G – Hayden Llewellyn, Corbin

Second team

G – Abe Brock, Knox Central

G – Dawson Woolum, Bell County

F – Jaeden Gist, Harlan

F – Ryan Davidson, North Laurel

F – Cameron Burnett, Bell County

Third team

G – Maddox Huff, Harlan County

G – Evan Steely, Williamsburg

G – Parker Payne, South Laurel

G – Micah Engle, Lynn Camp

C – Gavin Chadwell, Knox Central

Fourth team

G – Ashton Reynolds, Whitley County

G – Clay Sizemore, North Laurel

F – Brody Wells, Corbin

F – Isaac Mills, Knox Central

C – Gavin Allen, Lynn Camp

Best juniors
Reed Sheppard, North Laurel

Hayden Llewellyn, Corbinl

Ryan Davidson, North Laurel

Jaedyn Gist, Harlan

Parker Payne, South Laurel

Best sophomores

Trent Noah, Harlan County

Gavin Chadwell, Knox Central

Cayden Grigsby, Middlesboro

Kyler McLendon, Harlan

Jonah Swanner, Harlan County

Best freshmen
Maddox Huff, Harlan County

Sawyer Thompson, Pineville

Kade Elam, Corbin

Colton Rawlings, North Laurel

Cole Jervis, North Laurel


2022-2023 rankings
(Players are listed by their class for the 2023 season)
1. North Laurel (28-6) — With Mr. Basketball favorite Reed Sheppard (25.2, 6.9) back for his senior season, along with Ryan Davidson (20.1, 6.8) and Brody Brock (8.2, 3.7), the Jaguars are a solid favorite to repeat as champs. Chase Dotson (5.3), a 6-foot senior who was last year’s sixth man, will also move into the lineup. Several players from last year’s regional champion freshman team will also compete for starting jobs.
2. Harlan County (19-11) — A disappointing one-point loss to Bell County in the district tournament ended the year, but the Bears won 19 games with perhaps the region’s youngest starting lineup. All-state junior guard Trent Noah (28.1, 9.9) returns for his fourth year as a starter and will again team with sophomore Maddox Huff (11.9, 5.1) in the backcourt. Junior guard Jonah Swanner (11.8, 4.0) is the team’s defensive ace, and senior guard Daniel Carmical (10.3) is the 3-point specialist. There are several candidates to round out the lineup, led by senior guard Jeremiah Clem and 6-4 junior forward Tristan Cooper. Sophomores Brody Napier, a guard, and Jaycee Carter, a 6-4 center, should play bigger roles, along with junior wing Caleb Johnson and freshman forward Hunter Napier.
3. Corbin (22-9) — With their top seven players returning, the Redhounds should challenge for the regional title after their win total improved by nine games in 2022. Senior guard Hayden Llewellyn (21.8, 3.6) is among the region’s top players and will again team with junior Carter Stewart (11.2, 3.0) and freshman Eli Pietrowski (6.4, 3.8) in the backcourt. Brody Wells (13.6, 6.9), a 6-3 senior, and Trey Worley (8.1, 6.2), a 6-5 junior, return inside. Junior guard Zander Curry (4.5, 4.7) and freshman Kade Elam (3.5) will play key roles again.
4. South Laurel (23-8) — The Cardinals also seem to be in the mix and should stay there in 2023 with five of their top seven returning, led by senior guards Parker Payne (14.1, 4.7) and Eli Gover (11.7, 2.7). Junior guard Ashton Garland (4.8, 2.1), senior guard Ayden Smith (2.1, 2.0) and 6-5 freshman Jordan Mabe (6.6, 2.5) will likely round out the lineup.
5. Whitley County (13-16) — Four starters are back for the Colonels, led by senior point guard Ashton Reynolds (14.3, 4.1) and senior wing Brayden Mahan (15.1, 4.6). Senior forward Jamie Fuson (10.6, 3.8) and junior guard Bryce Anderson (7.3, 3.4) also return as Whitley tries to build on the momentum from a strong finish last year that included a victory over South Laurel. Jackson Petrey (7.3, 3.7) and Lucas Queener (2.3, 2.3), both 6-3 junior forwards, should also be in the mix.
6. Harlan (22-11) — Losing star guard and region player of the year Jordan Akal is a big blow, but the Green Dragons remain an experienced with senior forwards Jaedyn Gist (13.9, 8.8) and Will Austin (7.8, 7.8) returning, along with senior guard Kaleb McLendon (10.0, 4.0) and junior guard Kyler McLendon (7.4, 4.0). Sophomore guard Nate Montanaro could round out the lineup. Several other seniors return, including Matthew Pennington, Derek Pruitt, Cameren Maples, Tristan Burgan and Kelson Napier.
7. Barbourville (17-8) — One of the region’s pleasant surprises last year, the Tigers should be in position to challenge Harlan for the All “A” Classic regional title with four starters back. Senior guards Matthew Warren (14.2, 3.0), Travis Scott (10.8, 7.1) and Ethan Smith (3.9) and junior guard Ty Clark (10.8, 2.8) return, with seniors Tanner Smith (4.9, 2.4), Jacob Lundy (3.0) and Bryce Messer vying for the other starting spot.
8. Knox Central (26-8) — After four straight trips to the regional finals, including three championships, the Panthers will rebuild after losing four starters and eight seniors overall. Junior center Gavin Chadwell (13.6, 8.5), at 6-3, returns inside, along with 6-2 senior K.T. Turner (6.7, 4.2), a top reserve the last two years. Juniors Ethan Smith, Jacob Smith and Ethan Mills should compete for playing time next year, along with sophomores Austin Bargo and Casey Bright.
9. Clay County (6-22) — Wiped out by graduation in 2021, the Tigers struggled as expected with a young squad last season but should start to build back this year everyone returning, led by 6-5 junior forward Brandin Crawford (11.6, 5.2) and 6-3 junior forward Hayden Harris (15.1, 6.1). Brady Wolfe (4.5, 4.4), a 6-4 senior, also returns, along with junior guard Tate Rice (4.1, 2.4), 6-2 junior forward Elijah Bundy (5.0, 7.2) and 5-10 sophomore guard Landon Dezarn (8.0).
10. Bell County (25-6) — Coming off their first district championship since 2014, the Bobcats must start over with seven seniors graduating. Senior guard Dawson Woolum (18.0, 3.5) is back to lead the rebuilding effort after a strong postseason performance in his second junior season. Sophomore Noah Brock (2.9) and freshman Blake Burnett should move into key roles after leading last season’s junior varsity/freshman teams.

Best of the rest:
Williamsburg (16-14) — After a 6-0 start, the Jackets were unable to build on their early momentum and will have to replace one of the region’s top scorers in Micah Steely. Senior guard Martin Shannon (14.2, 4.4) and 6-3 senior forward Connor Lay (5.2, 3.5) return, along with 6-4 junior wing Dre Ellis (7.6, 4.0) and eighth-grade guard Evan Ellis (8.1, 2.6). Freshman guard Henry Bowling (2.4), 6-4 senior center Bryson Potter (2.6, 3.1) and sophomore guard Cooper Prewitt are candidates to round out the lineup.
Pineville (13-18) — Led by one of eastern Kentucky’s top sophomores in Sawyer Thompson (21.6, 4.0), the Lions have a chance to improve on last season’s up-and-down campaign. Evan Biliter (13.2, 4.7), a 6-3 senior, also returns, along with sophomore guard Ashton Moser (9.2, 3.2). Senior guard Ashton Burns (2.9, 3.0) will also compete for a starting job, along with 6-5 junior center Sam Caldwell (3.6, 2.9) and junior guard Logunn Littles (2.8).
Jackson County (21-10) — Following their first winning season four years and a trip to the regional tournament, the Generals will rebuild with three starters moving on. Senior guard Jude Lakes (10.3, 4.3) and 6-3 junior forward Carter Cunagin (8.5, 2.0) are returning starters, and sophomore guard Tydus Summers (5.3, 2.1) played a key reserve role.
Middlesboro (9-22) — Lewis Morris stepped down after five years as coach and the new Jackets’ leader will have to replace three of the top six from the 2022 rotation. Junior guard Cayden Grigsby (12.6, 3.6) is one of the region’s best-kept secrets and returns alogn with senior forwards Trey Kyle (4.5, 2.8) and Braden Ellison (11.3, 2.3), a late-season addition from Cumberland Gap, Tenn. Junior guard Brayden Barnard (5.3) moved into the lineup late last season and should play a big role next year, along with 6-4 junior Bryce Bowling (2.8, 3.0) and 6-5 junior Trey King (8.4, 4.7).
Oneida Baptist (16-14). — After not fielding a team the previous year during the covid outbreak, the Mountaineers made a lot of progress in 2022 with a winning record for the first time in four years. Building on last year’s success won’t be easy with six seniors moving on, including three starters. Senior guard Canaan Tyree (10.4) and sophomore guard Jerrod Roark (13.6, 4.2) should lead the way next season, along with 6-2 sophomore Andrew Smith (6.2, 3.9).
Lynn Camp (21-12) — Coming off a season 21 wins and a trip to the regional tournament, the Wildcats must start over with seven seniors graduating, including four starters. Duane Sparks (10.9, 6.9), a 6-4 senior forward, is back, along with senior guard Nick Sanders (3.9).
Red Bird (2-24) — Ending a string of 14 straight losing seasons will be difficult with the Cardinals losing four of their top six players to graduation. Senior guard Austin Osborne (4.1) and junior center Felix Onusumba (6.8) are the only experienced players returning.