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The local high school basketball teams opened play this week in what should be an interesting season.
Change is everywhere, from longtime Oldham County boys’ coach Gary Forrest not on the sidelines for the first time in 21 years, to the South Oldham boys’ and girls’ teams being in contention to win the region in the same year.
Here’s what I think will be five things to look for this year locally and in the region.
1 – I hate to do it to him, but I think coach Frank Wright’s Lady Dragons at SOHS are the team to beat in the girls’ race this year. While defending champ Simon Kenton, Anderson County and Owen County are all very good teams, none of them has the mix of experience and depth the Lady Dragons put on the floor this season. Seniors Jordann McGuffin and Vicki Bray along with sophomores Jasmine Whitfield and Mary Dye give SOHS a solid nucleus. The drawback, SOHS lacks a true center, but Wright has been around long enough to find a way to work around that.
On the boys’ side, Shelby County might be scary good this year. The Rockets have probably the region’s two best players in 6-foot-6 senior Donovan Johnson and 6-foot-3 freshman Darrell Hicks along with maybe the best point in Boomer Beckley.
Now that Hicks’ ridiculous flirtation with a six-week transfer to North Oldham is over and he is back at Shelby, the Rockets got nothing but better.
2 – The best bet for a darkhorse to emerge from the boys’ race is SOHS. While Shelby is obviously strong, most consider defending regional champion Anderson County as the biggest challenger.
I like SOHS. If the Dragons are ever going to get out this just might be the year. With Casey Jackson, they have an emerging star nearly the equal of anyone in the region. A host of shooters in Brice Jewett, Chris Schumm and Austin Bowling give the Dragons a potent three-point attack. Coach Steve Simpson has stated SOHS has spent a big portion of the preseason working on their traditional weakness on the boards and on defense.
SOHS has the pure physical tools to challenge Shelby, the key will be can they defend against the Rockets in the paint and rebound.
3 – The two most important local players could be wearing SOHS green this year in Bowling and Dye.
Bowling, a 5-foot-11 senior point guard emerged as a big-time leader for SOHS at the end of the year last season. After leading scorer Drew Kraemer went down with a head injury halfway through the district opener against OCHS, Bowling kept the Dragons on track with his ballhanding and mental leadership to get SOHS into the finals.
In the district finals against NOHS he showed his pressure ready status hitting 12 of 14 free throws down the stretch and nearly single-handedly dismantling the NOHS press with his ballhandling.
Dye, at 5-foot-10, is a nice-sized forward who will have to carry a big load for the Lady Dragons inside, often against bigger players.
While she won’t be alone by any means, Dye is the closest thing the Lady Dragons have at present to a true inside player. Athletic with good basketball sense, her play around the basket could mean the difference for the Lady Dragons in tougher, slower-paced games.
4 – There are always teams that emerge late in the year, the ones nobody wants to play come region tournament time.
The most likely boys team this year could be Simon Kenton. Coach Trent Steiner has been emerging as the best young coach in the region for the past few seasons.
Steiner has one of the region’s best shooters in guard Casey Sorrell and a lot of young talent that should and will likely mature as the season progresses leaving the Pioneers as a distinct giant killer.
On the girls’ slate look for Owen County to step forward. The Lady Rebels are a perennial region tourney team and this year have the region’s best guard in Rianna Gayhart. The Lady Rebels have another strong guard in Eko Kemper and good inside play from Lauren Lowe and Samantha Toole to go with the experience of having been to the regional tournament before.
5 – Jason Holland.
Holland has the unenviable task of replacing Forrest at OCHS. To his credit, Holland has leapt right into the job inheriting a team that is very young and possibly very talented.
While OCHS lacks experience, players like sophomores Kerry Smith and Alante Flores are poised to become real threats and perfectly suited for Holland’s fast paced style at both ends of the floor.
If the Colonels can survive some tough early games and develop quickly enough, they have a legitimate shot at reaching the regional tourney.
The views expressed in this column are those of the writer.