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If you had any doubt about how wacky the quest for Eighth Region supremacy is expected to be in 2011, just check out a copy of The Cats' Pause Yearbook.
The featured player is sophomore Darryl Hicks, playing for Shelby County last year, who was expected to play for Collins this season, but has transferred to Louisville Trinity, where he's waiting to hit the hardwood next year.
Told you it was wacky. And 2011 figures to be much different than the Eighth Region has been, at least since the realignment of 2006, perhaps as wide open as it has been since before the Shelby County-Shelbyville consolidation of 1976. That started a run that saw Shelby, Oldham County or Scott County, now in the 11th Region, take all but four regional crowns through 2010.
Ironically, it is the split of Shelby, which created Collins, that has created a logjam at the top. While North Oldham figures to be a slight favorite, as many as 13 different teams could be heard from by regional tournament time.
“The No. 13 team in the region could beat No. 4,” Anderson County coach Glen Drury says.
“There are six teams that could win it,” says Oldham County coach Jason Holland. “Being hot and healthy will be important.
No team is loaded. All have some major holes. Four schools that have never won an Eighth Region crown and a new school figure to be among those shooting for Rupp Arena. It really is that close.
Oldham County does not have any superstars in the mold of Donta Smith, but the Colonels return 8 of their top 10 players from last year's 11-16 team. That is why Oldham gets the slightest of nods. The returnees include Smith's little brother, Kerry, a junior guard. Smith is explosive and finds ways to get to the basket. Add point guard Blake Payne and the Colonels might have the best backcourt in the region. “They are very athletic,” says South Oldham coach Steve Simpson.
“We can win the region or not get out of a really competitive district,” Holland says.
North Oldham, with 6-foot-7, 260-pound Devon Rowan in the middle, will be a force. The school hired David Henley, who won a state championship at Holmes in 2009, to replace Danny Edelen. Rowan averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds last year on a team that was loaded with guards. If Henley is able to mesh his pieces together, the Mustangs could make their first trip to Rupp Arena.
Simon Kenton has not won the Eighth since being realigned in 2006, but the Pioneers won the state championship in 1981 as a member of the Ninth Region. Junior guard Cody Chambers gives the Pioneers one of the region's top talents to go with some sized inside. Coach Trent Steiner's club will play defense with a passion as well.
Don't look now, but Spencer County, long a doormat for the region, has a legitimate chance at making Rupp. The Bears nearly upset perennial havesAnderson County and Shelby County in recent district tournaments and boast the region's best 1-2 punch in 6-4 forward Logan Dunbar and guard Trey Wyatt, who averaged 36 points a game between them. Erico Smith is a wildly athletic player but suffered an injury in football so his availability is not known.
Collins was seen as the favorite after Shelby County went to the Sweet 16 last year. Most of the Shelby returnees were expected to end up at Collins, but when Hicks, considered Kentucky's best in the class of 2013, decided to transfer in August, it left veteran coach Curtis Turley without a star. Senior Tavis Elzy is now considered the top Titan.
However, Collins' formation has drastically altered the 30th District, where Shelby and Anderson have been considered automatic regional qualifiers for years, but the 30th is now a five-team district with Eminence being the fifth team.
“The makeup of their district has changed and it will be harder for teams to get out of district,” says South Oldham's Simpson. “This year Collins will be good and Spencer County will be good. Shelby will get better as the year goes on as will Anderson. It should make for a very interesting district tournament.”
With a wacky regional tournament on tap the following week, the Eighth really could be the home to March Madness once again.
E-mail John Herndon at firstname.lastname@example.org.