50 States in 50 Days: Kentucky
Led by a trio of talented recruits, Ballard boasts one of the state’s top backcourts
Rowan County should make a run at the state title after losing in last year's finals
D’Angelo Russell, Derek Willis and Darryl Hicks are among Kentucky's top players
As the high school basketball season draws nearer, anticipation grows. Five-Star plans to add to that fever pitch. It's unveiling an all-encompassing new preview package: 50 States in 50 Days. Until Nov. 23, it will examine a different basketball state, breaking down its top teams, players and rivalries.
Which schools are title favorites? Which players are flying under the radar? All the answers are yet to come. The package -- which can be found in its entirety here -- continues today with Kentucky.
Scott County (Georgetown, Ky.)
Last year, the Cardinals went 24-6, eventually falling to Lexington Catholic in the Region 11 finals. This year, they could be even better. Sharp-shooting guard Tamron Manning, a Marshall commit, should anchor the team, and Isaiah Ivey, a Gardner-Webb commit, should offer help. Keep an eye on junior Quin Richardson. If the 5-11 shooting guard can mature into an offensive threat, Scott County's attack could be increasingly tough to stop.
The Bruins have a trio of budding stars in Lavonne Holland, Kelan Martin and Quentin Snider. All underclassmen, they form what could be the best backcourt in Kentucky. Holland is a multifaceted combo guard, Martin a potent shooter and Snider a 5-11 sparkplug, the latter one of the nation's premier point guards. Ballard will look to build off last season's 29-4 mark, one that included a 15-0 start.
Bullitt East (Mount Washington, Ky.)
After losing to Rowan County 51-49 in last year's state semifinals, Bullitt East should bounce back with a vengeance in 2011-12. The Chargers went 30-6 last season, and return Derek Willis, a well-rounded power forward who averaged 13.5 points and 9.5 rebounds as a sophomore. He'll take on an even bigger role with the graduation of 6-7, 220-pound forward Corey Washburn, Willis' former counterpart beneath the basket.
Rowan County (Morehead, Ky.)
After knocking off Bullitt East, Rowan County fell short in last season's state title, losing to Christian County 65-63 in double overtime. The Vikings have the talent to capture that elusive final win this year. Adam Wing, an Oklahoma State commit, and D.J. Townsend, a guard who averaged 14 points, should drive Rowan County's success.
Bowling Green (Bowling Green, Ky.)
Bowling Green's 25-8 campaign came to stunning end last season, with Warren Central upending the Purples 68-64. And with McDonald's All-American Chase Benehan's graduation, the question becomes: Who will replace his production? Look for senior Scooter Hollis to step up. He shot just under 47 percent from the field, and came on strong as the season progressed.
PG D'Angelo Russell
Sophomore, Louisville Central (Louisville)
Simply put, Russell may be the best underclassmen in all of Kentucky. A crafty passer and terrific mid-range shooter, the lefty guard has college scouts clamoring for his services. He already holds offers from Louisville, Indiana and Xavier, and Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio State have expressed interest. His list of suitors should only grow with a strong sophomore showing.
PF Derek Willis
Junior, Bullitt East (Mount Washington, Ky.)
Don't be fooled by his oversized 6-9, 210 pound frame. Willis is an unmistakably skilled player. His effortless shooting makes him an ideal swingman in college -- where his height would pose favorable mismatches -- and his deceptive athleticism makes him a constant threat around the rim. College coaches are taking notice. After decommitting from Purdue in August, Willis has been targeted by Kentucky, Indiana, Louisville and Xavier, among others.
SG Darryl Hicks
Junior, Trinity (Louisville)
A bullish guard with a knack for stuffing the stat sheet, Hicks is poised for a huge season for the Shamrocks. He averaged 14 points and five rebounds as a freshman, but was forced to sit out all of last year after transferring from Shelby County. Expect a prolific return. The junior boasts a relentless work ethic and is a threat to get hot at any time. He currently holds offers from Arizona and Indiana.
SG Tamron Manning
Senior, Scott County (Georgetown, Ky.)
Mentioned above, Manning is a strong finisher around the basket. He aggressively attacks the paint and creates open looks for teammates, helping him average 16.2 points and four assists as a junior. He's also carved out a niche as a formidable on-ball defender, stifling opponents with his lengthy wingspan. He should make an immediate impact upon his arrival to Marshall next fall.
SG Cameron Justice
Freshman, Knott County Central (Hindman, Ky.)
Justice has all the making of this year's freshman phenom. At 6-1, he possesses good height for a young guard. His shot -- though raw -- can be surprisingly dangerous. But what really impresses scouts is his basketball IQ. Look for him to make an instant on-court difference for the Patriots as they look to better last year's 19-10 campaign.
Harrison Sanford is a contributor at Five-Star Basketball.