Well-traveled coach Mark Starns is packing his bags once more.
This time, it’s like going home.
Starns, whose boys basketball teams have won three region championships in northeastern Kentucky and two straight 16th Region titles at Fleming County, is Union County’s new coach. He is to be introduced formally at the Morganfield school today.
Starns came to the Panthers in 2012 after being fired as Henderson County’s coach that April. His wife, Lori, a nurse, stayed behind in Henderson.
She visited Flemingsburg and he got back whenever he could, but they couldn’t make the 263-mile one-way trip often enough, Starns said.
“During ball season, it was extremely hard,” Starns said. “She probably got (to Fleming County) an average of maybe once a month, and I would try to get home when I could when we didn’t have any ballgames. But from November to January, we had a ballgame just about every Saturday.”
Union County borders Henderson County in far western Kentucky.
Fleming County won back-to-back 16th Region titles the last two seasons, Starns's only two in Flemingsburg.
Before Starns’s arrival at Fleming County, the Panthers had not won so much as a district title since moving to the 16th Region in 2005.
But in the past two seasons, Fleming County went 52-17 overall, 40-2 against region opponents and 19-0 against 61st District foes.
The Panthers won two district championships and their first region titles since taking the 10th Region crown in back-to-back years in 1998 and 1999.
“The good Lord blessed me, to begin with, to be able to coach at Fleming County,” Starns said. “He blessed me with being able to coach the talent that I had there. Me leaving, this has nothing to do with the boys or the team that’s gonna be coming back. This has to do with a family move.”
Senior-laden Fleming County made its second straight trip to Rupp Arena this season, where it fell to eventual state runner-up Scott County.
Starns was voted All-Area Coach of the Year by his peers and also claimed Eastern Kentucky Conference Co-Coach of the Year honors.
Fleming County graduates six players from this year’s team, four of them full-time starters. Post player Wilder Williams will return after an emergent 2013-2014 season and must become the Panthers’ focal point in his senior campaign, Starns said.
“He developed into a tremendous, tremendous basketball player, and I’m surely gonna miss Wilder Williams at the 5-spot,” Starns said. “The next guy coming in is gonna have to know right off the bat that they’ll have to get the ball to him.”
The Braves went 12-20 this past winter in their lone season under Nick Chaykowsky, who resigned in March.
Union County competes in the Sixth District of the Second Region along with Henderson County, which Starns coached from 2007 to 2012, amassing a mark of 99-45 and two trips to the region finals.
“I know the terrain in the Second Region, and I know who’s gonna be the top teams in the region, and so there’s some familiarity there,” Starns said.
Additionally, Union County and Fleming County are similar “culturally, school size, and everything,” Starns said. He noted the Braves have sent such players as Larry Johnson, Fred Cowan and Dwane Casey to play at Kentucky.
Prior to his time at Henderson County, Starns coached Johnson Central from 2005 to 2007, leading the Golden Eagles to a 30-29 record and 2006 15th Region title.
He has also been the head coach at Burgin and served a stint as a video coordinator and scout with the Boston Celtics.
While moving closer to his wife, Starns is moving farther away from his parents and his children, who reside in Lexington. He could often be seen scouting with his daughter Madison, and his parents were fixtures at Fleming County games. Starns said his desire is for his parents and children to be able to make the trip to Union County semi-regularly.
Starns said he plans to finish out the school year at Fleming County as a teacher. Panthers athletic director Tony Roth confirmed Sunday evening Starns has not resigned that post.
ZACK KLEMME can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2658.