Darion Burns not only took over the 16th Region Tournament, he put on a show while doing it.
That’s why the Fleming County junior was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Burns is the 50th MVP in tournament history, and it’s well-deserved, said Fleming County coach Mark Starns.
“Big-time players step up in big-time situations,” Starns said. “Darion took over Thursday night and then took over tonight.”
After being held to just nine points in Fleming County’s first-round game against Lewis County, Burns exploded against Ashland.
The junior scored a game-high 30 points in the Panthers’ 81-72 double-overtime win over Ashland on Thursday.
He then scored 21 against Rowan County in the championship game, including three highlight-reel dunks.
But when asked his feeling on winning the top individual honor, it really didn’t matter to Burns.
“It feels great but this is a team sport,” Burns said. “It means more to win the championship than it does the individual award.”
Starns, who has coached in Kentucky for a long time, said it’s easy to compare his star point guard to past Kentucky high school greats.
According to Starns, the most obvious comparison is to current LSU standout and former Mr. Kentucky Basketball Anthony Hickey.
“He’s cut from the same cloth,” Starns said. “I coached against Anthony for four years. Anthony’s got a little better jump shot from 3-point range ... we’re going to send Darion to a shooting camp to make him a double threat like that.”
Probably the best moment of the game for Fleming County fans was when Starns removed the starters in the fourth quarter with a double-digit lead.
Starns and Burns shared a long hug on the sidelines, both smiling from ear-to-ear.
“He said he was proud of us,” Burns said. “That we played our hearts out all year and this is what we wanted and we got it.”
Burns is the first Fleming County player to earn MVP honors in the 16th Region.
Darion Burns (Fleming County); Brady Saunders (Fleming County); Desmond McAdams (Fleming County) Troy Steward (Fleming County) Austin Crisp (Fleming County) Jalen Stone (Rowan County); Tyler Thacker (Rowan County); Josh Barnard (Rowan County); Ross Lane (Russell); Kyle Skaggs (Russell); Logan Salow (Ashland); Dikembe Dixson (Ashland); Jordan Perry (Morgan County); Austin Hunt (Boyd County); Brett Ruckel (Lewis County); Jacob Layne (West Carter).
While Fleming County earned its first 16th Region championship, the Panthers have won region titles before.
Fleming County won three 10th Region titles in 1974, 1998 and 1999. Flemingsburg High School won a region title in 1923.
Panthers assistant coach Josh Graham was a member of those ’98 and ’99 teams.
“It’s almost more rewarding now than when I was a player,” Graham said of Fleming County’s win on Friday. “I’ve been with this junior class since the eighth grade. I’ve been pushing them, and I knew they were talented, but it was just about finally putting the pieces of the puzzle together.”
When asked if this team can do what his team did in repeating as region champs, Graham said it all comes down to replacing this team’s one senior.
“It’s very possible,” Graham said. “Most of our core guys are coming back — we lose a senior in Desmond McAdams. As long as we can get someone to replace him next year there is a chance.”
And when it comes to next week’s State Tournament in Rupp Arena, Graham remembers what it was like for his first game there.
“In all honesty it’s going to take little bit of luck,” Graham said. “ This is uncharted waters so it will be difficult. When I played that first game it was the hardest for us. But, once you get that first game under the belt, get your nerves calmed down, it will be all right.”
The attendance for Friday night’s championship game was estimated at more than 5,800.
According to Paul Rhodes, the Morehead State tickets and facilities manager, it’s the largest crowd to see a region final since Elliott County’s run of championships from 2007-09.
“We were pretty packed with standing-room only areas full,” he said. “Probably (most) since Elliott County run ... we were over 6,000 during that run.”
Rowan County (in Morehead) and Fleming County (eight miles away) are the closest schools to Ellis T. Johnson arena.
First in 20
Starns is the first coach to win the 16th Region title in his first year as head coach of that team since 1993.
Wayne Breeden led Ashland to the first of his two titles by defeating Russell in the final, 80-70.
Be the Three
Before Rowan County, the last team to appear in three straight 16th Region championship games was Elliott County (2007-09). The Lions won all three games.
The mark for most consecutive 16th Region championship game appearances belongs to Ashland. The Tomcats played in eight straight from 1966-73.