Boyd County has numbers on its side in pursuit of a fourth trip in five years to the 16th Region Tournament finals.
Randy Anderson said he can’t remember a deeper Lions squad in his 10 years as head coach of the program.
Standout Blake Stewart and fellow senior Gaylon Cisco, along with juniors Carson Webb, Brad Newsome and Austin Gibbs likely will comprise the starting five for Boyd County’s season opener Dec. 6 at Russell.
“But I think we have five more that come right behind and the level doesn’t drop,” Anderson said.
That group includes Graden McNeil, Rheyce Deboard, Jason Ellis, JB Walter and Dawson Meade.
“At any given point, I think we have 10 guys that can compete on the varsity level,” Anderson said. “It makes practices really good and I think that builds confidence as well.”
Stewart, a two-time All-Area selection, shares Anderson’s enthusiasm about the quality of Boyd County’s top two units.
“My whole five years this is by far the most depth we’ve had,” said Stewart, who began his varsity career as an eighth-grader. “It’s really solid all around. That makes practices really competitive and I think it’s going to help us down the stretch.”
Stewart views the second five as more like another whole varsity team.
“Being able to play them on a daily basis is really going to help our team,” he said.
Boyd County won 24 games last season and finished runner-up to Ashland in the region championship game at Morehead State University.
With plenty of experience and firepower back, Boyd County feels well prepared to make another strong run.
“I’m really, really pleased where we’ve progressed to two or three weeks into it,” Anderson said at a Northeastern Kentucky high school basketball media day on Nov. 9. “It’s had a really good flow to it. “
Anderson always emphasizes team bonding.
“We do an awful lot in the offseason, just a lot of continuity not only on the floor but off the floor,” Anderson said. “These guys hang together a lot. All you guys know, and we know as well, it’s going to come down to how well you play together and your chemistry and that type of thing. So I do feel really good about this group because they do like each other a lot.”
Boyd County will leave a bench seat open all season in honor of Bobby Sparks. The longtime Lions assistant coach died Sept. 28 of complications from heart surgery at age 71.
“Our guys have a lot to play for in his memory,” Anderson said.
Sparks coached Stewart since sixth grade.
“That’s really a big part of my life,” Stewart said. “He taught me a lot about basketball and how to be a better Christian. One thing he really loved about the game was defense. This season we are going to take as many charges as we can for him.”
Former Boyd County assistant coach Chandler Thompson left to take the head coaching job at Lawrence County. The staff added First Sgt. Dan Meek, who handles strength and conditioning.
“Our guys respond to him really well,” Anderson said.
Stewart, a 6-foot-2 guard, possesses excellent court instincts and remains the team’s driving force.
“I just look to go out and be a leader every night and play as hard as I can,” Stewart said of his role.
He averaged 21.5 points as a junior and was also the Lions’ top rebounder with 7.8 per contest.
“Blake’s going to be the all-time assist leader,” Anderson said. “I think he’s in the top five of about five categories. I wish we had him for five more years. He’s not only a skilled player, he’s got the intangibles, too. It’s been my blessing to have him for five years.”
Cisco will play the point for the Lions after a successful summer.
“He’s getting the ball where it needs to be,” Anderson said.
Webb has raised his level of play after averaging 10 points last season.
“Carson’s gotten stronger and grown a little bit,” Anderson said. “Offensively, he’s really going to help us this year. He shoots the 3 well and is getting to where he can pull up off the dribble.”
The Lions coach has also been impressed with Newsome and Gibbs.
“Brad Newsome could end up being the best defender in the 16th Region,” Anderson said. “He has a lot of toughness to him. Offensively he’s gotten a lot better. Austin played well in the region tournament. He’s really worked in the weight room and gotten extremely strong.”
McNeil, Deboard, Ellis, Walters and Meade all made strides and will be counted upon to contribute.
Boyd County, the 2018 region champion, is eager to return to the state tournament after last year’s runner-up finish to Ashland.
“We’ll be back,” Cisco said.
Ashland again looms as a hurdle for the Lions.
“They are good,” Anderson said. “They are skilled and I think they are well-coached. When you play them you know you better bring your ‘A’ game, and I can say that about a lot in the region. I think the 16th this year is going to be fairly even.”