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Boys Basketball Preview: Top-ranked CovCath team has winning combination of experience, depth


By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

The string of highly successful seasons Covington Catholic’s boys basketball program has enjoyed under head coach Scott Ruthsatz doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon.

CovCath enters the 2019-20 season this week with another talented team that was voted No. 1 in the Northern Kentucky coaches poll. That makes the Colonels top contenders for the 9th Region championship they won the last two years and four times in the last six years.

CovCath senior guard Grant Disken

“With seven seniors, we have a lot of experience and our overall depth has been the best we’ve had,” said Ruthsatz, who has a 227-54 record in eight years at CovCath. “Our younger players have really improved and will be a factor for us this year.”

The only returning starters on CovCath’s roster are senior guard Grant Disken and 6-foot-5 senior center Neil Green. It looks like Michael Mayer, the leading rebounder on last year’s team, is sitting out his senior season after being recruited by Notre Dame to play football.

Disken averaged a team-high 13.9 points with 71 3-point goals last season. Green contributed 8.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game while shooting 65.9 percent from the field.

“Grant had a great summer and has been competing at a high level,” Ruthsatz said. “Neil plays so hard all the time. His energy, especially on the defensive end, really energizes the team.”

The coach has a wide range of players to plug into the other starting positions, including senior guard Jay Jackson and senior forward Joey Moser, who got a lot of playing time off the bench last season.

Noah Hupmann is a 7-foot-1 senior center who transferred to CovCath last summer. The promising underclassmen on the roster include 6-foot-4 sophomore forward Colin McHale, 6-foot-5 freshman forward Chandler Starks and 6-foot-3 sophomore guard Walker Horn, another transfer student.

Here’s a look at the other boys basketball teams ranked among the top 10 in the Northern Kentucky coaches preseason poll with last season’s records in parentheses:

Scotty Draud

2. BEECHWOOD (29-6)

Even though the Tigers lost four senior starters on last year’s 9th Region runner-up team to graduation, local coaches voted them No. 2 in the preseason poll mainly because 6-foot-5 junior guard Scotty Draud is back.

Draud led the region in scoring with a 22.7 average last season and already has 1,654 career points with two years remaining. Coach Erik Goetz said he’s “one of the most dangerous perimeter shooters in Northern Kentucky.”

Goetz is counting on four players who saw a lot of action off the bench last season to fill out the starting lineup. The list includes senior guards Aiden Bieger and Cole Busald, 6-foot-4 junior forward Will Downton and 6-foot-7 senior center Brandon Hughes.

“All of them are capable of breakout seasons,” said Goetz, who expects players coming up from last year’s regional runner-up junior varsity team to add some quality depth to the roster.

3. NEWPORT CENTRAL CATHOLIC (9-19)

After a three-year hiatus from coaching, Ron Dawn is back in charge of the NewCath boys basketball team that finished 9-19 last season with four underclassmen in the starting lineup.

The top returning player is senior forward Evan Mulligan, who had team-high averages of 19.8 points and 9.3 rebounds last season. Junior guards Caleb Jefferson and Eli Howard both averaged 10 points per game.

“Evan works extremely hard and is improving each day,” Dawn said. “Caleb is our best ball-handler and will be our leader on the floor. Eli is a good scorer and is becoming a really good defender.”

Dawn, who is now principal at NewCath, won 404 games in two previous stints as boys head basketball coach and 91 games when he was girls head coach. That means he needs five wins to reach 500 in his coaching career at the school.

4. ST. HENRY (15-13)

Wyatt Vieth

Dave Faust begins his 28th season as head coach of the Crusaders needing six wins to reach the 400 mark in his career and he has several experienced players returning to help him get there.

Wyatt Vieth, a junior guard who averaged 20.8 points and 6.2 rebounds last season, heads the list of returning talent. He was voted one of the area’s top five players in a preseason poll of coaches.

The Crusaders also have point guard Conner Shea back to run the offense and a pair of experienced forwards in Reid Ravenscraft and Jude Bessler, who averaged 12.6 points and 6.9 rebounds for last year’s 34th District champs.

“We have a nice nucleus returning,” Faust said. “We have to play a lot better defense to have a successful season.”

5. CONNER (16-13)

The Cougars have five of the top seven players back from last year’s team that won 10 of its last 15 games and made it to the 9th Region tournament in Matt Otte’s third season as head coach.

Senior forward Jalen Scott and senior point guard Jared Hicks are both two-year starters. Last season, Scott averaged 14.5 points and 4.6 rebounds while Hicks provided 7.0 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.

The leading candidates for the other starting positions appear to be junior guard Spencer Couzins and junior forwards Riley Osterbur and Cole Skiles, who shot 68.7 percent from the field last season.

6. COOPER (25-6)

Over the last four seasons, Cooper has won 105 games, one 9th Region championship and three 33rd District titles under coach Tim Sullivan, who now faces the challenge of replacing all five starters.

“The biggest weakness the team will face this year is a lack of experience,” Sullivan said. “Replacing 95 percent of the scoring from last year’s 25-6 group will be a job by committee.”

The coach lists senior guards Kevin Centers and Gavin Pearson, senior forward Zac Jennings and 6-foot-5 junior forward Jacob Deere as the Jaguars’ top returning players.

7. HIGHLANDS (20-12)

Sam Vinson

The Bluebirds will have a different look than last season when they won 20 games and made it to the 9th Region tournament for the first time since 2014 with nine seniors leading the way.

Coach Kevin Listerman said this year’s team will rely on perimeter shooting to provide the bulk of the scoring since guards Sam Vinson, Jacob Brass and Hunter Ahlfeld are the ones with the most varsity experience.

The coach said Vinson, who averaged 9.6 points last season, will be counted on to carry a much larger portion of the scoring load in an up-tempo style of play designed to offset the team’s lack of size.

8. SIMON KENTON (18-11)

After a sensational sophomore season, Simon Kenton guard Kelly Niece tore the ACL in his right knee playing on a select team in April and needed surgery. How well he comes back from that injury will have an impact on the Pioneers’ upcoming season.

Niece averaged a team-high 23.4 points last year, shooting 52 percent from the field overall and 45 percent from behind the 3-point line. He has already scored 1,125 total points in three varsity seasons.

Coach Trent Steiner said his team will be very deep with a lot of senior leadership provided by Nick Brann, Jon Hensley, Logan Schwartz and guard Jeremy Davis, who averaged 15.2 points per game last season.

9. CAMPBELL COUNTY (31-5)

Senior guard Jordan Gross is the only starter returning from the Campbell County team that made it to semifinals of the state tournament last March after winning a second consecutive 10th Region championship.

Gross averaged 4.6 points and 3.1 rebounds last season. The other returning player who saw action in more than 30 games is junior forward Dane Hegyi. Freshman forward Ayden Hamilton should also see a lot of playing time.

“A lot we do this year will be to get our young guys experience before postseason,” said coach Aric Russell, who has a 206-87 record in nine seasons with the Camels.

10. LLOYD (16-10)

Lloyd coach Sam Volpenhein has the top four scorers returning from last season led by senior forward Treshawn Cody, who averaged a double-double with 18.3 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.

The next three on the scoring list were Tyler Szabo (12.7), Tyrese Davis (9.8) and Zaire Monroe (8.4). Szabo shot 51 percent from the field overall and 44 percent from 3-point range.

“Looking forward to seeing improvements from a number of upperclassman who return after playing a lot last year as well as some younger players who had tremendous off-seasons working on their game,” Volpenhein said.


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