Last season's senior class in the state of Kentucky was loaded with talent. Three players, Bowling Green's Chane Behanan, Jeffersontown's Zach Price and Western's Ryan Taylor, were consensus Top 150 players nationally. However, in the end Christian County point guard Anthony Hickey, who signed to play college basketball at LSU and led the Colonels to the 2011 KHSAA State Championship, took home the hardware. This year's senior class might not be as deep or talented but there are several Division I prospects, who will battle all year for the award.
One of those players in Scott County small forward Tamron Manning. At 6-foot-4, Manning is very versatile. He can take his defender off the dribble or pull up and knock down the jumper. He spent the summer playing for the KYA All-Stars on the AAU circuit. The KYA-All Stars are coached by Ray Valentine and Valentine said Manning has worked hard on his game, especially his jump shot.
"Tamron is a unique player," Valentine said. "He can score in different fashions. Over the last year he has developed a jump shot. That was one of his weak points. He's was always good at +taking you off the dribble and getting to the basket but he never had a consistent jump shot until this summer."
Manning's play has caught the eye of several college coaches. He held offers from Kent State. IUPUI, Marshall, Eastern Kentucky Coastal Carolina, Wofford, Akron, James Madison and The Citadel, before deciding to play for Marshall.
" I think he could be either a one or a two," Valentine said. "He's sees the floor very well for his size and he runs the floor very well for his size. He's a leader. I noticed over the summer that a lot of kids look up to him. He works really hard on his game. He understands that what you put into it is what your going to get out of it."
Moore's MeKale McKay might be the best athlete in the state. The 6-foot-4 guard, who averaged 14.5 points per game last season, is not only one of the top candidates to win the 2011-2012 Mr. Basketball award but he's also a candidate to win the 2011 Mr. Football award. McKay moved here from Texas in the middle of his eighth grade year. While in Texas, McKay focused strictly on football. When he moved to the Bluegrass state, McKay decided to give basketball a try. It didn't take long for him to fall in love with the round ball.
"What a lot of people don't realize is this is only his fourth year playing basketball, so his up-side his tremendous," Moore basketball coach Shedrick Jones said. "He moved here to Louisville in the middle of his eighth grade year and of course if you move to Louisville, Kentucky you have to be able to play basketball. He moved here from Texas, where he played football. When he started playing basketball he just fell in love with it and just took off from there."
McKay helds offers for basketball from IUPUI, Central Florida, Georgia State, Manhattan, Iona, UTEP and Evansville. He also has held offers from Kentucky, Louisville, Central Florida, Illinois, Georgia State, Evansville and Cincinnati in football. He recently committed to UTEP, where he plans on playing both sports.
There might not be a player in the state who has improved their game as much as Trinity's Nathan Dieudonne. Dieudonne, who has 10 scholarship offers, averaged 4.9 points and 3.6 rebounds per game as a sophomore. Last season those number improved to 11.6 points and 5.8 rebounds. After a strong summer playing for Valentine, Dieudonne has seen his stock rise. He went up against several of the nation's top players this and held his own. Trinity enters the season as the favorite to win the 2012 KHSAA State Championship. If the Shamrocks make a run in March and Dieudonne continues to improve, he could win the award.
"Nathan was the most consistent player I had all summer," Valentine said. "He crashes the boards very well.This summer he showed he could hit the three. One thing he did that I like is he played very consistent and very hard every game. I mean he played as hard in the last game as he did in the first game. From what I understand, there have been some issues in the past with his attitude but I never had a problem with him. I don't know who put that out there but I don't think it's fair. I think he might be one of the highest ranked player we have in the state. He really put himself on the map this summer."
Had it not been for an injury, Woodford County's Jay Johnson might be the clear cut favorite to win the award. Unfortunately Johnson missed the entire summer and he's expected to miss the first part of season, after tearing his ACL in early June. Johnson, who averaged 19 points and 12 rebounds per game last season, was suppossed to play with Manning and Dieudonne on Valentines's KYA-All Star team.
"If he hadn't gotten hurt, he might be the clear cut candidate," Valentine said. "The thing that's going to hurt Jay, when it comes to winning Mr. Basketball, is he won't be able to play until late January. I don't think he's going to be able to come back in time. From what I understand, he's looking at late December before he can even get back on his feet and start running, which means he won't be able to play until the middle of January. If he comes back and has the type of season he had last year and they make it to the state tournament then I think you can put him in the discussion."
Two other players to keep an eye on are Lexington Christian's Taylor Barnette and Rowan County's Adam Wing. Barnette is one of the top shooters in the state. The lefty averaged 17.4 points and six rebounds per game last season. He has offers from Belmont, Lipscomb, Liberty, James Madison, LeHigh, Samford and Navy. Wing averaged a team high 14.4 points per game last season. He made a name for himself last March in the KHSAA State Tournament, as he led the Vikings to the championship game. Wing scored 31 points in the championship game, before losing to Christian County 63-65 in double overtime. He originally committed to Marshall to play football but over the summer he decided his love for basketball was greater then his love for football. He de-committed from Marshall and committed to Oklahoma State, where he will play basketball for coach Travis Ford. If Wing and his team mates can make another deep run in March, Mr. Basketball award could be his.
If Jaylen Beckham decides to play his senior year in the Bluegrass state, then the Mr. Basketball award could he his to lose. Beckham was a stand out at Lexington Catholic his freshman year. After his freshman season, he decided to transfer to prep school, where he has played the last two years. Over the summer he announced he would be taking his game to Byran Station but Defenders coach Michael Allen said right now it's "50-50" whether Beckham will suit up with his team.