Projecting the District 8-AA boys race is a tough proposition because the league appears to be up for grabs in 2011-12.
As the season progresses the top teams generally separate themselves from the pack but the nature of this year's race could be that several teams are contending for either the regular-season title, or key positions for tournament seeding, entering the final week of the regular season.
Defending champion Livingston Academy earns the nod as the Cannon Courier's District 8-AA Preseason favorite, followed by Upperman, DeKalb County, Smith County, York Institute, Cannon County and newcomer Central Magnet.
Interestingly, many teams throughout the district lost some of their top performers from a year ago, which is why the league race is so wide open. There are still quality stars on the teams and developing players who are primed to come into their own.
"Our district certainly has improved during recent years in terms of more teams contending," Cannon County Head Boys Basketball Coach Matt Rigsby said. "There are a lot of quality players and coaches and that lends itself to competitive games."
Livingston Academy lost four players from its starting lineup, but senior Mason Ramsey (6-foot-7) and junior Logan Ramsey (6-foot-9) provide the Wildcats with a dominating inside attack. Guard Brock McCoin also keys what could be a tough offensive team. The Ramseys also change games defensively with their inside presence.
Upperman is another contender looking to replace three quality starters from a year ago, but senior Seth Farris and junior Jared Case are returning starters who know what it takes to be successful in 8-AA on a consistent basis. Upperman's season could be decided by how well youngsters Cody DeVillanueva and Tyler McWilliams, both sophomores, and junior Joe Jones develops.
DeKalb County won 23 games last season and, like Livingston Academy and Upperman, will be looking to fill holes. A trio of juniors, led by third-team All-District selection Sonni Young, will lead the Tigers and Young has the potential to be one of the league's top playmakers.
Smith County is under first-year coach Richard Melton, who is best known for his successes with the Livingston Academy boys program. Melton comes at a good time because the Owls feature some of the most experience in the district, led by Beau Carr, Kevin Craighead and Jordan Craighead. Senior Trey Salisbury also has been through the district wars.
York Institute, Cannon County and Central Magnet, round out the bottom three, respectively. The Lions were hit hardest by graduation last season, losing eight seniors and five starters who led them to the Class AA Sub-state. Junior guard Jarrett Melton is the team's most experienced player. How well a group of young, inexperienced players develop will dictate Cannon County's place in the final District 8-AA standings.