Expectations are high once again this year on Academy Drive in Hopkinsville. Fans of the University Heights Academy Blazers are hoping that the return of some key pieces on the floor and the addition of an experienced 8th District coach on the sideline will lead to a special season in 2023-2024 with another All A regional title and a shot at the 2nd Region championship in March.
The Blazers are coming off a 19-11 season, that could have just as easily been 25-5 had just a few things gone in their favor in 2022-2023. The highlight of the season for UHA was the upset win over Lyon County in the opening round of the 2nd Region All A Classic, which was followed up by the Blazers cruising through the rest of the regional to win another trip to Richmond.
Hopes of another trip to Rupp Arena were dashed in the opening round of the 8th District tournament when the Blazers dropped a heartbreaking 55-52 decision to 2nd Region runner-up Hopkinsville.
As the Blazers prepare for the new season, the biggest change is a new, but not unfamiliar face on the sideline overseeing the action on the court. Former Hopkinsville head coach Terry Hayes takes over coaching duties for UHA, knowing full well what it takes to contend in not just the district but the 2nd Region as well.
The Blazers do have some key vacancies to fill, but the talent cupboard is nowhere near bare for the green and gold.
The biggest slot to fill will be that of graduated senior Lemar Northington. Northington averaged 16.6 points per game last season and put on the performance of a lifetime in the Blazers come from behind effort against Owensboro Catholic in an epic four overtime game in the All A Classic. Finding someone who can consistenly come up with a basket when they need it could be one of the big keys this season for the Blazers.
The quartet of Quinton Quarles, Elijah Walton, Gavin Grubbs, and Kyler Baker would appear to be a good foundation for Coach Hayes to build another regional contender around.
Quarles spent a good portion of last season running the point for the Blazers. He averaged 7.8 points per game and developed into a threat outside the arc, knocking down 42-percent of his 3-point shots. Quarles is also not shy about getting busy down in the paint on either offense or defense.
Elijah Walton had another busy summer and looks to take the next steps in elevating his game in 2023-2024. The junior averaged 9.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last year. For the Blazers to achieve their goals this season, look for Walton to be a double-double type player, night in and night out.
Kyler Baker has now had a full offseason with the Blazers and that should make a big difference for the big man down in the paint. Baker has the build and skill set to become a force in the paint and should that happen, things open up even more for the Blazers on the outside. His average of 3.3 points and 3.1 rebounds per game should skyrocket this season.
Gavin Grubbs was one of the region’s best lockdown defenders last season, and his offensive skills often get overlooked due to that fact. Grubbs averaged 8.9 points a game last season and his efforts on the defensive end made him one of the toughest players to beat off the dribble for opposing players.
Other players to keep your eyes on this season include Matthew Hauret, Tylin George, Bryson Northington, and Devin Cherry. All have shown flashes of their capabilities and could play significant roles for the Blazers this season.
The schedule, as usual, is loaded for UHA. In addition to the 8th District battles, there are contests with Murray, McCracken County, Henderson, Madisonville, South Warren, Ohio County, Owensboro Catholic, and a pre-Christmas trip to the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas.
The Blazers officially tip off the 2023-2024 season Monday night at home against Ballard Memorial.
During this year’s Media Day, Coach Terry Hayes looked ahead at the new season.