2023-24 All-Area Boys Basketball Team: Tomcats still on top: Bonner, Carter take All-Area honors

Apr. 22—CANNONSBURG — New year. Same story.

Ashland had another successful season this year, capped off by a stellar performance in Morehead to claim the 16th Region crown.

The same would be said about any Tomcat season over the past six years.

Ashland won its sixth straight 16th Region championship this year. It hadn't been done since 1952 when Clark County won six in a row.

With this continued success, it's no surprise that this year's The Daily Independent All-Area Coach and Player of the Year awards are going to guys wearing maroon.

For Ashland coach Ryan Bonner, winning the award is an honor that shows just how hard his entire staff has worked to maintain this success.

"It's a great honor," Bonner said. "But in terms of the award itself, I think it's a testament not just to the job that I may have done, but to the work our entire coaching staff has done. So I really consider this a whole staff award."

"Bryan Lemaster, Troy Lee Thomas, Tyler Dotson, and Nick Miller. They've all done such a good job in finding their role to help us win," Bonner added.

It's the second year in a row that Bonner has won this award. Last year, he took over the Tomcat program as an interim coach with just a couple of weeks' notice.

This season, with a year under his belt and an entire offseason to work as the captain of the ship, Bonner focused even more on where he wanted to take the team.

"Last season we weren't able to really implement all the things we would have liked to because of the circumstances," Bonner said. "This year we were able to really dial in what we thought was the best vision moving forward for our program. I thought the biggest changes this year were made on the defensive end and I thought we really found our identity defensively at the right time of the season."

The defensive identity was on full display inside Ellis T. Johnson Arena in March, as Ashland held every opponent to 47 points or fewer in the region tournament.

It carried over to Rupp Arena. Despite losing the game, the Tomcats held eventual state champs Lyon County to just 45 points.

The 45-point total was the fewest points the Lyons had scored all season and was nearly half of the 85.7 points per game they were averaging going into the meeting with Ashland.

It's something that Bonner intends to keep as the focal point of the Tomcats moving forward.

"We have to continue to build on our defensive identity of being physically tough and aggressive on the boards," Bonner said. "We might have to do some things differently offensively and I'm okay with that. I'm okay with adjusting to the way that we do things offensively, but I'm not going to give in to what we're doing defensively because it was too good this year."

One of the biggest contributors to this year's Ashland team was junior Zander Carter.

Bonner says that Carter's work helps propel the team both on and off the court.

"He's a faith-first type of player," Bonner said of Carter. "He encourages, he picks people up. He's just a strong overall leader, and that's the first thing I always say when I talk about Zander. His contributions outside of putting the ball in the hoop are just so important for us. and those are the kinds of people and players that drive your culture in the right direction."

Those contributions also drove Carter to win Player of the Year honors. His aforementioned faith was first and foremost on his mind when talking about the award.

"It's a blessing," Carter said. "I'm blessed that my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ put me in this position. I'm filled with gratitude and peace in my life knowing I can use the game to glorify him."

Carter was absent from the photo shoot for the All-Area team. He was still putting in work on the hardwood playing for the Midwest Basketball Club at an Adidas event in Omaha, Nebraska.

It's another display of the hard work that goes into Carter's efforts to be the best basketball player he can be.

For Carter, the environment that exists in the Tomcats program is the driving force to keep getting better.

"It's a testament to our culture and the people we have in the locker room," Carter said. "Coach Bonner and the rest of the coaching staff are amazing. We all know what we can do together, even if people are counting us out. One of our mottos is, 'When adversity hits, we pull closer.'"

Carter averaged a region-high 22.7 points per game and led his team with 6.5 rebounds. But the season didn't come without its roadblocks.

Carter says trying to make time for everything necessary to be successful and staying focused on the job at hand were challenging tasks at times.

"My biggest obstacle was balancing everything," Carter said. "There's a lot of outside noise and a lot of situations that happen in life where you have to be able to balance being a student-athlete. I always want to stand strong in my faith and be a leader for the community."

With another year donning number one for the Tomcats, Carter has some goals in mind to cap off his high school career next season.

"The main goal has always been to win a state championship," Carter said. "Outside of that, I just want to personally get myself as ready as I can for the college level. In doing so, I feel like that gives us a better chance to come out, get that seventh region title and maybe give us a chance at the big dance in Rupp (Arena)."

"Ultimately, I just want to become the best version of myself and I know, if I do that, I won't be cheating those around me and they'll want to be better as well," Carter added.

Carter is joined this season on the All-Area team by Braxton Jennings (10.1 ppg, 2.5 rebounds per game).

Boyd County and Fleming County fielded the most players on this year's team with three each.

Boyd County was led by Jason Ellis (10.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Cole Hicks (14.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg), and Jacob Spurlock (21.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg).

Fleming County had Adam Hargett (17.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Seth Hickerson (18.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg), and Lucas Jolly (16.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg).

East Carter, Morgan County, Rowan County, and Russell all placed two players on the All-Area squad.

The Raiders' contributions are Evan Goodman (18.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and Blake Hall (16.3 ppg, 9.1).

Morgan County sent Gatlin Griffin (14 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Preston Hoskins (14.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg).

The Vikings' players on this year's team are Brayden Mirus (14.1 ppg, 4 rpg) and Colby Wilburn (16.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg).

Russell's All-Area duo is Elijah Neel (15.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg) and Caleb Rimmer (15.3 ppg, 8 rpg).

Raceland's Christian Large (19.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg), Menifee County's Brevon Ricker (20.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg), Lawrence County's Andrew Bloomfield (16.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Johnson Central's Austin Slone (27 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Greenup County's Eli Adkins (14.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Fairview's Steven "Bubba" Day (21.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and Elliott County's Lake Adkins (15.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg) rounded out the All-Area team.

The All-Area Player and Coach of the Year awards are determined by the newspaper's sports department. The team is composed by northeastern Kentucky coaches' votes.

(606) 326-2658 —

2023-24 The Daily Independent All-Area Boys Basketball Team

Eli Adkins (Greenup County)

Lake Adkins (Elliott County)

Andrew Bloomfield (Lawrence County)

Zander Carter (Ashland)

Steven Day (Fairview)

Jason Ellis (Boyd County)

Evan Goodman (East Carter)

Gatlin Griffin (Morgan County)

Blake Hall (East Carter)

Adam Hargett (Fleming County)

Seth Hickerson (Fleming County)

Cole Hicks (Boyd County)

Preston Hoskins (Morgan County)

Braxton Jennings (Ashland)

Lucas Jolly (Fleming County)

Christian Large (Raceland)

Brayden Mirus (Rowan County)

Elijah Neel (Russell)

Brevon Ricker (Menifee County)

Caleb Rimmer (Russell)

Austin Slone (Johnson Central)

Jacob Spurlock (Boyd County)

Colby Wilburn (Rowan County)


Zander Carter (Ashland)


Ryan Bonner (Ashland)


Asher Adkins (Ashland), Bryson Chandley (Greenup County), Ethan Cole (Paintsville), Brett Dailey (West Carter), Tatum Fleming (Russell), Nate Freize (Ashland), Eli Griffith (Morgan County), Rhett Holbrook (Boyd County), Gauge Jolly (Menifee County), Jase Kinner (Paintsville), Anderson Lauffer (Paintsville), Aiden Manley (Menifee County), Dawson Montgomery (Johnson Central), Drew Noble (Lewis County), Hayden Perry (Lawrence County), Xavier Prater (Lewis County), Gabe Pridemore (Russell), Julian Puente (Lewis County), Kyle Rose (Johnson Central), Brayden Shepherd (Johnson Central), Logan Spencer (Morgan County), Tamel Smith (Fairview), Connor Thacker (Raceland), Deshawn Watson (Rowan County), Nathan Webb (West Carter), Jameson Williams (Menifee County), Brock Woods (Paintsville), Gunnar Woods (Lawrence County).

(606) 326-2658