‘This is a generational moment.’ Reed Sheppard, Trent Noah put 13th Region back on map.

The state of Kentucky is in the midst of a golden age of producing high-level high school basketball talent.

While plenty of attention is on the 2025 recruiting class — which features a trio of top-50 girls basketball recruits and two top boys prospects in Jasper Johnson and Malachi Moreno — right now it’s the 13th Region that’s dominating the recruiting talk in the commonwealth.

A quartet of 13th Region alums have played for the Kentucky men’s and women’s basketball teams in recent years. On the women’s side, Maci Morris (Bell County) and Blair Green (Harlan County) were fan favorites during their distinguished careers with the Wildcats.

On the men’s side, Reed Sheppard (North Laurel) electrified UK fans during a surprise one-and-done college season, earning national freshman of the year honors along the way. Sheppard will be a lottery selection in this summer’s NBA draft. Another 13th Region alum, Trent Noah (Harlan County), has signed to play for the Wildcats next season under first-year coach Mark Pope.

Noah’s arrival at UK comes on the heels of a stirring run in the Boys’ Sweet 16 state tournament, during which Harlan County won its first state tournament game and advanced to the state championship game.

Safe to say, right now the 13th Region is having a big basketball moment.

“I don’t think folks really realize this is a once in a lifetime situation in this area,” said Les Dixon, a writer for the 13th Region Media Network. “… This is a generational moment here. A lot of kids in the 13th Region, they put a lot of hard work in, just like everyone across the state, but the recognition might not come as much.”

The 13th Region, with 17 schools for boys basketball and 16 for girls, has produced plenty of hoops talent in the past.

This group, of course, includes former University of Kentucky stars Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones (Harlan) and Richie Farmer (Clay County).

But it also includes plenty of basketball standouts who had decorated careers at schools other than UK.

Recent examples include Andrew Taylor (Corbin), who scored more than 3,000 points in high school for the Redhounds before scoring more than 1,600 points across four seasons at Marshall. Taylor also played in seven games last season at Mississippi State.

“I think the 13th Region kind of goes under the radar (with) the talent that is produced here,” Harlan County boys basketball coach Kyle Jones said. “There’s been a lot of great players to come out of the 13th Region.”

The list of 13th Region alums who went on to play at the college level is, obviously, a lengthy one, and includes past Kentucky Mr. Basketball award winners Walt Allen (the 2006 winner from South Laurel who played in college at Presbyterian) and Charles Thomas (the 1995 winner from Harlan who played at Minnesota and Eastern Kentucky).

Earlier this year, Noah — who is one of 12 players confirmed to be part of Pope’s first Kentucky basketball team next season — broke Thomas’ Harlan County career scoring record.

Plenty of recent 13th Region stars have enjoyed stellar careers below the Division I ranks as well, such as South Laurel’s Matthew Cromer and J.J. Ramey (University of the Cumberlands) and Knox Central’s Markelle Turner (Union College).

Past Kentucky Miss Basketball award winners from the 13th Region include the aforementioned Morris (2015) and Kim Mays (Knox Central), who won the 1990 award and played 109 college games at Auburn and EKU. Mays averaged more than 21 points per game during her final two college seasons with the Colonels, and she twice won Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year honors.

The 13th Region has produced a trio of state champions on the boys side (Corbin in 1936, Harlan in 1944 and Clay County in 1987) and two state champions for girls (Whitley County in 1985 and Clay County in 1989).

Reed Sheppard, Trent Noah are latest 13th Region basketball stars

With Sheppard and Noah leading the way, the 13th Region is now back in the spotlight as a hub of top Kentucky basketball talent.

While nobody could have predicted the star turn that Sheppard’s freshman season at Kentucky took, he was still a widely respected recruit in the 2023 class.

The 247Sports Composite had Sheppard ranked as a four-star prospect, and he became just the 15th Kentucky high schooler to be named a boys McDonald’s All-American since that game began in 1977. He was was the first player from the 13th Region to earn that honor.

“There’s always been really good basketball here in this part of the state. Ever since I was growing up, there’s been good players coming out of here,” said North Laurel boys basketball coach Nate Valentine, who coached Sheppard with the Jaguars.

Valentine said Sheppard’s impact as a must-see player was also felt in the stands at North Laurel games. While some of Sheppard’s high school career came during the global COVID-19 pandemic, standing-room only crowds were the norm when those gatherings were allowed, right as Sheppard took off as a player and prospect.

“Reed is obviously, I think, a generational player with what he did in high school and what he’s continued to do at Kentucky and now setting himself up for a top-five, top-10 pick in the NBA,” Valentine said.

Noah isn’t quite on Sheppard’s level as a college prospect. But he’s not far off.

The 247Sports Composite also has Noah ranked as a four-star recruit. He initially committed to another SEC school, South Carolina, last October from a final group that also included Butler, Dayton, Saint Louis, Seton Hall, Stanford, Richmond and Western Kentucky.

Of course, Noah is now headed to Kentucky after asking out of his national letter of intent with the Gamecocks following Kentucky’s offseason coaching change from John Calipari to Pope.

“The excitement to have back-to-back players (at UK) is unbelievable in this area,” said Dixon, the reporter who extensively covered the high school careers of both Sheppard and Noah.

“I run a 13th Region media site, and we have message boards, and the message boards have gone crazy about Trent going to UK. Our views are tripled, quadrupled from what it had been before Trent and Reed really started to hit that star power.”

Who are the next top high school players in the 13th Region?

The 13th Region is well stocked with basketball talent for the future.

Harlan County’s run to the Boys’ Sweet 16 state championship game this year was highlighted by Noah’s incredible scoring efforts: 129 combined points across four games at the state tournament, including 48 points in an overtime, quarterfinal win against Campbell County.

“Just the impact that these kids have made on this community. Everybody got on board and followed these kids,” said Jones, the Harlan County coach. “… A lot of times 13th Region teams get (to the Sweet 16) and it’s not an every year occurrence that they win games, especially multiple games.”

To Jones’ point, this year Harlan County became the first 13th Region champion to win a game at the state tournament since Corbin in 2018.

The Black Bears’ performance on the big stage also highlighted one of Noah’s teammates who could be the next breakout star from the 13th Region.

Maddox Huff, a 6-foot-3 rising senior guard, led Harlan County in scoring in the state title game with 22 points.

Across Harlan County’s four games at the Sweet 16, Huff scored 74 points. Ahead of his final high school season, Huff has reported scholarship offers from EKU and East Tennessee State.

Other current players to know in the 13th Region include South Laurel rising senior Jordan Mabe and North Laurel rising junior Reece Davidson, who is a cousin of Sheppard and has already reported scholarship offers from Central Arkansas and EKU.

“I’ve felt like the last two years with Reed Sheppard and Trent (Noah), they’ve definitely helped put the 13th Region back on the state map as far as basketball in peoples’ eyes and gained us a lot of respect,” Jones said.

Harlan County’s Trent Noah (2) will follow fellow 13th Region alum Reed Sheppard in playing college basketball at Kentucky.
Harlan County’s Trent Noah (2) will follow fellow 13th Region alum Reed Sheppard in playing college basketball at Kentucky.

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