Preseason 2022-23 UC Top 5

Each week during the 2022-23 high school basketball season, UCR’s Rusty Ellis, Michael Lindsay and Noah McKay will release the UC Top 5. The lists will feature the top 5 girls’ and boys’ basketball teams in the Upper Cumberland, according to them.

Please note this list is 100% opinion-based, and will change throughout the season.

Preseason Top 5

The high school basketball season is set to tipoff around the state of Tennessee and many Upper Cumberland teams have their sights set on finishing the season in Murfreesboro. The first week of the top 5 is always the hardest, as we do not have much to work on. For example, last year the Class AAA state champions were honorable mentions on the first list (spoiler, they are on it this year). The list will change drastically in the first several weeks of the season as teams emerge around the area.

Let’s get to the list.

UC Top 5 Girls’ Teams

  1. Upperman

The reigning Class AAA state champions take the number one spot on the preseason list. The Lady Bees are a perennial powerhouse under Dana McWilliams, and they appear poised for another strong campaign. They’ll be replacing a Miss Basketball for the second straight year as Brooklyn Crouch has moved on to Division 1 hoops, they’ll also be looking for a replacement for Emma Conradi. That being said, Upperman returns Abigail Johnson and Jayla Cobb in a addition to a more experienced Gracie Hamilton and Bella Mullins. Combine them with a talented freshman class and some transfers, and you get the top spot.

2. York Institute

The Dragonettes return a loaded roster that will be hungry to finish the job after falling in the Class AA state championship game last season. Reese Beaty is expected to dominate in her sophomore season, but Gabby Beaty appears to be the unquestioned leader of the team entering her senior season. Combine them with a strong, experienced supporting class and you have a recipe for a great team. One look at the Dragonettes district and region shows you a clear path back to Murfreesboro.

3. Cookeville

Speaking of teams that are hungry, now enter the Cookeville Lady Cavaliers. Fresh off one of the best seasons in school history, the Lady Cavs appear to be ready to dominate again. They open at the third spot simply because of the loss of KK Graves, Chay Cunningham and Bailey Gillies, but it is a CHS team that returns a Miss Basketball contender in Cassie Gallagher along with the versatile Jordan Gillies. With players like Isabel Garcia and Grace Ann Kelly poised to play a larger role and a talented freshman class, the Lady Cavs are loading up for another dominant year.

4. White County

The Warriorettes return one of the tallest lineups in 3A hoops. Nia Powers and Celeste Reed will anchor a team that also featuresKarley Gentry , KK McDonald, KB Frasier and Lexie Golden. Combine that class with sophomore Ava Jones and a talented crop of freshman guards and the Warriorettes could challenge for the District 7/AAA crown.

5. Cumberland County

Last year’s regular season district champs round out an absolutely stacked list of girls’ basketball teams. In any other district in the state, the Lady Jets would be the odds-on favorite. Despite the district, CCHS could battle for a title led by Emory Baragona and Abby Houston. Kim Cram has familiar faces all over the floor in year 2 at the helm in Crossville, and if they can put it all together, this is a CCHS team that will win a lot of games during the season.

Honorable Mentions

  • Pickett County
  • Livingston Academy

UC Top 5 Boys’ Teams

  1. Stone Memorial

The Panthers return a stacked roster coming off a season which ended in the semifinal round of the state tournament. Led by sophomore Cade Capps, this is a Panthers team that does not appear to have many weaknesses. Beyond Capps, Matthew Bilbrey is one of the top guards in the area, if not the state, and Bear Eldridge all figure to play key roles throughout the season. Their biggest challenge, however, is close by on this list.

2. White County

The gap between Sparta and Stone was razor thin, but the Panthers earned the nod by nature of what they did in the 2022 postseason. The Warriors return a loaded roster. All five starters return, four being seniors and the other being the reigning defensive player of the year in District 7/AAA. They also return their sixth man, Christian Henderson, who figures to play a big role this season. Their staple of guards in Jake Davis, Thomas Paul and Thomas Brock present challenges for opponents, and Japheth Richmond is one of the most physically-imposing players in the area.

3. York Institute

The Dragons return three starters from a team that made a trip to Murfreesboro last year. How they replace Nic Smith and Jon Heddings will be an important story to watch early in the season, but they should roll through their district and region before facing any significant tests, which will give them plenty of time to figure those questions out. Look for Myles Leffew and Blaine York to have breakout seasons.

4. Cookeville

The Cavaliers could prove to be underrated by the time this season ends. Josh Heard returns for his junior season and is joined by experienced players Bennett Reeves and Dontae Potts-Heard. The Cookeville backcourt should be a strength, and under head coach Josh Heard and his system, that should prove to be a valuable strength. Cookeville’s biggest detriment may be their district with the likes of Lebanon and Green Hill to battle in pursuit of a long postseason run.

5. Upperman

The Bees were “rebuilding” last year and still were competitive all season long. Now they return AJ Nash who is one of the top shooters in the district, Jaxson and Kam Bush, Clayton Harris, a very talented freshman class among others. There could be growing pains early in the year, particularly given the amount of football players on the team who still aren’t practicing, but this is the kind of team that you won’t want to play in January and February. 

Honorable Mentions:

  • Clay County
  • DeKalb County