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Basketball: ex-GHS stars, coach ready to link championship chain from 1984

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
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GAINESVILLE -- Patrick Hamilton still hears about 1984.

"I was at the state semifinal game the other day and people were talking about that team -- people outside the Gainesville program still talk more about us than we do," said Hamilton, who starred for the Red Elephants squads that claimed back-to-back state titles in 1983-84, going 59-1 in the process.

Twenty-nine years later Hamilton -- along with countless aulmni and former stars -- hopes the Red Elephants are about to create a new legacy.

On Friday, Gainesville will travel to Macon to take on Miller Grove for the Class AAAAA championship -- the Red Elephants' first title tilt since Hamilton and his teammates' ultimate success almost three decades ago.

"It's kind of shocked a number of us that we're just now getting back there considering the amount of talent we've had come through Gainesville over the years, but we're thrilled it's happening," said Hamilton, who went on to play for the University of Georgia (1986-89) and now works for the Gainesville school system, including acting as junior varsity basketball coach.

"It's really rejuvenated the way everyone feels around here. I think it's taken on a city-wide effect."

In fact the reach of Gainesville's accomplishment has stretched far beyond state borders, and legendary Red Elephants coach Jerry Davis -- who won over 700 games, 11 region titles, 13 Lanierland titles and made eight state semifinal appearances before retiring in 2008 -- says he's been following his former team's playoff run with a sense of satisfaction.

"I haven't seen them play, but I know they're a good team; I know Todd (Cottrell) has done a good job with them, and I wish them the best of luck," said Davis, who was in Texas on Thursday celebrating the birthday of his grandson. "It's been too long since we've won a title, and it's time to hang another banner."

While Davis may not have an intimate knowledge of this year's Red Elephants squad, the coach certainly knew of this year's senior class when they were in the seventh grade -- during Davis' final season at Gainesville -- and expected big things from them during their varsity careers.

"I knew they had lots of talent, and I knew they could do big things," said Davis, who turned the reins over to Cottrell content in the current coach's ability to get the most out of the Red Elephants. "I knew Todd would do a good job with them. He's done well everywhere he's been and he'll have them ready to play on Friday."

There will be plenty of former Gainesville standouts in Macon hoping to witness yet another thrilling victory for the Red Elephants, which have claimed four straight playoff games by an average margin of 1.75 points.

"They have that ability to win close games, and that's huge," said former guard Kris Nordholz, who starred for the Red Elephants 1988-91 before going on to letter at Georgia (1993-96). "They've found a way to pull things out. Those teams in the early 80s were so good they knew they were going to win -- the other team knew they were going to win. But there's something special about the way the current team has accomplished this."

After failing to progress past the quarterfinal stage in three of his four years with the Red Elephants, Nordholz saw firsthand the thin line between winning and losing in the postseason, and he hopes the momentum the current team has built will be enough to carry it forward in Friday's championship contest.

"It's fun to see those young guys pick it back up, and I hope they can pull it out," said Nordholz, whose younger brother Kary also started for the Red Elephants, reaching the 1997 Class AA semifinals. "It's great to be part of that Gainesville legacy and pass it on down."

While Davis won't have the chance to see it in person, the former coach will be there in spirit and has no doubt his former program will be ready for the challenge against the four-time defending state champ Miller Grove.

"I have full confidence in them," Davis said. "At this point you have to make sure you do everything you can to prepare yourself and do everything you can on the floor. You don't want to leave that game having any regrets that you didn't do everything you could. It's a great accomplishment just to get there, but they'll be ready for this game."

And maybe then Hamilton and his teammates can pass the torch from 1984.

"This is extremely gratifying," Hamilton said. "Watching these guys evolve has been a lot of fun."
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