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(VIDEO) 2017-18 Boys Basketball: Area teams looking to continue ascent begun last season

By AccessWDUN Staff
Posted 7:01AM on Tuesday 14th November 2017 ( 1 week ago )

The 2016-17 prep boys basketball season was both successful and disappointing all at the same time.

On the positive side, Buford stormed its way to its first-ever state title in Class AAAAA and Lakeview Academy advanced to its first-ever Final Four in the always-rugged Class A Private.

On the disappointing side, only one other team managed to get past the second round. Gainesville, ranked No. 1 for most of the season, was stunned by Langston Hughes in overtime in the Class AAAAAA quarterfinals, a team they had beaten during the regular season but could not topple in a back-and-forth playoff game.

Yet area teams have put all that behind them as they prepare for what could be a return to prominence in the 2017-18 campaign.

Buford and Gainesville are nearly intact and will be chasing state titles once again. East Hall may have its best team in years and looks for a fourth straight Region 7-AAA title while Chestatee is ready to pursue its first playoff berth in over a decade. Banks County (Region 8-AA) is poised to defend its region title and Town County is trying to rebuild as it goes for an unprecendented third consecutive playoff spot.

Five new coaches at Commerce, Habersham Central, Jefferson, Johnson, and Lanier will also roam area sidelines as they try and restart those programs.

Those are just some of the storylines as the season tips off this week.

So who will elevate, and who will provide the key moments of the upcoming campaign? Read on in our season preview and see what northeast Georgia's programs have in store... 

(NOTES:Teams listed alphabetically. ... For a key on abbreviations scroll to bottom.)

2017-18 BOYS HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL PREVIEWS

BANKS COUNTY
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Mike Cleveland, seventh season
-- REGION: 8-AA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 23-5, Region 8-AA champions, 20-game win streak, reached second round Class AA state playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 4
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. P Dylan Orr (6-7, All-Region first team, GACA All-State team), So. Carl Cleveland (6-4, All-Region first team), Sr. Gabe Martin (6-2, All-Region Hon. Mention), Sr. Darius Bonds (6-2, All-Region Hon. Mention)
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: Expectations again are high for the Leopards, who have won 71 games the past three seasons. They are shooting for a second straight Region 8-AA title and an even deeper playoff run this time around. Cleveland was one of the breakout freshmen in northeast Georgia last season, and with Orr on the inside the Leopards have a formidable inside-outside game. Martin and Barnes give them four starters 6-foot-2 or taller and a height advantage in most every game in region play. Eight games vs. playoff-caliber teams in Hart County, East Hall, Madison County, West Hall, and North Hall should prepare them for region play.

BUFORD
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Eddie Martin, third season (45-14; 729-239 record in 36 seasons at various schools)
-- REGION: 8-AAAAA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 29-2, Region 8-AAAAA champions, Class AAAAA state champions 
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 4
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. PG Alex Jones (12 ppg, 7.0 apg), Sr. David Viti (13 ppg, 5.0 rpg), , Jr. F Marcus Watson (18 ppg, 9.0 rpg), So. PG Donell Nixon (10 ppg, 4.0 apg) 
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Wolves should be a favorite to repeat as region champions and among a handful of teams to reach the state finals. However, state runner-up and fellow 8-AAAAA foe Cedar Shoals is also reloading so look for the two teams to stage some epic battles during the season. Buford returns 9 players and 4 starters from last year's group and Jones, Viti, and Watson are among the best trio in the state in any classification. Of course staying healthy will be a key and Martin has put together a challenging non-region schedule, including Wheeler, the Craig Sager Memorial Tournament at Dacula, and the Kingdom of the Sun Tournament in Vanguard, Fla. Yet another big highlight comes on Jan. 20 in a home date with powerhouse Gainesville, a favorite to reach the AAAAAA finals.

CHESTATEE 
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Kevin Strickland, second season
-- REGION: 7-AAAA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 5-20
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 4
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. G Donovan Hernandez (10 ppg, 1st team All-Region), Jr. G Cameron Gwyn (10 ppg, 2nd team All-Region), Sr. G Cooper Wilson (10 ppg), Sr. F Nick Lyles (6.0 rpg)
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: Optimism is high in the Sardis area as the War Eagles feel they have a chance to end a decade-long playoff drought and compete for a region title. They have 9 seniors and return their top three scorers in Hernandez, Wilson, and Gwyn -- but the expected depth in an uptempo offense and pressure-defense style may be their biggest strength. Seniors Angel Zamora, Matt McNeal, Cade Larned, and Jarrett Gray should all be able to provide instant production off the bench. They have stepped up the schedule as well, facing seven playoff teams from last season, including Class 5A state champion Buford.

COMMERCE 
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Russ Gregg, first season
-- REGION: 8-A
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 3-23
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 3
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. F Kyre Ware (10 ppg, 8 rpg), Sr. G Jamecus Cox, Jr. G Chandler Martin
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: It is a homecoming of sorts for Gregg, who is a 1996 Commerce grad under his dad and longtime Tigers coach Rex Gregg. The once-proud porgram was just 3-46 the last two seasons combined and the younger Gregg said they are in the infant stages of a rebuild/rebrand for the Tigers. With several key players still on the football team -- which begin the playoffs this week -- it may take until after the Christmas break before the Tigers will get a chance to jell as a unit. In a very tough Region 8-A, a playoff run may still be a few years away.

DAWSON COUNTY 
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Chad Pittman, second season (14-14 record at school)
-- REGION: 7-AAA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 14-14, reached first round Class AAA state playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 4
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. PG Cullen Reed, Sr. PG Coey Watson, Sr. G Jeremiah Crumley, Sr. F Ryan Gallenkamp, So. G Campbell Reed
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Tigers will be senior-laden and return the bulk of a roster that fell to eventual state champion Pace Academy in the first round of the playoffs. They will play an up-tempo style and live and die from the perimeter -- led by Crumley, who is one of the best sharp-shooters in the region. Dawson should challenge for a playoff spot again in what should be an improved 7-AAA that saw just one team, East Hall, make it out of the first round last season.

EAST HALL 
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Joe Dix, 14th season
-- REGION: 7-AAA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 22-8, Region 7-AAA champions, reached second round Class AAA state playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 4
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. G Luke Cooper (17 ppg), Sr. C Sedrion Morse (12 ppg. 7.5 rpg, All-Region), Jr. G Luke Holtzclaw (8 ppg, 40 percent 3-pt shooting), So. G Mon Prather, So. P Walter Dixon, Sr. G Deonte Evans (top defender, solid 3-point shooter), So. P Lavoy Hill, So. TJ Campbell
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Vikings have won three straight region titles and should once again be the favorite for the crown. This may the closest team ability-wise to some of those dominating teams from a decade ago that smothered opponents defensively. Several quick defensive-minded guards and quality depth give Dix more options than in recent campaigns. They will still be a streaky offensive team but Cooper and Holtzclaw give them a solid outside duo to complement the inside presence of Morse. Dixon, Jayvion Rucker (a 6-6 wing), and up-and-coming freshman Imre Earls could all make an impact by season's end.

EAST JACKSON
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: David Akin, second season
-- REGION: 8-AAA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 2-24
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 5
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. G Kobe Haley, Sr. G Zay Clark, Sr. G Jace Bonds, Sr. P Braeden Lowe, Jr. G Miles Addington
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: Haley, Clark, Bonds, and transfer Jr. G Tay Howard (Madison County) all averaged double figures last season. The Eagles will have more depth in 2017-18 but it will still be an uphill climb in a region that has the state runner-up in Morgan County and another in Monroe Area that advanced to the second round.They have a tough non-region schedule that features a trip to Orlando, Florida, and games against Buford, Dawson Christian Academy and Class 7A Rockdale County.

FANNIN COUNTY
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Scott Eggleston, seventh season
-- REGION: 7-AAA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 8-17, won the ETC/Piedmont Mountainside Thanksgiving Tournament for the first time in 10 years
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 1
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. G Joe Satchell, Jr. F Ryan Beavers, Jr. G Chandler Kendall, Sr. G Payton Holt, Jr. G Chase Culpepper, Jr. F Nathaniel Garrison, Jr. C Joel Kinser
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: Satchell is the only returning starter but the offense should run through him. Kendall may be the Rebels best offensive player but he is out till the first week of December at the earliest because of an injury. The Rebels should be a quicker team on the perimeter with more height inside but are looking for some experience and depth to step forward. Beavers was a rebounding force last season and could be looked upon for more scoring in 2017-18. Fannin could be a darkhorse in the region this season if Kendall comes back at 100 percent and they stay healthy otherwise. 

FLOWERY BRANCH 
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: David Sokol, fifth season
-- REGION: 8-AAAAA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 19-9, Keller Williams Christmas Tournament champion, reached first round Class AAAAA state playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 3
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. PG Blake Coxworth (5 ppg, 3.5 apg, 2.5 rpg), Sr. F Myles Janess (4.3 ppg 2.5 rpg), Sr. F Justin Quick (9 ppg, 4 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.2 spg), Sr. G Patsheko Lutumba (6.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.3 spg)
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Falcons are coming off their best season in years and were just 2 points from advancing to the second round of the playoffs. They have an experienced core group of returning seniors and should be very competitive in a tough region that contained the state champion and state runner-up last season. Finding some key contributions off the bench will determine just how far they can go in 2017-18. Sokol has put together a challenging schedule which consists of six non-region playoff teams, not including the always-challenging Lanierland Tournament.

GAINESVILLE
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Benjie Wood, fifth season (342-141 overall record)
-- REGION: 8-AAAAAA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 28-2, Lanierland Champions, Region 8-AAAAAA champions, Class AAAAAA state quarterfinalist
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 5
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. F KJ Buffen, Sr. F Bailey Minor, Sr. G Xavier Bledson, Sr. G/F Jarred Rosser, Sr. G/F Jarrel Rosser, Sr. G Kajuan Hale
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: A roster that is loaded and senior-dominated that should once again be a favorite to win the state title. The Red Elephants were ranked No. 1 most of last season in AAAAAA but suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss to eventual state champion Langston Hughes -- a team they had beaten in the season-opener -- in the playoffs. Wood has put together a very challenging schedule, facing four teams in the top 10 in Class 7A, the top 3 teams in Class 5A, including a monster showdown with Buford on Jan. 20, the No. 2-ranked team in Class 4A, two nationally-ranked teams in Weslyan Christian and Memphis East, not to mention a brutal 8-AAAAAA schedule. Yet, judging from what we saw last season, only injuries, or another stunning upset, could keep the Red Elephants from making another deep run in the playoffs.

HABERSHAM CENTRAL
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Jeremy York, first season
-- REGION: 8-AAAAAA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 1-24
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 2
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. F Bryce Tanner, Sr. P Caleb Hodges
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Raiders will be rebuilding under new coach York, who is still evaluating what he has in Mt. Airy. Tanner and Caleb Gaines are the only returning starters, and Hodges was in and out of the starting lineup last season. Habersham is in a tough region with state title contender Gainesville and usual powerhouses Dacula and Apalachee and a rising Lanier. It may take York another year or so to get the Raiders back in the playoff conversation.

JACKSON COUNTY
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Chuck Butler, fourth season (25-55 record at school)
-- REGION: 8-AAA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 3-22
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 7 players that rotated
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. G Hunter Mealey, Sr. G Iaises Risher, Sr. P Hunter Cantrell, Sr. P Bryce Byrnes, Sr. G Riley Roussell, Sr. G Russell Spence, Jr. P Chase Daniel
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The 2016-17 team was young and rebuilding after losing 7 seniors from an 18-12 season and Sweet 16 appearance the year before. Cantrell is a threat both inside and out, and the 6-6 Daniel is developing in the post as the only true center on the team. The Panthers should have a lot of versatility in the up-tempo style they like to employ. It may be another year before they challenge for a region title, but with 10 seniors and juniors they could make a run at the playoffs. They have a tough schedule in a region that features the state runner-up in Morgan County and another in Monroe Area that advanced to the second round. 

JEFFERSON
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Kevin Morris, first season (15 seasons at Class AAAAAA Apalachee)
-- REGION: 8-AAAA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 4-22
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 3
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. G Jamal Meadows, So. G Jasper Gibson, So. P Jacob Radaker
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Dragons missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and Morris will try and rebuild the Dragons into a playoff team that suffered one of its roughest seasons in memory last year. Morris's team like to play up-tempo and Meadows and Gibson should give the Dragons a chance to grow into his 4-guard system. Expect Jefferson to improve as the season goes along and be ready to challenge for a playoff spot in a tough region that contains state runner-up St. Pius and another, Stephens County, that also was beaten by eventual state champion Upson-Lee.

JOHNSON 
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Tyler Whitlock, first season
-- REGION: 8-AAAAA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 9-17
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 2
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. PG Chan Jones, Sr. SG Will Ricther
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Knights are on to their third coach in four years and second in three seasons since Jeff Steele departed for Lumpkin County. Whitlock will try get the Knights back into playoff contention but has just two starters back in Jones -- who is an electric ball handler that can push the tempo -- and Ricther -- a 6-3 player with versatility -- as players that saw any significant playing time last season. It will be tough in a region that features the defending state champ in Buford and the the state runner-up in Cedar Shoals and a third-place team in Flowery Branch that won 19 games last season. If Whitlock can find some complementary players to Jones and Richter they could improve on the last two seasons that saw them miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

LAKEVIEW ACADEMY 
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Todd Cottrell, fifth season
-- REGION: 8-A
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 25-6, Region 8-A Champions, Class A Private state semifinalist
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 3
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. G Drew Cottrell (16 ppg, 4 rpg, 3 apg, 2 spg, Region 8-A Player of Year, GACA All-State selection), Jr. F Evan Pitts (7 ppg, 4 rpg, drew a school-record 47 charges in 2016-17), Sr. G Jack Blackburn (4 ppg, 4 apg 1 spg), Sr. F Griffin Sewell (5 ppg, 2 rpg), Jr. G Adam Cottrell (6 ppg, 2 rpg), Jr. G KJ Millwood, So. G Sam Stewart, Sr. F Alec Bornhorst, Sr. C Noah Lindler, Jr. G Blake McIntyre, Jr. F Arturo Varela
--SEASON OUTLOOK: The Lions are coming of their best season in school history and the challenge will be to try and duplicate that with a target on their backs. They will need to find players willing to step up and replace the production of the graduated Tre Gober and Josh Randolph, but they still have plenty of versatility and depth for their up-tempo style. Coach Cottrell has put together an extremely tough non-region schedule with Class 6A Lanier, Rabun County, Class 7A Norcross, Class A semifinalist St. Francis, the Lanierland Tournament, and Savannah Jenkins in the BCB MLK Showcase, and Chattanooga Christian in the season finale. The Lions may not set another wins record with that schedule but they should be more than prepped for another crack at a region title and deep playoff run.

LANIER
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Branden Mayweather, first season
-- REGION: 8-AAAAAA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 14-14, reached first round Class AAAAAA playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 3
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. G Adrian Martin (reached 1,000-point plateau last season), So. G Sion James, Jr. 6-6 F/C Ejai Washington, Sr. G Alex Walker
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Longhorns return a slew of varsity lettermen and despite a coaching change they are looking at making another playoff run. Martin, James, and Walker give them solid ball-handling and outside shooting, while Washington should be a force inside. In an effort to build for a playoff run, the Longhorns have 11 games against playoff teams from last season on the schedule, not counting their 8-AAAAAA schedule, which includes state title contenders Gainesville and Dacula. Mayweather said they are expecting to improve on last year's win total.

LUMPKIN COUNTY 
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Jeff Steele, third season
-- REGION: 7-AAA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 15-14, Battle of the States Tournament champion, reached first round Class AAA state playoffs; Steele reached the 300-win plateau
-- RETURNING STARTERS: Zero
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. C Austin Black, Sr. PG Austin Brooks
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: This will be a transition year for the Indians after stars like Zach Pulley, who is now at North Georgia, graduated after leadng them to back-to-back state tournament appearances. The Indians will be extremely young with little varsity experience in what is expected to be a tougher region than last season. They could have a decent inside-outside game with Black and Brooks to run the up-tempo style that Steele's teams are known for. Yet with another tough schedule, including trying to defend their Battle of the States title, they will need to find some depth to complement the duo.

NORTH FORSYTH 
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Brian Moon, seventh season
-- REGION: 5-AAAAAAA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 5-20
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 3
-- KEY PLAYERS: Jr. PG Jonathan Pefanis (6 ppg), Sr. SG Kellson Gravitt (5 ppg), Sr. F Preston Wiggins (9 ppg), Sr. Michael Ray Hyams (3 ppg), Jr. Braden Collins (4 ppg)
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Raiders are still looking for their first winning season in more than a decade. They have the upperclassmen experience coming into this season and Moon is looking for several younger players to step up and contribute this year. They play in a very tough region and finishing with a .500 region record may be tough, but if the younger players step forward they may be ready to take the next step.

NORTH HALL 
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Tyler Sanders, fifth season (55-55 record at school)
-- REGION: 7-AAA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 14-12
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 1
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. G Taylor Hanson, Sr. G Noah Holman, Sr. G Cole Brooks
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: It may well be a rebuilding year early on for the Trojans, who missed out on the playoffs last season for the first time since 2014. Sanders says the roster will be full of underclassmen with little to no varsity experience and that there will be growing pains early. Also, several key players just finished the football season and may need a couple of weeks to get in basketball shape . But playing in a rugged 7-AAA the younger players will get plenty of quality experience, and Sanders said he is expecting to see improvement. How quickly the younger players progress will decide if the Trojans will be able to make a run at a playoff spot by season's end.

RABUN COUNTY
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Jeff Page, 12th season
-- REGION: 8-AA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 11-15
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 4
-- KEY PLAYERS: -- Sr. G Tevan Dixon (returning starter, 21.7 ppg last season), Sr. G Bailey Fisher (returning starter, 17.3 ppg), So. W Braxton Hicks (returning starter, 9 ppg), Sr. W Grayson Lane (returning starter, 8.4 ppg)
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Wildcats missed out on the playoffs last year after 7 straight postseason runs, including back-to-back 2nd round appearances in 2014-15 and 2015-16. They return plenty of experience and balance, as they try to get back to the postseason in what should once again be a very tough region that had two teams advance to the second round. Dixon, who is coming off an ACL injury and should be fully ready, and Fisher give them solid oustide shooting and rebounding from the guard spot. Fisher and Hicks, however, are leading the football team into the playoffs so they may not be available until almost the Christmas break. Hicks and Lane should be a solid duo inside.

RIVERSIDE MILITARY 
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Marvin Latham, fourth season (29-40 record at school)
-- REGION: 8-A
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 9-14, reached first round Class A Private state playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 3
-- KEY PLAYERS: Jr. G Trey Green, Jr. G/F Issac Teasley, Sr. SG William Eidson, Jr. SF Khalid Duke
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: Thanks to the unique challenges of being a military boarding school the Eagles are often rebuilding, but with Green, Teasley, and Duke all back there is plenty of room for optimism this season. They are guard-oriented, which should keep the Eagles competitive in a very tough region that features several up-tempo teams like Lakeview Academy and Athens Christian. RMA is coming off back-to-back playoff appearances, and, if the newcomers integrate with the more experienced players, the Eagles could make a move into the upper-tier in the region and improve their playoff positioning.

 STEPHENS COUNTY
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Chad Bridges, sixth season
-- REGION: 8-AAAA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 21-8, Region 8-AAAA runner-up; reached second round Class AAAA state playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 4
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. 6-8 PF De’Undra Singleton (19 ppg, 8 rpg; 1st team All-Region), Sr. 6-3 G Chaz Bridges (12 ppg), Sr. 6-0 Tae Thornton, Jr. 6-5 Ty Nails SF/SG 
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Indians playoff loss last season was by just 6 points to eventual state champion Upson-Lee. The Indians should again be capable of competing for the region title with Singleton and Bridges leading the way. They will need to develop more depth to overcome the graduation of four key players from last year's team.

TOWNS COUNTY
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Rob Benson, third season
-- REGION: 8-A
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 19-10, reached second round Class A Public playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 2
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. G Zach Davenport, Sr. F Logan Cowart, Jr. Cole Ledford, Jr. F Will Travis
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Indians graduated 4 seniors, including 3 starters -- most notably Will DeVries and Major Moss -- that were one of the most successful classes in program history. They are coming off back-to-back state tourney appearances for the first time since 1975. DeVries and Moss will be difficult to replace. Davenport, the leading scorer from last season, will carry the load offensively. Cowart is a tough defender and rebounder inside, and Travis is an athletic big man. Davenport will need some offensive help, and if they can find a consistent second and third scorer that may tell whether the Indians can make an unprecedented third consecutive playoff run.

UNION COUNTY
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Casey Jones, fifth season (58-56 record at school)
-- REGION: 7-AAA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 10-16
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 4
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. G Candler Colwell, Sr. G Crawford Colwell, Sr. PF RJ Banton, So. G Pierson Allison 
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Panthers missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 2013 last season after jumping up to Class AAA. Union held a 10-10 record at one point before dropping its final six games The Panthers return the bulk of their starting core after graduating just one player from last year's roster and should be poised to make a playoff run. Expect an up-tempo style in their guard-oriented offense that should be able to put pressure on most defenses.

WEST HALL 
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Bobby Pless, second season
-- REGION: 7-AAAA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 9-20, reached first round Class AAAA state playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 2
-- KEY PLAYERS: Jr. G Noah Edmondson (9.0 ppg, 2nd-team All-Region 7-AAAA), Jr. G Braden Martin, Sr. G Tae Reid, Jr. PG Jeremiah Prather, Jr. P Hunter Rainey, So. PG Devontae Buffington, Jr. W Quentin Smith
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: After a transition year in 2016-17, the Spartans will have a nice blend of experience to go with some talented youth and should have depth at every position. Pless should have the ability to mix-and-match his lineups and keep scoring balance on the floor. The Spartans will be guard-oriented and feature several scorers in Edmondson, Martin, and Reid -- along with playmakers like Prather and Buffington, who could be one of the more talented youngsters in the region. The Spartans could be ready to challenge for a region championship this season.

WHITE COUNTY 
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Sam Borg, seventh season
-- REGION: 7-AAAA
-- 2016-17 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 17-11, reached first round Class AAAA playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 4
-- KEY PLAYERS: Jr. PG Austin Harris (7-AAAA All-Region), Jr. P Jay Lepkoske (7-AAAA All-Region), Sr. W Kaleb Crane, Sr. G Clay Dockery, Sr. F Austin Rowland, Jr. F Daniel Rowland, Jr. F Chandler Harris 
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: Leading scorer John Ward has graduated but the Warriors still return plenty of experience in the starting lineup and have several underclassmen ready to provide some much-needed depth. They return their starting backcourt of Harris and Crane, and Borg said they have more players that can handle the ball this season. Region 7-AAAA should once again be competitive, containing just five teams, and if the Warriors can find the depth Borg wants they could be in line to make another playoff run.

-- Key: Sr: senior, Jr: junior, So: sophomore, Fr: freshman, PG: point guard, G: guard, SG: shooting guard, W: wing, F: forward, PF: power forward, SF: small forward, P: post, C: center, PPG: points per game, RPG: rebounds per game, APG: assists per game, SPG: steals per game, FT: free throws.

Gainesville's Kajuan Hale (3) hangs while looking for a shot against Flowery Branch during the 2016 Lanierland tournament.

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