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Monday January 17th, 2022 10:42PM

2021-22 Boys basketball previews: Some programs rebuild; others hope for deep tournament run

By Bo Wilson Sports Editor
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The COVID-19 pandemic did its best to alter last season. Some area teams played in empty gyms or in front of reduced attendance and had to deal with quarantines and forfeits. But programs around the area didn't let it stop them from making the best out of a not-so-good situation.  

Towns County was the cream of the crop in Northeast Georgia last season, winning the school's first-ever basketball state championship. White County played its first-ever home playoff game and won its first-ever playoff game. It snapped a 20-year playoff drought for the program. Dawson County won its second straight Region 7-3A championship but failed to get out of the second round. Rabun County got hot in the playoffs and make the quarterfinals in Class 2A. 

Out of the 25 area boys programs, 11 advanced to the postseason, with four making it to the second round, one to the quarterfinals, and one winning the championship.  

In the offseason, the coaching carousel was slowly moving. Benji Wood made the biggest splash when he moved from Cherokee Bluff to his alma mater Buford. Josh Travis jumped from Chestatee to Bluff to replace Wood. Tanner Plemmons stepped up at Chestatee. Tyler Gamble took over at East Jackson. Aric Mawdesley is now at the helm of Habersham Central. Jason Pleasant is the new man at Riverside, and Brian Hunnicutt switched from girls coach at Towns County to boys. 

But what will the 2021-22 campaign hold? Can Wood take Buford back to the state championship? Who will be the cream of the crop in Northeast Georgia? Can White County live up to the preseason tag of region title favorite in 7-3A? Rabun County is loaded with talent ... is this the year? How good will East Forsyth be in its first season?

It's sure to make for an interesting 2021-22 campaign throughout the area. 

We offer you below our 2021-22 season preview of every team in our coverage area.*

(* -- Information provided by coaches or team officials.)

BANKS COUNTY LEOPARDS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Ryan Griffin, 2nd season
-- REGION: 8-2A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 19-9, second round of the Class 2A tournament
 -- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: G/P Pierce Martin, G Clay Gosnell, P Dakota Orr 
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 0
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS:  Jr. G Bradley Lewis, Jr. G Mason Adams, Sr. G/F Dakota Ivey
-- STRENGTHS: Griffin says his team plays hard and is very unselfish which will allow a lot of younger guys to make contributions. 
-- QUESTIONS: Griffin took the team to the state playoffs in his first year as head coach. This season, his roster is young, which will bring growing pains throughout the season. Griffin, however, believes a tough non-region schedule will prep them for region play. 
-- KEY GAMES: The Leopards open the season at home against East Hall on Tuesday, followed by 16 non-region games before opening region play at defending region champion Elbert County on Jan. 11. 


BUFORD WOLVES
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Benjie Wood, 1st season
-- REGION: 8-6A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 19-7,  Class 5A second round
-- KEY PLAYERS LOSSES: G Marc Mange, G Caleb Blackwell (transferred to Grayson)
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 4
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS:  Sr. SF Jaylon Taylor (17 ppg, 7 rpg), Sr. PG/SG Alahn Sumler (14 ppg), Jr C/PF London Williams (14 ppg, 9 rpg), Jr. PG Malachi Brown (7 ppg)
-- STRENGTHS: Wood says he is excited about the depth and energy of his players.  
-- QUESTIONS: The Wolves have four returning starters which should help get Wood acclimated to his new job as Buford's head coach. However, how those guys settle into Wood's new system will be the biggest question mark. 
-- KEY GAMES: After winning the region championship in the 2019-2020 season, the Wolves failed to make the region championship game last season. Wood hopes to change that with a tough non-region schedule. Buford will play Northview, Johns Creek, South Gwinnett, Hart County, Parkview, Harrison and Peachtree Ridge to tune-up for region play that begins on Dec. 17 with Lanier at Buford Arena. 


CHEROKEE BLUFF BEARS
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Josh Travis, 1st season 
-- REGION: 7-3A 
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 16-12, second round of Class 3A tournament, Lanierland runner-up
-- KEY PLAYERS LOSSES: F Corey Thomas, G Shad Dabney
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 2
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Jr. G Cade Simmons, Jr. G Carlos Marlow, Jr. Jhace Justice
-- STRENGTHS: The Bears return several players that will battle for varsity playing time right now. New coach Josh Travis says depth is a major strength of the team right now and is the depth turns into production before the region schedule begins.
-- QUESTIONS: When Benjie Wood left for Buford earlier this year, it marked the first change at the helm in program history. Travis says his players are making a smooth transition to the new leadership but how will they evolve as the season progresses is a big question. With several underclassmen vying for varsity time, how that varsity inexperience will improve will be key.
-- KEY GAMES: The Bears open the schedule with three straight non-region home games before they go on the road for back-to-back road region games against North Hall on Dec. 7 and new region contender East Forsyth on Dec 10. They'll face a test against Blessed Trinity on Dec. 11 in the Gold City Classic in Dahlonega. 


CHESTATEE WAR EAGLES
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Tanner Plemmons, 1st year
-- REGION: 8-4A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 7-18
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 3
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: G Ethan Corley, G Ethan Popham, 
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. Peyton Phillips (13 ppg, made 106 3-pointers), Jr. Hugh Pruitt (12.5 ppg, 3.5 RPG, 2.3 apg), Jr. Josh Bull (7 ppg, 2.5 RPG, 5.6 apg)
-- STRENGTHS: With three returning starters, the War Eagles has a good mixture of veterans along with a solid younger group that should produce. Plemmons says his team should have several players with the potential for big nights every time they step on the court. 
-- QUESTIONS: The War Eagles lost leading scorer and rebounder, Popham, and best defender Corley to graduation. Plemmons will have the chore of finding someone to step in and take over those roles.  
-- KEY GAMES: The War Eagles dropped their season opener to Denmark, 68-60, on Saturday, but will look to get back on track against arch-rival North Hall on Tuesday. Chestatee follows North Hall with back-to-back games on the road before returning home to play Hebron Christian. The War Eagles will open region play at Flowery Branch. Plemmons says the region game against Cedar Shoals on Jan. 14 as a key game. 


COMMERCE TIGERS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Russ Gregg, 5th season 
-- REGION: 8-A Public
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 8-19, first round of state playoffs
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: C Ian McConnell 11 ppg, G Creed Dunbar 9 ppg
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 3
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS:  Jr. G Jackson Morris (9 ppg), Jr. PF Matthew Simpson (4 ppg), Jr. SG Cayden Lord (6 ppg)
-- STRENGTHS: The Tigers will rely on their speed and quickness again this season and return experience on the perimeter. 
-- QUESTION: Gregg is looking for guys to step up in the paint to help replace McConnell. Gregg said rebounding will be a huge concern early in the season. 
-- KEY GAMES: The Tigers open the season on Nov. 23 at home against Madison County. That will begin a tough non-region slate. But Gregg says Social Circle will be the favorite to win the region this season, and defending Class A champs Towns County also will be in the mix. 


DAWSON COUNTY TIGERS
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Todd Cottrell, 2nd season
-- REGION: 7-3A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 22-8, Region 7-3A Champions, second round of Class 3A tournament
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: G Joakeim Celestin, G Jake Craft, G/F Max Tierney, F Tyler Lane, G Ty Whitmire, G Jaden Gibson, G Luke Smith, G AJ Moore
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 0
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. F Luke Mulberry, Sr. G Jackson Binkley, Sr. F Lane Perry, Sr. F Tristan Talley
-- STRENGTHS: Cottrell says despite losing a boatload of talent, the program returns "outstanding leadership and a strong, collective desire to improve daily." 
-- QUESTIONS: The Tigers began last season with a relatively new starting rotation that went on to win the region title. This year, he'll have another new starting lineup with inexperience and youth. It's the same question as last year: how quickly can the Tigers improve and adapt to new roles.   
-- KEY GAMES: The Tigers opened the season at home with a 54-46 loss to Forsyth Central on Saturday and will travel to Johns Creek on Tuesday. After that, they'll host the Roger Slaton Memorial Holiday Classic, playing Chestatee on Nov. 20, and follow that tournament with a game against Holy Innocents at Buford on Nov. 27. They'll open region play against title favorite, White County on Dec. 7. 


EAST FORSYTH BRONCOS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Scott Bracco, 1st season
-- REGION: 7-3A
-- 2019-20 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: First-ever season
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: none
-- RETURNING STARTERS: none
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Jr. Matthew Rouse, Jr. Bryce Bracco, Jr. Davey Hyams, Jr. Gavin Scheu
-- STRENGTHS: East Forsyth are the new kids in town this season. With that said, Bracco, who left Lambert to take the helm of the Broncos, is building the culture with a young group of players. The Broncos will begin their first-ever season with strong guard play that brings high energy and toughness.
-- QUESTIONS: Being the newest program, it'll take some time for the Broncos to jell together.
-- KEY GAMES: East Forsyth will open the season at home against Johnson on Tuesday, followed by games against Sonoraville, North Murray, Elbert County and Monroe Area before opening region in Dahlonega against Lumpkin County. 


EAST HALL VIKINGS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Tommy Yancey, 2nd season
-- REGION: 8-4A
-- 2019-20 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 6-19
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: G Imre Earls; PG Zion Cheeks
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 2
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. G/F Christian Torres (16 ppg, 10 rpg), Jr. G Levi Holtzclaw (3.5 ppg), Jr. G/F Cletus Agborsangaya (4 ppg, 5 rpg), Sr. G Clete Cooper (9 ppg)
-- STRENGTHS: The Vikings should have strong perimeter play as well as multiple scorers this season.
-- QUESTIONS: Yancey enters his second season with more stability but has come concerns about inside play. He says how they control the boards is going to be key each night.
-- KEY GAMES: Yancey got a first look at his team in a scrimmage against Walnut Grove last week, losing 63-58. He'll build on that as his team enters the non-region schedule against Banks County on Tuesday. The Vikings will follow Banks with six straight non-region games before opening the region schedule against Cedar Shoals on Dec. 10 at home. 


EAST JACKSON EAGLES
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Tyler Gamble, 1st season
-- REGION: 8-3A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 3-15
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: G Makayl Rakestraw, G Ken Carson, G/F RJ White
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 1
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. F Demarcus Watson, So. F Eli Buffington, Jr. G Markel Jarrells
-- STRENGTHS: The Eagles will rely on their hunger, versatility and depth to help them improve this season. 
-- QUESTIONS: With the loss of all but one starter, the Eagles will be young and inexperienced. 
-- KEY GAMES: East Jackson will open the season against Athens Academy at home on Tuesday and will follow that with 12 non-region games before opening the region against Oconee County on Jan. 7.


FLOWERY BRANCH FALCONS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Jay Burney, 3rd season 
-- REGION: 8-4A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 3-22
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: G Trevor Gurske, G Jack Ramsey, G Jacob Dixon 
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 2
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. G Trey Shaw (8 ppg, 3rpg), Sr. G JP Aguilar (3 ppg, 3 rpg), Jr. F Tyleek Worth (12 ppg, 7 rpg), Jr. G Jack Burney (5 ppg, 3 apg)
-- STRENGTHS: Burney believes his team's biggest strength is improvement among his roster. Depth shouldn't be a worry for the Falcons this season. 
-- QUESTIONS: The Falcons have the same questions as last season at this time: Who will step up inside and shoot the ball consistently. 
-- KEY GAMES: The Falcons completed their first test of the season on Saturday with a 72-69 loss to Apalachee. Now, they play the next five of seven on the road before opening region play against Chestatee on Dec. 10.


GAINESVILLE RED ELEPHANTS
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Chuck Graham, 4th season
-- REGION: 6-7A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 19-9, Lanierland champions, first round of Class 7A state tournament 
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: G/F Eli Pitts, G/F Robert Reisman, G Luke Blackburn, G Dylan Bobga, G Jimmie Jackson, F Ced Nicely 
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 0
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Jr. G Charlie Reisman (8 ppg, 2 apg), Jr. G Julius Jackson 
-- STRENGTHS: Despite losing the starting rotation, Graham is excited about the young talent on the rise. He says the core group of youngsters has been in the program since middle school. That will give Big Red some strength.  Graham says the group's strength will be quick and athletic and can shoot the ball. 
-- QUESTIONS: The Red Elephants lost all five starters to graduation and will look to fill with a young roster this Eason. Experience is going to be the biggest question going into the 2021-22 campaign for Graham and his staff. Graham said, "We look at our lack of experience as an opportunity, and we look forward to the challenge."
-- KEY GAMES: Gainesville will open the season in back-to-back showcase events, Nov. 22 & 23 at Gainesville vs. ML King and Sequoyah, followed by the AP Showcase at Cherokee Bluff. They'll begin the region slate on Dec. 3 at Forsyth Central. 


HABERSHAM CENTRAL RAIDERS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Aric Mawdesley, 1st season
-- REGION: 8-6A
-- 2020-2021 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 11-16
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: F Grayson Adams, G Micah Ward, G Josh Pickett (Enrolling early at Duke)
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 2
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Jr. PG Malachi Dooley (17.5 ppg), Jr. F Bryce Pittman (7 ppg, 5 RPG), Sr. SG Mekhi Mawdesley, Sr. G Kaden Hooks, So. G Brannon Gaines, Jr. G Cole Gary 
-- STRENGTHS: Mawdesley enters his first season as head coach at Habersham Central and has a solid rotation returning. With the addition of Mekhi Mawdesley, Aric's son, the Raiders should have no problem scoring. Aric says his team has quickly jelled together and can score in a lot of different ways. He also says they should be stingy on the defensive end. 
-- QUESTIONS: Although the Raiders have several scoring threats, coach Mawdesley says consistently knocking down shots in a tough region will be the biggest question. 
-- KEY GAMES: As usual, coach Mawdesley points out all region games as being key contests. They'll open the season on the road at Union County on Tuesday, followed by non-region games at home against Banks County and on the road at White County. The Raiders will use nine non-region games to tune-up for the region opener at Central Gwinnett on Dec. 17. 


JACKSON COUNTY PANTHERS
COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Bryan Parker, 2nd season
REGION: 8-5A
2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 8-11
RETURNING STARTERS: 2
KEY PLAYER LOSSES: G Kalib Clinton, G Kedric Zimmer
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. Riley Baugh (6 ppg), Sr. SF Bryce Blake (10 ppg, 8 rpg), Sr. Isaiah Maxey, Jr. Elijah Bowers, Sr. Connor Bejin, Sr. Jackson Joy
STRENGTHS: The Panthers return eight seniors to the program this year which has Parker feeling pretty good about the leadership of the team. 
QUESTIONS: Trying to replace Jackson County's all-time leading scorer, Kalib Clinton, will be the toughest task for Parker and the coaching staff. Right now, that remains the biggest question mark on the program.  
KEY GAMES: The Panthers open the season on Tuesday at home against Winder-Barrow, then play seven straight games before opening region play at Greenbrier on Dec. 10.


JEFFERSON DRAGONS
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Kevin Morris, 4th season
-- REGION: 8-4A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 19-6, first round of Class 4A tournament
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: G Kam Robinson, G Spencer Darby
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 2
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. G Dalen Gales (12 ppg, 6 rpg), Sr. SG JT Fulkrod (10 ppg, 5 rpg), Sr. PG Riley Holliman
-- STRENGTHS: With the return of Gales and Fulkrod, Morris says the strengths will be defense and the ability to hit 3-pointers. 
-- QUESTION MARKS: As usual, the Dragons will have to wait on the football players to finish the season before they'll be at full strength. The good thing, Morris returns a solid group that doesn't play football. That group should weather the storm in the meantime. 
-- KEY GAMES: The Dragons open the season on Nov. 18 at home against Stephens County, followed by three other non-region games before opening region at home against Madison County on Dec. 10. Morris said, however, the Dec. 14 region game against Cedar Shoals will be key. 


JOHNSON KNIGHTS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Chris Guthrie, 3rd season
-- REGION: 8-5A 
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 3-23
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: F Wade Pearce, leading scorer and rebounder
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 2
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS:  Jake Shaw. 3.7ppg, 3.6 rpg, Alex Flores 1.3 apg, Sebastian Madera, Jaiden Riley
-- STRENGTHS: The Knights return more starters this year than last season but lost leading scorer and rebounder, Wade Pearce, to graduation. Guthrie points to the team's grit and says "they play really hard all the time." He also expects the defense to be stingy. 
-- QUESTIONS: Last year the question was on the defensive side of the ball. That's not the case this year. The biggest question will be on the offensive end of the court. Guthrie said he's looking for someone to take over the scoring duties. 
-- KEY GAMES: Johnson opened the season against rival West Hall with a 54-30 loss on Friday and will play East Forsyth on Tuesday as the first road trip of the season. Guthrie says the Lanierland play-in game on Dec. 4 against Flowery Branch is a key game. The Knights will open the region slate begins on Dec. 10 at Clarke Central, followed by two-straight road games at East Jackson and region foe Walnut Grove. 


LAKEVIEW ACADEMY LIONS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Tyler Sanders, 2nd season
-- REGION: 6-A Private
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 17-10, first round of Class A tournament
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: G Declan Weidner, G Conley Millwood, G Bodie Blackwell, C Ben Montgomery
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 1
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. G Harrison Cooper (9.4 ppg, 4 apg, 5 rpg), Liam Weidner, Isaiah Rico, Isaac Marcero
-- STRENGTHS: Sanders said his defense will be the biggest strength of the team this season. 
-- QUESTIONS: With the loss of four starters, the Lions will be young this season. How fast will the Lions grow up is the biggest question mark right now. Sanders also said consistency will be key. 
-- KEY GAMES: The Lions will open the season in the Yonah Mountain Classic in Cleveland on Nov. 19 against Landmark Christian, and follow that with a game against Rabun County before opening region play at Fellowship Christian on Dec. 3. 


LANIER CHRISTIAN LIGHTNING
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Chris Freeman, 1st season
-- REGION: GAPPS 1-3A Region 2 
-- 2019-20 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 8-10
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: PF Trevin Last, SF Bo Souther, SG Samuel Collins
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 2
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. PG Luke Winkler (5-10), Sr. SF Luke Jackson, Sr. C Kyan Brown 
-- STRENGTHS: Freeman, in his first season at the helm, says the Lightning's play in the paint should be the strength. 
-- QUESTION: Youth and inexperience is a big question mark as LCA enters the season. 
-- KEY GAMES: LCA has already played three non-region games and are 1-3. The Lightning will continue to prepare for a tough region schedule that opens at Westminster Christian on Jan. 4.


LUMPKIN COUNTY INDIANS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Michael Parker, 2nd season
-- REGION: 7-3A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 10-13
-- KEY PLAYERS LOSSES: PG Gus Faulkner, F Brian Cunane, SG Chandler Pulley
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 1 
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. Jones Harris (19 ppg, 4 rpg, 7-AAA All-Region), Jr. Hunter Cooper, So. Preston Cox, Jr. Jack Carroll, So. Harper Davenport
-- STRENGTHS: The Indians return one of the top players in the region in Harris. Parker says he scores the ball really well at all three levels and has an incredible work ethic. Park also identified the team's work ethic and mentality of the team as a strength. 
-- QUESTIONS: With only one senior on the team, the Indians will have their growing pains this season. Out of the 22 players on the team, 17 of them are underclassmen, and Parker has given the keys to the floor to freshman Cal Faulkner. He'll run the point. Sophomores Hunter Cooper, Preston Cox, Jack Carroll and Harper Davenport, who got some varsity time last year, will be asked to step into bigger roles this year.
-- KEY GAMES: Parker said the season opener against Flowery Branch is a key game, along with region games against Dawson County (12/10, 1/18), North Hall (12/17, 1/25), White Co (1/11, 2/4).


NORTH FORSYTH RAIDERS
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: David Sokol, 3rd season
-- REGION: 6-7A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 5-19
-- KEY PLAYERS LOSSES: C Jackson Olsen
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 4
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. G Aidan Kudlas (14ppg, 5 rpg), So. Braden Mullis (7 ppg), Jr. G Will Sokol (4 ppg), Jr. G Kal -El Delagadilla (4 ppg)
-- STRENGTHS: The Raiders lost some of its roster when East Forsyth opened but managed to retain experience and depth on the roster. 
-- QUESTIONS: Playing in a tough Region 6-7A, how Raiders play as a team will be key to making the playoffs. 
-- KEY GAMES: The Raiders will open the season against Alpharetta on Tuesday, followed by five non-region opponents before they open region play against West Forsyth on Dec. 10. 


NORTH HALL TROJANS
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Miles Kendall, 2nd season
-- REGION: 7-3A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 11-13, first-round Class 3A tournament
-- KEY PLAYERS LOSSES: Clark Howell, Cole Ellis, Eli Campbell
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 3
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. F Robert Terry (11 ppg, 6rpg), Sr. G/F Elijah Gaddy (5 ppg, 3 rpg), So. G/F Andrew Bales (3 ppg, 3 rpg), Jr. G Sam Gailey (5 ppg), Sr. G Edward Doig (4 ppg)
-- STRENGTHS: The Trojans return the majority of their starting rotation this year which is the biggest strength of the program. They also have some strong, youthful depth that should contribute in a competitive Region 7-3A, along with a strong defensive unit.  
-- QUESTIONS: Kendall enters his second season just as he did his first looking for a solid point guard to take the helm of the offense. He's also waiting for someone to step up inside the paint. 
-- KEY GAMES: The Trojans will open on the road at arch-rival Chestatee on Tuesday, followed by a road trip to Pigeon Forge to play in a Thanksgiving tournament Nov. 22-24. They'll begin region play at home on Dec. 7 against Cherokee Bluff.


RABUN COUNTY WILDCATS
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: David Adcock, 4th season 
-- REGION: 8-2A
-- 2019-20 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 9-21, Class 2A quarterfinals
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: G/F Adriel Clarke
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 4
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS:  Sr. G Connor McKay (First team all-state, 19 ppg., 14 rpg, 5 apg, and 3 blks), Sr. PG Gus Hood (1st team all-region , 10 ppg, 5 apg, and 1.5 blks), Sr. SG Grayson Carver (9 ppg, 40% 3FG), Sr. PF Clayton Dixon (9 ppg, 5 rpg, and 2 stls)
-- STRENGTHS: Rabun will be a very deep and athletic team, which will help with defensive intensity and on-the-ball pressure. There are 12 to 15 players that can play meaningful minutes every single night. This depth will allow the Wildcats to play uptempo.  Rabun County also has seven to eight players that have the ability to shoot higher than 40 percent from the 3-point line. Adcock says the outside shooting potential his team has will allow Connor McKay, Gus Hood and Jaden Gibson to attack the rim and create opportunities for themselves and others. He's also counting on Connor McKay to create mismatch problems for their opponents.
-- QUESTIONS: Rabun County will have to wait until mid-December, most likely, to get the football players on the hardwood. Because of that, Adcock says the biggest question mark is how long will it take for the team to come together as a whole once we are all together following football’s State Title run?
-- KEY GAMES: The Wildcats open the season on Nov. 22 against Lakeview Academy in the Piedmont Invitational, followed by games against Starr's Mill and Landmark Christian. Rabun County win continues prepping for region play against opponents like Stephens County, Franklin, NC, Walhall, SC, Commerce, Cherokee Bluff and Franklin County before opening the region slate against Union County in Blairsville on Jan. 11.


RIVERSIDE MILITARY EAGLES
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Jason Pleasant, 1st season
-- REGION: 8-2A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Canceled due to COVID-19
-- KEY PLAYERS LOSSES: Entire team
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 0
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: John Akpele, Idan Azani, Josh Bittler, and Honghui  He
-- STRENGTHS: In his first year as head coach, Pleasant said his guard play will be the biggest strength. The Eagles will have young, athletic guards who can get up and down the court with speed. He's expecting Idan Azani to take the lead at point guard. 
-- QUESTIONS: With the loss of the entire team last season due to the season being canceled, the Eagles will be inexperienced in the beginning. The Eagles only have one player with varsity experience. 
-- KEY GAMES: The Eagles will open the season on Dec. 3 at Athens Christian, but Pleasant points to Cherokee Bluff (Jan. 15) and Holy Innocents (Jan. 19) as key games to tune up for a competitive region schedule. 


TOWNS COUNTY INDIANS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Brian Hunnicutt, 1st season 
-- REGION: 8-A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 25-3, Region 8-A champs, Class A state champions
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: G Kolby Moss, G Aiden Berrong, SF/C Jake McTaggert, G Kolton Day, G Kabe Ellis, G Hayden McClure
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 1
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. Kyle Oakes (3 ppg, 4 apg, 3.5 rpg, 2 spg), Sr. SF Collin Crowder
-- STRENGTHS: Hunnicutt moved over from the girls program to take over the boys after Rob Benson retired last season. He says Oakes and Crowder's leadership will be a strength this season. The two seniors' post-season success will help mold the younger players on the roster. Hunnicutt says their leadership will be invaluable this season. 
--QUESTIONS: After losing most of its starting rotation to graduation or transfer, the Indians will be young this season. Hunnicutt says the biggest question will be how soon the younger players can step up as leaders and contribute on the varsity level. 
-- KEY GAMES: The Indians will open the season on Tuesday at Hiwassee Dam, followed by games against Rabun Gap and Union County before opening region play at Social Circle on Dec. 18. 


UNION COUNTY PANTHERS
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Corey Garrett, 3rd season. 
-- REGION: 8-2A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 0-14 
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: none
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 4
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. Landon Kight (8 ppg & 5 rpg), Sr. Caleb John (7 ppg & 3 apg), Sr. Lake Hughes (8 ppg) & Jr. Eli Underwood (5 ppg & 5 rpg)
-- STRENGTHS: After going 0-14 last season, the Panthers are ready to move on. Garrett says he's counting on the team's experience and youthful energy to turn it around this season. 
-- QUESTIONS: Union County has four returning starters, which should bode well, but Garrett wonders how well will those guys mesh with the younger, energetic players.
-- KEY GAMES: The Panthers will open the season on Tuesday against an improved Class 6A Habersham Central at home. They'll follow that up with 11 tough games against larger opponents before opening region play on Jan. 11 against Rabun County. 


WEST HALL SPARTANS
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL:  Bobby Pless, 6th season
-- REGION: 8-4A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 0-16
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: G Braden Simms, G Chase Reed
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 3
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Jr. G Stephen Clark (9 ppg), Jr. F Andrew Malin (8 ppg, 6 rpg) Jr. PG Owen Jenkins (8 ppg)
-- STRENGTHS: The Spartans return three starters and hope to erase last season's results. They'll count depth at each position to give them versatile lineups each night. 
-- QUESTIONS: With the depth, Pless says chemistry could be a question. He has a large group competing for playing time. So, building a competitive mindset will be key. 
-- KEY GAMES: The Spartans begin the season on Friday with a 54-30 win at Johnson and will play Flowery Branch on Tuesday. Pless said he'll rely on the non-region schedule to hone the skills of his players. They'll open region play on Dec. 10 at home against North Hall. 


WHITE COUNTY WARRIORS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Robbie Bailey, 2nd season
-- REGION: 7-3A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 16-7, Region runner-up, 2nd round of Class 3A tournament
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: F Cooper Turner, G Jimmy King, G Reece Dockery
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 3
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Jr. G Jadon Yeh (15.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1st Team All-Region), Sr. G Silas Mulligan (13.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1st Team All-Region), Sr. G  Kenny Simpson (9.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.0 apg, Honorable mention All-Region), Sr. G Tavi Simmons ( 1.7 ppg, 1.7 rpg), Jr. G Dawson Bailey, So. F Noah Futch, Jr. F Chad West
-- STRENGTHS: The Warriors have plenty of depth returning again this season. Bailey says this group is coachable, plays hard and is dynamic on offense. 
-- QUESTIONS: The Warriors' biggest question marks will be how well they can defend and rebound.
-- KEY GAMES: The Warriors will open the season at home against Tallulah Falls before playing Habersham Central and Gainesville in the Gainesville Showcase Mov. 22-26. They’ll travel to defending region champion, Dawson County, to begin region play on Dec. 7. 

--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.

  • Associated Categories: Sports, High School Sports
  • Associated Tags: High school basketball, Boys high school basketball
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