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Taylor: Hall's best look to stay strong after Lanierland success

POSTED: December 25, 2011 9:54 p.m.

Two teams, the East Hall girls and Gainesville boys, can now say that they're the best Hall County basketball teams.

That's a lot of what Lanierland, which culminated with championship games Thursday at Johnson, is all about.

And in a basketball-rich county like Hall, being county champs carries some weight.

But outside the county, when the state tournaments roll around, have Lanierland champs translated that success into statewide brilliance?

The answer, in many cases, is a resounding yes.

The most successful East Hall teams of the last decade, including the state champions and state runner-up squads, all won Lanierland that season.

The last Gainesville girls state champion in 2004 was also the 2003 Lanierland champion.

Now the Lady Vikings and Red Elephants boys will see if their successes at Lanierland will translate into postseason success.

Really though, it's not just the winners who benefit from the tournament. Nearly every coach interviewed leading up to the event mentioned how playing in Lanierland would help come region tournament time and, hopefully, state.

The Lakeview boys will try to turn their most successful tournament in program history (first time with two wins) into yet another trip to the Class A state tournament. Numerous coaches remarked that this team was the best they'd ever seen at the school. And this perennial playoff team finished fifth at Lanierland.

Even the eighth place Chestatee boys, still searching for the first win of the season, have something to build on, having taken No. 1 seed, and eventual tournament runner-up, East Hall to the very end in a 101-97 loss.

On the girls side, Jefferson, the tournament's lone out-of-county team, will head into region play with a decided advantage over many of the teams now that the Lady Dragons have experience playing in Lanierland's intense atmosphere.

And the North Hall girls can move into the new year knowing that, while the Lady Trojans may have fallen short in the championship game to rival East Hall, senior-led North Hall is still one of the county's elite.

All 16 teams in the tournament can find benefits to the experience, even if it's as simple as the experience of playing so many games in such a short time span.

One of the tournament's benefits is that it's a chance to try to win three games in four days, although that's the case at most any tournament in the state. What makes Lanierland special, and the 52nd tournament held at East Hall and Johnson last week was no exception, is the atmosphere.

Just about every coach and every player can't help but mention the atmosphere at the event. It's that kind of atmosphere which can't be replicated in most regular-season tournaments, but it's that same atmosphere that teams will face at region and state.

That, then, is part of the reason why the Hall basketball programs have been so successful, including multiple state titles by the East hall boys and Gainesville girls in the last decade.

I know that Lanierland is one of many tournaments in the state, and one of a number that I have covered personally, including a few in Gwinnett County.

But there isn't another basketball event quite like the state's longest running tournament, which pits some of high school basketball's best beside the shores of Lake Lanier.

Now Gainesville and East Hall, along with tournament MVPs Shaquan Cantrell and Morgan Jackson, have the chance to show just what it means to be the Hall County champs.

Zac Taylor is a sports writer for The Times. He can be reached at ztaylor@gainesvilletimes.com

 



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