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Area AAU team sets sights on nationals
Lauren Anderson, right, and D’Atra Sawyer of the Georgia Lady Vipers fight for a rebound Tuesday during practice at the Buford City Gym in Buford. The Lady Vipers will begin play in the AAU National Tournament on Sunday at Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla. - photo by For The Times

Desperate times call for desperate measures, thus Jack Lynn is a head girls basketball coach.

Three years ago Lynn’s daughter Katie, a rising senior at Buford High, was hunting for an Amatuer Athletic Union team.

"Well, my daughter played for the Northeast Atlanta Hawks," Jack Lynn said. "Her coach at the time decided that he wanted to get out of the high school age group and drop down to coach younger girls so (Katie Lynn) was looking for a team to latch on to.

"A couple of the parents suggested that I start a team, so basically I backed into it."

Backed into it with fervor.

From the moment Lynn’s Buford-based Georgia Lady Vipers took the court, they have dominated, going 120-28 through three seasons while winning three AAU state championships, one YBOA state championship and numerous regular season tournament titles.

More impressive still is the Lady Vipers’ performances at the AAU national tournaments.

In 2006, their first appearance, they went to the round of 16, and last year they finished fourth in the nation.

"The national tournament is really cool," Katie Lynn said. "It’s kind of like the state championships in high school."

Lynn’s Buford teammate Chanee Carson added, "(The AAU National Tournament) is really just a bunch of fun. We get to hang out with each other for a week and play. I mean, we’re doing what we love."

This year’s team is 39-3 heading into this weekend’s AAU National Tournament at Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla.

Not to be outdone by previous teams, the girls from Buford, Mill Creek, Johnson, Peachtree Ridge, North Gwinnett and Habersham Central have one goal in mind.

"We have fun at the national championships — that’s who we are," Johnson rising senior Jordan Gustavel said. "But we want to do better than fourth. We want to win it all."

Give or take one or two girls who have parted ways with the team because of the age, the Georgia Lady Vipers essentially have the same makeup they did at their inception.

"The girls who play the preceding year are guaranteed a spot on the team," said Lynn, who receives e-mails daily from college coaches inquiring about his team. "We’ve never had tryouts even though we get a lot of inquiries of people wanting to play with us if a spot comes open."

Lynn went on to say that, when need be, he fills the team’s gaps with girls who fit into the style of play that the rest of the team is used to and who meet one other criterium — that they’re local.

"This is a very good team," said second-year player and Buford rising senior Jocelyn Danley. "We run a lot. We’re a very good transition team, and because of the way we play I’ve learned to grab rebounds and get it out to the guards, run the floor and be ready to hit a layup."

Lynn prefers to think that it’s his team’s defense that makes them a force to be reckoned with.

"We are a big defensive-minded team," Lynn said. "We average 53 points per game but only give up 34. We try and hold every team to under 50, and that’s the secret to our success."

Be it their run-and-gun offense or stingy defense that actually wins the games, it’s the Lady Vipers off-the-court rapport that makes them good.

"With this team, we all know how to work," Gustavel said. "We have a ton of fun too because nobody dislikes anybody. We have a blast and it helps us do good while we are playing."

"I think in AAU the fact that we don’t play as often and don’t see each other that often is what brings us closer," Danley said. "We miss each other, whereas in high school basketball you are together all the time."

Both Danley and Gustavel noted, however, that lessons and skills learned while playing AAU do carry over to their high school performances and teams.

"Learning to run the floor and outlet quickly has helped me," Danley said, "because at Buford we have guards who like to run the floor."

For Gustavel it has enhanced team-building and defensive skills that she takes away from the Lady Vipers seasons.

"Us knowing how to work together helps me at Johnson where I am a leader for the team," Gustavel said. "We also run similar stuff on defense to what we run at Johnson, so I am getting better at that year-round."

"It’s always a plus when you can occupy a youth’s time," Lynn said. "You know where they are and what they’re doing, but we also try to use this team to instill a work ethic and tell the girls that if they feel they are a better player at the end of the season than they were at the beginning of the season than, regardless of our record, the season’s been a success."

Regardless of the number of lessons and skills the Lady Vipers take away from the AAU experience, they are hoping to add one tangible reward: A national championship ring.

"I promised them rings if we win," Lynn said. "And told them they could shave my head."

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