With winter break having come and gone and Christmas tournaments now in the books, high school basketball games across Hall County are hurtling quickly into region schedules. And according to Gainesville coach Chuck Graham, his squad is peaking at the right time.
The Red Elephants are fresh off a third straight Lanierland championship, though the first-year Red Elephants coach said it was the way the team took the Hall County title that was most crucial. Wins against three vastly different opponents in Cherokee Bluff, Lakeview Academy and East Hall have revitalized team morale following a slow start to the season.
“It actually gave our guys confidence,” Graham said. “No matter what happens or who’s in front of us, if we play a certain way, we will compete.”
Gainesville (8-7) now starts its region slate coming off four straight wins and playing its best basketball of the year. While midseason tournament victories are nice, winning in January and February is both more important and more difficult.
Graham said the familiarity amongst region opponents makes the later portion of the schedule much more competitive than the early games.
“You’re playing the people that you play all the time,” he said. “They understand your tendencies just like you understand theirs. It’s all about execution at this point.”
It’s the same story for teams across the area.
Lakeview Academy (9-5) will play its first region game of the season Saturday against George Walton Academy, and Lions coach Todd Cottrell said the team is brushing up on its fundamentals in preparation.
He also said that the knowledge his players have of all their region opponents and vice versa makes this time of year particularly exciting for high school basketball coaches.
“That’s the fun part,” Cottrell said. “Everybody knows everybody. Everybody knows whose players do what. Everybody knows everybody’s schemes and sets. I think now a premium is put on competition and fundamentals.”
Cottrell added that team mindset was an important aspect of staying competitive in region play. Lakeview Academy’s six seniors — including a pair of four-year varsity players in Adam Cottrell and KJ Millwood — give the team an advantage when it comes to staying focused during a playoff push, according to Cottrell.
“Their leadership coming this part of the season has been the key for us,” he said. “Not only for how we approach practices and games, but all the other little details that you have to do well this time of year.”
The emphasis on maintaining a competitive team mindset during region play is not unique to the Lions.
In the Region 7-3A, North Hall (5-11, 1-3 Region 7-3A) is already part way through its region schedule, having played its first four region contests before the winter break. But Trojans coach Tyler Sanders still acknowledged the need to refocus now that his team is past most of its non-region games. After all, with region tournaments fast approaching, every game is important.
The teams hoping to compete for region championships know there’s no room for error this time of year, according to Sanders.
“The kids kind of know, it’s January, and the calendar’s turned,” he said. “It’s time to start playing your best and start peaking as you get closer to February.”