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High school basketball: Consistency creates big opportunity for West Hall boys
West Hall's Owen Jenkins (5) drives to the hoop during a game against Johnson in Oakwood. Photo by John Hamilton For The Times

With three state tournament appearances in the past six seasons, West Hall’s boys basketball program has had some modest recent success.

But with about two weeks remaining in the 2022-23 regular season, the Spartans are looking at an opportunity for achievements they haven’t had in quite some time.

Heading into Tuesday’s Region 7-3A home game against No. 10 Wesleyan, West Hall stands just a half-game behind the visiting Wolves and White County for the region lead.

And with an 11-10 overall record (6-3 in region play), the Spartans are also in solid position for the program’s first winning season since the 2010-11 campaign.

However, head coach Bobby Pless knows there his team still has a lot of hard work head for his team if it is to reach that goal, or a region championship, regular season or tournament, or a return to the state playoffs.

It’s a situation compounded by just how much parity there is in Region 7-3A this season, with only two games separating first place from fifth.

“I’ve never been in a region where you can legitimately say that there’s not a whole lot of difference when you look at scores from top to bottom,” Pless said. “I mean, every team right now has got games they’ve won that they could say they could’ve lost, and have got games they lost that they say they could’ve won. So, there’s just a lot of things right now where there’s not that much that separate things.”

Still, there is every reason for the Spartans to feel good about the position they’ve put themselves in after missing the postseason the past three seasons.

And Pless is convinced that the key to doing so lies in finally having some continuity that was interrupted with the global pandemic that disrupted everyone two years earlier.

“With the COVID year (in 2020-21), this senior (class) kind of lost their sophomore year for what we kind of planned on them (doing),” Pless said. “I kind of thought … where we’re at now is kind of what I was anticipating for last year.  This is a good group, though. They played well in middle school, and they played coming up together. That makes a big difference, and they get along very well. They play well on the court together.”

Indeed, the group of seniors, led by guards Owen Jenkins and C.J. Vinsion, Quintavous Reid on the wing and Andrew Malin, Isaiah Holder and Zach Stephens in the frontcourt, have shown plenty of promise even before they made it to West Hall.

But while the COVID season during the group’s sophomore campaign provided some disruption, Jenkins agrees with Pless that the fact that the group has played together ever since middle school has helped them regain a sense of cohesiveness that has led to this season’s success.

“I think this year, we’ve realized our potential and what we can do,” Jenkins said. “We’re just listening to Coach Pless and buying into everything he’s saying to just be the best we can be. From the start, we know what we’ve been capable to do, I just think we’re clicking now.”

Jenkins, who currently leads the Spartans in scoring at 16.1 points per game, and has added 2.1 steals per game, has been a particular catalyst throughout his career.

It is a leadership role that has stayed consistent even as his on-court role changed once he reached high school.

And combined with the influx of some younger talent to the senior class, led by sophomore starting guard Xavier Felix, the veterans have brought to the team is starting to pay dividends.

“Owen in middle school was really the point guard on that team,” Pless recalled. “I kind of switched him over to a dual role (when he got to West Hall), and there were some things he had to really work on. He’s put in the work, and it paid off last year. I thought last year, he was the most consistent player night in and night out. This year, he’s has some really good games. He’s already had a couple games over 30 points. He works hard, and we’ve got some other players who have played well, … but in this day and age, guard play is huge.

“You’ve got to have some (good) perimeter play, and Owen definitely led that, along with Xavier and Quintavous. Then to go along with our size, which has helped with rebounding. That probably been a big key, too. … This group has done a much better job on the boards.”

The combination of strong guard play will be put to the test in the coming weeks, beginning with Tuesday night’s matchup with Wesleyan.

West Hall has already defeated the Wolves once on their home court at Yancey Gymnasium in Peachtree Corners in a 38-36 defensive struggle Jan. 6.

It was that game that gave the Spartans an added jolt of confidence that Jenkins says he and his teammates hope to build on, though he adds that they come into the rematch taking nothing for granted.

“That (first) Wesleyan game was a good win for us because we had one guy down and they were pretty big,” Jenkins said. “So we had to come in and play big, … and we felt pretty good after that.

“We just need to play our game and not get a big head since we beat them last time. … They’re pretty big, so we just need to rebound and play our game and … play a good basketball game.”

That is the same general goal that Pless has set forth for the Spartans even beyond Tuesday.

It was a plan that they executed very well in their last outing, when they went on the road to beat region co-leader White County 61-42 behind 26 points from Reid.

But with a road trip to Gilmer and a home game against Pickens, both of which defeated them the first time through the region schedule, and the region tournament still ahead of them, Pless knows there are still several challenges left ahead.

“Looking at the region tournament, unless you’re the No. 1 seed, you’re going come down to a one-game deal (to get into the state tournament),” Pless said. I think our region tournament, every team’s going to feel like they have a chance (to win it). I feel like we have a chance.

“But then again, you’ve got to play well. … Friday night against White County, (Jadon) Yeh was out for them, and he was last year’s (region) Player of the Year. … But … we just somehow came out and got off to a good start, and we just stayed pretty consistent. And that’s really been the key this year. We’ve had a little more consistency, and we need more. We’re going to need more these next two weeks.”

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