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2008-09 Basketball preview: Area teams
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Banks County Lady Leopards

Coach: Jerry King

Region: 8B-AA

2007-08 record: 7-15, 1-9

Returning starters: F Lauren Kennedy (5-9 Sr.); G Lacy Saxon (5-5 Sr.); G Jessica Graham (5-4 Sr.); Samantha Kennedy F (5-8 Sr.)

Key newcomers: G Amy Sims (5-6 Jr.).

Notable: Banks County’s four senior starters from last year’s team will be looked to for leadership, as the rest of the team is made up of mostly younger players. The Leopards will have a young bench, with five freshmen on the varsity squad. With less depth this season, more seasoned players will earn more playing time. Banks County’s starting lineup also includes the return of defensive-minded guard Amy Sims, who missed most of last season with an ACL injury.

Key to success: The senior players will have important roles as leaders for the next generation of starters. The Leopards’ starters need to stay healthy with little depth on the team. If a starter goes down, it may mean a freshman or sophomore will play in their spot.

Banks County Leopards

Coach: Mike Ruth

Region: 8B-AA

2007-08 record: 8-14, 0-10

Returning starters: G Kane Duncan (6-2 Jr.); G Ryan Griffin (5-10 Jr.); G Chase Armour (5-10 Jr.); C Kevin Daniel (6-4 Jr.)

Key newcomers: G Casey Hudgins (5-10 Sr.); G Quentin Lovelace (5-10 So.); G Bill Redmon (5-8 Jr.); F Jacob Book (6-1 Jr.)

Notable: Banks County only has two seniors this year, but return four starters after having a young team last season. The Leopards lack size, and as a result, the majority of the scoring will come from the perimeter, led by guards Kane Duncan, Ryan Griffin and Chase Armour. Casey Hudgins moves up to a starting role this year, providing more depth from outside. Defensively, the Leopards will play a full-court transition defense that emphasizes turnovers.

Key to success: Banks County has the experience to play with the Region 8-AA’s best, but lacks the height. How the Leopards play from the perimeter and how well they pressure bigger teams on defense will be the difference maker this year.

Buford Lady Wolves

Coach: Gene Durden

Region: 6-AA

2007-08 record: 25-7

Returning starters: F/G Blanche Alverson (6-3, Sr.; 16 ppg., 8 rpg.); F Jocelyn Danley (5-9, Sr.; 12 ppg., 7 rpg.); PG Michelle Godwin (5-5, Sr.).

Key loses: SG Jennifer Tucker

Key newcomers: SG Alysha Rudnik (5-9, Jr.); SG Andraya Carter (5-8, Fr.).

Notable: After back-to-back trips to the elite eight, the Lady Wolves look poised for another run deep in the playoffs this season. ... Buford is led by a pair of big seniors with Alverson, an Auburn commit, and Danley, a Valdosta State commit, and Godwin all returning to the floor. ... The main challenge to the Lady Wolves is going to be against the rigourous challenge in Region 6-AA. ... Since 2001, seven of the eight state champions have come from teams that now comprise 6-AA. ... Look for Greater Atlanta Christian, Westminster, Lovett and Avondale to be strong competition again this season in 6-AA. ... Buford’s out-of-region schedule is largely comprised of Hall County schools with games against Flowery Branch, North Hall, East Hall and Gainesville.

Buford Wolves

Coach: Milt Travis

Region: 6-AA

2007-08 record: 9-17

Returning starters: None

Key losses: PG Twoey Hosch

Key newcomers: C Landon Hodnett (6-4, Sr.); SF Jake McCroskey (6-0, Sr.); PG Ryan Reed (5-11, Sr.); C/PF Jeff Jarvis (6-6, Jr.); SF Jake Burnette (6-3, So.); G Jamal English (5-9, So.); G Jakar Bridges (5-8, Sr.); G/F Zac Lynn (5-11, So.).

Notable: Buford fans are going to have to be patient with a young roster and playing in one of the toughest Class AA regions in the state. ... Some of the Wolves’ toughest competition in 6-AA comes against Lovett, Westminster, Pace Academy, Greater Atlanta Christian and Avondale. ... Buford also has tough out-of-region games scheduled against Gainesville, East Hall and Flowery Branch sprinkled in through the season. ... Lynn returns after leading the Wolves in scoring late in the season last year as a freshman. ... Bridges is the lone returner from Buford’s last trip to the elite eight two years ago.

Commerce Lady Tigers

Coach: Eddie McCurley

Region: 8-A

2007-08 record: 7-16, 3-5

Returning starters: G Lauren Jones (5-8, Sr.); G Jessie Flint (5-8, Jr.)

Key newcomers: G/F Jasmine Grier (5-10, So.)

Notable: Commerce opens the season under assistant coach Barry Cook while head coach Eddie McCurley recovers from a hunting injury. The Tigers lost their leading scorer, two top rebounders and best defender from last year’s lineup. They will dress a very young team and will have lots of sophomores and even some freshmen get ample playing time this year. Despite a big graduating class from last season, Commerce has two guards returning this year, though they both missed time last year due to knee injuries.

Key to success: New starters will have to learn quickly at the varsity level in order to keep up with a tough region. A decent showing this year would reflect a bright future for teams in upcoming years.

Commerce Tigers

Coach: Chad Bridges

Region: 8-A

2007-08 record: 5-17, 4-6

Returning starters: G Talmadge Green (5-10, Sr.); F Drake Cash (6-3, Sr.)

Key newcomers: G Anthony Norris (6-1, So.); G Brandon Romans (5-11, So.)

Notable: After a tough 2007-08, Commerce returns this season with a mix of returning starters and a cast of new, young players. The Tigers are deep at guard, led by returning starter Talmadge Green and sophomores Anthony Norris and Brandon Romans. Commerce also has six players over six feet, including impact post players, Drake Cash and senior center Cameron Billings.

Key to success: The Tigers will rely on strong guard play and a solid defense to stay in games this year. Play from the perimeter is emphasized due to lack of size in the post. With lots of sophomores on the varsity roster, Commerce has a strong future.

Dawson County Lady Tigers

Coach: Steve Sweat

Region: 8-AA

2006-07 record: 14-14, 4-6

Returning starters: PG/SG Amanda Daly (5-6, Sr. 9.7 ppg, 3.0 spg, 3.4 apg)
Key losses: G Katie Lebel (8.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3 spg.); G/F Katelyn Westbrook (8 ppg, 7 rpg, 2 spg, 2 apg); F Rachel Biddy (7.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg)

Dawson County Tigers

Coach: Thad Burgess

Region: 8-AA

2007-08 record: 21-9, 10-3; Lost in the first round of the state tournament

Returning starters: None

Key losses: PG Zach Cook (15 ppg, 4 apg), G Robert O’Quinn (14 ppg, 6 rpg)

Key returners: C/PF Blyth Chester (6-5, Sr.); G Seth Sowers (6-2, Sr.)

Key newcomers: G Ben Daniels (5-10, Jr.)

Notable: While Chester and Sowers provided depth on the 2007-08 Tigers team, they will be looked to this year to be leaders for what Burgess calls, “A strong nucleus of sophomores.”... Scaife and Daniels will handle the point guard position for the Tigers, a key spot in their uptempo style ... 98 percent of the Tigers’ scoring graduated in 2008.

Key to success: After back-to-back state playoff appearances for the first time in the program’s history and sharing the Region 8A-AA championship in each of those years, the Tigers are in a bit of a rebuilding phase. The maturation of the younger players, the leadership of those who played key roles last year, and the ability of the team to make up for the void left on the offensive end will determine how well Dawson County does this year.

Jackson County Lady Panthers

Coach: Chad Pittman

Region: 8-AAA

2006-07 record: 9-14, 4-10

Returning starters: C Breanna Drew (5-9, So.; 8 ppg, 7 rpg); SG Ashley Skelton (5-8, So.; 9 ppg, 3 rpg, 2 spg); PG Ana Rodriguez (5-6, Jr.); SF Katie Rodriguez (5-11, Jr.)

Key losses: F Alyssa Esco (9 ppg, 5 rpg)

Notable: While the Lady Panthers took their share of lumps last year, the team returns four starters off a team that started three freshmen in 2007-08. At times, learning to play at the varsity level proved to be a struggle for the freshmen, but as the season progressed so did the competitiveness of the group.

Key to success: A lot can be said about playing experience, and Jackson County has a lot of it this year. Skelton, Drew, Elrod and both Rodriguez sisters played substantial minutes last year and hope to turn that experience into more wins this year. Skelton and Drew form an inside-outside combination that Jackson County hasn’t seen in years, and with the move down to AAA, the two could lead the Lady Panthers into the playoffs.

Jackson County Panthers

Coach: Britt Beaver

Region: 8-AAA

2006-07 record: 6-16, 3-11

Returning starters: SG Joseph Smith (6-1, Jr.; 15.5 ppg); F Jonathan Holton (5-11, Jr.; 6 ppg, 3 rpg); G Will Wolter (6-0, Sr.); G Alex Crawford (5-7, So.); C Jusmar Harrison (6-4, Jr.)

Key losses: SG Marquice Gillespie (12 ppg, 4 rpg)

Notable: Without a single senior on last year’s roster, the Panthers tripled their win total from the previous season. In Beaver’s first year as head coach, Jackson County played disciplined and fundamental basketball which was an area of concern when Beaver took over the program. Smith led the team in scoring as a sophomore, and has spent countless hours in the gym perfecting his shooting. The loss of Gillespie will hurt the team’s overall athleticism on the perimeter, but Smith is capable of carrying the scoring load for the Panthers.

Key to success: Staying focused on fundamentals will determine how the season pans out for the Panthers. With six wins last year, including two over rival East Jackson, the Panthers enter this season with the knowledge that they can compete on a nightly basis. Moving down to Class AAA will help the Panthers, as they no longer have to face tough opponents like Clarke Central and Dacula. This may not be the year the Panthers make the playoffs, but with the experience the players got last year, Jackson County should double its win total of a year ago and could surprise some teams in Region 8-AAA.

Jefferson Lady Dragons

Coach: Jason Gibson

Region: 8-AA

2007-08 record: 15-11

Returning starters: SF Emily Jacobs (5-9, Sr.; 7 ppg., 5 rpg.); SG Callie Holloway (5-7, Sr.; 6 ppg., 3 assists); SG Marcayla Hester (5-6, Jr.; 5 ppg., 6 rpg.)

Key newcomers: PG Erin Knight (5-6, Jr.); SF Stephanie Fincher (Jr.); PF Summer Bartek (5-10, So.); PG Skylar Evanson (Fr.); SF Rachal Goza (Fr.)

Notable: Jefferson lost its senior leader and point guard MiMi DuBose to a season-ending knee injury during softball season. ... The Dragons are clearly a young team with potential in Gibson’s opinion. ... Jefferson makes the transition to Class AA this season from its previous home in Class A.

Jefferson Dragons

Coach: Bolling DuBose

Region: 8-AA

2007-08 record: 16-15

Returning starters: PG Darius Minor (6-1, Jr.); SG Tyler Bailey (5-10, Jr.); SF Chris Beck (6-4, Sr.); PF Cody Smith (5-11, Sr.)

Key newcomers: SG Tab Martin (5-10, Sr.); SG Demetri Robinson (5-9, Sr.); C Greg Haynes (6-2, Jr.); SG Jamie Sexton (5-11, Jr.); PG Andre Daniel (5-9, Fr.); SF Anthony Souza (6-1, Sr.); SF Tate Chesser (5-11, So.); C Hoytez Damons (6-2, So.); PF Kyle Mosley (6-3, So.)

Notable: DuBose is excited about the depth the Dragons bring to the court in their first season playing in Class AA. ... He calls Minor, who is also the quarterback of Jefferson’s football team, one of the best point guards in North Georgia. ... Minor is back healthy after missing half of the 2008 season with a broken hand. ... Three-year starter Chris Beck, who is verbally committed to play baseball at Georgia Southern, is a big part of Jefferson’s team with his ability to rebound and score. ... The Dragons broke a five-season string of region titles with a second place finish in 8-A last year. “This year we will be much more experienced and should have quite a bit of depth because of the number of players who got playing time last year,” DuBose said. “We look to play a pressing, uptempo game to take advantage of our depth.”

Habersham Central Lady Raiders

Coach: Amy Hood

Region: 8-AAAA

2006-07 record: 7-18, 2-10

Returning starters: G/F Lauren Anderson (5-10, Sr.); F Amber Dodd (5-9, Sr.); G Lauren Cunningham (5-5 Jr.); G Maile Stephenson (5-7, Sr.)

Key newcomers: G Chelsea Smith (5-10, Jr.)

Notable: Although Habersham Central had twice as many losses as it did wins last season, two of its six wins came in the final four games of the season, including a 43-42 win against an eventual playoff team in Stephens County. That fact alone gives some hope to the Lady Raiders, who enter their second season under head coach Amy Hood. With three seniors and even more juniors on this year’s team, leadership and past experience will play a big part in improving on last year’s campaign.

Key to success: Habersham Central is a dangerous shooting team, but needs work playing inside, according to Hood. A strong performance by Anderson and Dodd at the post will benefit the Lady Raiders greatly. With more seasoned players with starting roles, senior leadership will be a key to a better season.

Habersham Central Raiders

Coach: Don Ledbetter

Region: 8-AAAA

2007-08 record: 4-22, 2-11

Returning starters: G Kevin Queen (5-10, Sr.); G Zach Mayfield (5-9, Sr.); F Kyle Gunter (6-4, Jr.)

Key newcomers: F Joseph Lumpkin (6-4 Sr.); G Kevin Ellison (5-11, Fr.)

Notable: Habersham Central looks to improve after a difficult 2007-08 season that only saw four wins. The Raiders return three starters, including senior guard Queen, who was Habersham Central’s leading scorer and team MVP last year. He is joined at the perimeter by fellow senior Mayfield and newcomer Ellison. The Raiders also have size at the post, with a pair of 6-4 seniors in Gunter and Lumpkin.

Key to success: Habersham Central needs to look past last year’s rough season and focus on new opportunities that await. This year’s team has a combination of size at the post and, most importantly, shooting ability, which hindered the Raiders last year.

Lumpkin County Lady Indians

Coach: Jill Armstrong

Region: 7B-AAA

2006-07 record: 9-18, 3-12

Returning starters: G Ashley Brown (5-9 Sr., 17.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg. 3.5 spg), F Kayna Clemmons (5-10 Jr.), G/F Kelsie Smith (5-7 Jr.), G Cara Malone (5-3 Jr.)

Key losses: F Lacey Wallingford (5-10 Sr., 11.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg)

Notable: Brown, a four-year starter, is the only senior starter for the Lady Indians this year meaning the future looks bright. ... Malone took over the point guard position as a sophomore and, according to her coach, looked like a veteran by the end of the season which bodes well for the Lady Indians this season. ... Lumpkin County won two of its last three to end last season and the hopes are that momentum will carry over.

Key to success: Lumpkin County is going to put points on the board, especially with Brown being a senior and the supporting cast being a year older. The key to whether the Lady Indians can get back to their winning ways will be the team’s defense. Can they pressure without fouling, minimize the oppositions easy baskets, create turnovers and capitalize on those turnovers? If the answer is yes, Lumpkin County will have a season like it did in 2006-07 (17 wins).

Lumpkin County Indians

Coach: Bob Smith

Region: 7B-AAA

2006-07 record: 5-21, 2-12

Returning starters: C Shawn Chapman (6-6 Sr., 13.4 rpg, 7.5 rpg, 2.5 bpg), PG E.J. Young (5-8 Jr., 13.8 ppg)

Key losses: None

Notable: Sophomore Taylor Guthrie, the second-tallest guy on the team at 6-3, will be looked to when Chapman needs a breather...Young’s quickness allows him to get to the hole with ease, opening up the dump off or alley-opp to Chapman when his man comes to help. ... Playing to thwart the oppositions ability to score quickly and often, the Indians practice a stall offense.

Key to success: The play of Young and Chapman, one of the best guard/forward combos in the area, and the ability of the others on the floor to hit the open shot when one of the two is double-teamed.

White County Lady Warriors

Coach: Jodie Watkins

Region: 7B-AAA

2006-07 record: 7-18, 5-9

Returning starters: F Kristen Jarrard (5-8, Sr.); G Morgan Ledford (5-5, So.); C Madeline Wilbanks (5-9, Sr.)

Key losses: SF Kayla English; PG Lindsey Wiley; SF Amanda Watkins; SF Hillary Kinsey

Key newcomers: F Lindsey Messmore (5-10, Jr.); G Shauna Anderson (5-8, Fr.); G/F Jayme Lea Whitfield (5-8, Fr.)

Notable: Unlike in years past, this year’s version of the Lady Warriors features a number of girls that have the potential to contribute on a nightly basis. An aggressive style of defense should lead to numerous fast-break opportunities that will allow White County to score easy baskets.

Key to success: With youth comes inexperience, and White County will have to overcome that in order to compete with some of the tough teams within its region. The two returning senior starters do provide the Lady Warriors with leadership, but how quickly the younger players adapt to varsity basketball will determine the team’s success.

White County Warriors

Coach: Mark Carroll

Region: 7A-AAA

2006-07 record: 11-14, 6-7

Returning starters: None

Key players: G Kyle Kastner (5-10, Sr.); G Ashely Lowery (6-0, So.); C Luke Crumley (6-5, So.)

Notable: With no returning starters, the Warriors’ roster is filled with sophomores, who will have to utlize their talent to overcome their inexperience at the varsity level.

Key to success: In order to keep up with some of the more established programs in the region, White County will have to limit its mistakes if it hopes to stay competitive. Carroll knows his team is young, and hopes that through hard work the team will improve throughout the year.

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