Banks County Leopards
Coach: Mike Ruth (18th season at school, 24th overall)
Last year: 7-15 (4th in 8B-AA)
Returning starters: SF Quintin Lovelace, 6-0 Sr. (8 ppg, 5 rpg); SG Devin O’Donnell, 6-0 Sr. (7 ppg, 3 apg)
Key contributors: PF Harrison Dale, 6-3 Sr. (4 ppg, 3 rpg); SG Jacob Blalock, 5-11 Jr. (4 ppg); PG Adam Hiten, 5-9 Jr.; C Clayton Martin, 6-5 Jr.
Coach says: With solid shooters on the perimeter and good size in the post, the Leopards’ success may depend on their ability to fill the void at point guard as they move back to the northern half of Region 8-AA, after competing in the south last season. Hiten and senior Daz Steeple will handle the bulk of the duties at the point.
Coach: Allen Whiteheart (1st season at school)
Last year: 9-16 (5th in 6-AA)
Returning starters: C T.J. Shipes, 6-6 Jr. (13.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.6 bpg); F Jake Burnette, 6-4 Sr. (8 ppg, 4.5 rpg); PG Kyle Kellam, 5-11 Jr. (8.5 ppg, 2.9 apg, 2.9 rpg); G Zac Lynn, 5-11 Sr. (7 ppg, 3.4 apg, 2.8 rpg); G Peyton Wehunt, 5-11 Jr. (6.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
Coach says: The Wolves have had three consecutive losing seasons, but with five players with starting experience coming back, expectations for a turnaround are high. Buford opens the season at No. 8 in the Class AA prepcountry.com coaches poll. Shipes, who converted more than 60 percent from the field last season, is a big reason why. He was an All 6-AA first teamer as a sophomore last season.
Chestatee War Eagles
Coach: Gary Barnes (2nd second at Chestatee, 13th overall)
Last year: 9-17 last year, fifth in Region 7A-AAA
Returning starters: PG Scott Chewning, 5-11 Sr. (6.5 ppg, 5 apg); SG Keelan Passmore, 6-1 So. (4.5 ppg, 3 apg); SG Brice Beck, 6-1 Sr. (2.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg).
Key contributors: SF Cole Morgan, 6-4 Jr., SG Kelley Arthur, 6-1 So., SG Quan Clark, 6-0 So., SG Blaine Brown, 6-1 So., SG Jordan DeGraff 6-1 So., SG Lucas Bennett, 6-2 Jr.
Coach says: “Our team has worked hard in the offseason workouts, weight room and summer practice and games,” Barnes said. “Our strengths should be the ability to play together, team chemistry and resiliency. Although we are young and inexperienced in some areas, we expect to compete in a tough region.”
Coach: Chad Bridges (4th year at school, 4th season overall)
Last year: (23-8, Region 8-A champions, state quarterfinals)
Returning starters: G Anthony Norris, 6-2 Sr. (3.5 apg); G Tyler Gamble 6-0 Sr. (11 ppg); G Brandon Romans, 6-0 Sr. (10 ppg); F Channing Anderson 6-2 Sr. (5 rpg)
Key newcomers: G Chase Klugh, 5-11 Jr., fills the role of backup point guard; G Thomas Mcmillian, 6-3 So., great ball handler, good rebounder.
Coach says: “We have to stay focused and hungry. We have a lot of seniors who will need to provide the leadership this team needs.”
Dawson County Tigers
Coach: Thad Burgess (7th season at school, 15th season overall)
Last year: 20-9 (4th in 8-AA, 1st round of playoffs)
Returning starters: F Jacob Evans 6-4 Sr. (15 ppg, 11 rpg); SF Tyler Dominy 6-4 So. (7 ppg); G/F Stephen Johnson 6-4 Sr. (6 ppg, 6 rpg); G Levi Wilson 6-0 Sr. (6 ppg)
Key contributors: F Ethan Brown 6-1 Sr., returns to program after an absence and should add depth at the forward position
Coach says: “We will have the most experience and depth that I have had in my seven years here. Quality kids with outstanding leadership from our seniors. We hope to make a run at a fifth straight state playoff berth, but know that with the addition of Class AAA powers East Hall, Elbert County and Hart County it will be a very difficult task.”
East Hall Vikings
Coach: Joe Dix (7th season at school)
Last year: 21-10 (1st in 7B-AAA, 2nd round of playoffs)
Returning starters: G Joshua Hampton, 6-1 Jr. (17 ppg, 45 percent from 3-point range); C Chaz Cheeks, 6-5 Sr. (7 ppg, 9 rpg; G Kymon Woods, 6-5 Sr. (Out last year with knee injury, 17 ppg in 2008-09); C Chris Orr, 6-5 Jr. (8 ppg, 6 rpg)
Key newcomers: G Brian Edwards, 6-2 So.; G Daniel McCravy, 6-3 So.
Coach says: “This group has the chance to be really good. We have returning experinece — I’ve never had my two leading scorers (Hampton and Woods) from the two previous seasons together for a third year. Replacing the perimeter shooting we lost from graduation and staying healthy are concerns.”
Flowery Branch Falcons
Coach: Duke Mullis (3rd season at school)
Last year: 13-12 (4th in 7B-AAA)
Returning starters: SG Kevin Kanca, 6-0 Sr. (7 ppg, 2 apg)
Key newcomers: PG Rudy Deaza, 5-9 Sr.; F Quincy Hodges, 5-11 Jr.
Coach says: “This is my third year here and the guys now know the system, and I think that will benefit everyone. I have a savvy group of (six) seniors, and they make good decisions and play smart basketball. As far as the year goes, there are a lot of question marks with the new region — everything from tendencies and schemes of the teams we play, talent levels and coaching — it will be exciting after playing in what I call the ‘Hall County region’ for so long.”
Gainesville Red Elephants
Coach: Todd Cottrell (2nd season at school, 18th season overall)
Last year: 14-10 (Region 7B-AAA champions)
Returning starters: F A.J. Johnson, 6-3 Sr. (12.8 ppg, 8.9 rpg); F Shaquan Cantrell, 6-4 So. (4.8 rpg); G Quon Holcomb, 6-1 Sr. (11.4 ppg, 3 rpg, 41% from 3-point range); PG Tray Harrison, 5-5 So. (second on team in assists last year).
Key newcomers: F Chase England, 6-2 So.; G Justin Cantrell, 6-1 So.; G Deshaun Watson, 6-1, Fr.
Coach says: A disappointing end to last year has the Red Elephants focused on making another deep playoff run like they did two years ago when they reached the Class AAA semifinals. Despite the graduation of leading scorer Blake Sims, Cottrell is confident his young team will continue to improve and be very competitive come tournament time.
Habersham Central Raiders
Coach: Don Ledbetter (4th season at school, 27th overall)
Last year: 14-13 (4th in 8A-AAAA)
Returning starters: G Kevin Ellison, 5-11 Jr. (9 ppg); PF Brian Owen, 6-2 Sr. (8 ppg); SF Pat Burns, 6-0 Jr. (8 ppg)
Key contributors: PG Jake Brooks, 5-11 Sr.; SG Jordan Sanders, 5-11 Sr.; SF Cody Anderson, 5-11 Sr.; C Chasten Howard, 6-2 Sr.
Coach says: Ledbetter spoke highly of his five seniors, calling them the strongest class his ever coached in terms on-court skills, leadership and character. Look for the Raiders to use their bench freely; in summer action up to 10 players saw equal minutes. While the team’s depth is improved, lack of size continues to be an issue.
Jackson County Panthers
Coach: Britt Beaver (4th season at school)
Last year: 6-17 (4th in 8N-AAA)
Returning starters: PG Alex Crawford, 5-9 Sr. (12 ppg, 6 apg); SG Jarvis Shaw, 5-9 Sr. (10 ppg, 6 rpg).
Key newcomers: C Ben Weaver, 6-4 Sr. (6 ppg, 6 rpg), SG Logan Smith, 5-10 Sr.
Coach says: “It’s my fourth year here and we’ve built the program every year. I feel good about the foundation. We have a good group of kids and we should have a balanced scoring attack and play disciplined. Our weakness could be rebounding, but we’re much quicker this year. This group has won more than in prior years, so we’re looking to build on that. But we’ve got a tough region schedule, so I hope the hard work pays off.”
Coach: Bolling DuBose
Last year: 25-7 (1st in 8B-AA, state semifinals)
Returning starters: C Andrew Vartek, 6-0 Jr. (5 ppg, 6 rpg); PF Chris Jackson, 6-0 Sr. (4 ppg, 5 rpg); SF Tate Chesser, 6-0 Sr. (7 ppg, 2 rpg).
Key newcomers: PG Andre Daniel, 5-9 Jr., replaces leading scorer, three year starter and first team all-state guard Darius Minor in the lineup. Daniel is more of a distributor than Minor, who averaged 17 ppg as a senior last year.
Coach says: “Obviously, we would like to duplicate last year. Every team has to replace players like Minor, but it’s not who you lose, it’s who you replace them with.”
Coach: Jeff Steele (12th season at school, 12th season overall)
Last year: 19-11 (4th in 7-AAA, 2nd round of playoffs)
Returning starters: G Matt Hollis, 6-0 Jr. (10 ppg); PF/C Ty Odem, 6-2 Jr. (10 ppg)
Key newcomers: G Rashad Harrison, 5-10 Sr.; F A.J. Benefield, 6-2 Sr.; F Cam Schofield, 6-3 Sr.
Coach says: The Knights lost several key members from last year’s team that reached the sweet 16, but despite their youth and lack of in-game experience, Steele believes his team will be very competitive as the season progresses.
Coach: Seth Vining (7th season at school, 36th season overall)
Last year: 16-11 (T-1st in 8-A regular season; 3rd in region tourney, 1st round of playoffs)
Returning starters: G Austin Pearson, 6-0 Jr. (11.8 ppg); F Jackson Wells, 6-5 Sr. (7.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg); F Austin Montgomery, 6-6 So. (4 ppg, 4 rpg); G Matt Askounis, 5-10 Sr.; F Jake Kendrick, 6-3 Sr.
Coach says: With five players returning with starting experience at the varsity level and good size, the Lions will be looking for their eighth straight trip to the postseason. Vining is looking for leadership from the four seniors on his roster and expects 10-12 players to contribute minutes each night.
Lumpkin County Indians
Coach: Bobby Smith (4th at school, 35th overall)
Last year: 13-14 (Tied for 3rd in Region 7A-AAA)
Returning starters: F/C/PG Taylor Guthrie, 6-4 Sr. (11 ppg, 4 rpg).
Key newcomers: F Ian McIntosh, 5-8 Jr.; PG Devonte Anderson, 5-9 Jr.; C Hunter Polk, 6-5 Jr.; F Walker McCrary, 6-0 Sr.; PG Christian Johnson, 5-9 Sr.
Coach says: Smith says that Lumpkin County is going to be extremely young this season with only three seniors on a roster of 18 players. Half of the Indians are freshman this season, according to Smith. “We’re pleased to have the players we have to work with, but they’re just young,” Smith said. “We have a lot of freshmen.”
North Hall Trojans
Coach: Benjie Wood (fifth season at school, 11th overall)
Last year: 27-4 (Class AAA state semifinals)
Returning starters: G Chris Barnes, 5-8 Sr. (11 ppg); G Kanler Coker, 6-4 Jr. (10.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg); G Lance White, 5-9 Jr. (8 ppg, 5.5 apg).
Key contributors: SG Hamilton Harper, 5-10 Sr.; PG Amin Aziz, 5-9 Jr.; SG Ethan Smith, 5-10 So.
Coach says: Coming off a trip to the state final four last season, Wood doesn’t want to become complacent due to past accomplishments. After dropping their first subregion game last season against Pickens, the Trojans finished the regular season on fire by winning the final 12 in a row. “Our success will be dependent on our leadership and our ability to put individual goals secondary to team goals,” Wood said. “We need to play great defense, rebound and force the tempo to be successful. I’m very excited to watch this team grow as a team and as young men.”
Riverside Military Eagles
Coach: Ron Smith (1st season at school, 201-135 overall)
Last year: 18-8 (2nd in 8-AA, 1st round of playoffs)
Returning starters: F Tarvin Dukes, 6-3 Sr. (12 ppg; 8 rpg)
Key newcomers: G Jason Hutchinson-Smith, So.; PG Brandon Taylor, 5-7, Jr.
Coach says: A year removed from their second straight postseason appearance, the Eagles open the season with a new roster and hopes of making the playoffs again.
According to Smith, who coached the Johnson girls prior to this year, Hutchinson-Smith and Taylor are both great scorers and the athletic Eagles should put a lot of pressure on teams. Dukes gives Riverside a dominating inside presence.
West Hall Spartans
Coach: Warren Sellers (10th season at school, 18th season overall)
Last year: 19-12 (2nd in 7-AAA, 2nd round of playoffs)
Returning starters: F Shunquez Stephens, 6-5 Sr. (17 ppg, 11 rpg); PG Jarquise Young, 5-9 Sr. (18 ppg, 5 apg); G Dre Pou, 5-9 Sr. (8 ppg); C William Stroup, 6-7 Sr. (7 ppg, 9 rpg).
Key newcomers: F Jacob Bruns, 6-0 Sr., G Brandon Fuqua, 5-10 Sr., G Tyswon Cantrell, 6-1 So., G Leetavous Pittman, 5-10 Jr.; F Jamaad Stephens, 6-1 So.
Coach says: The Spartans return four of the five starters off last year’s region runner-up team, but Sellers knows experience won’t translate to a region title and deep run in the playoffs.
“Our level of defensive intensity and offensive execution will determine how we will fare this season,” Sellers said.
White County Warriors
Coach: Mark Carroll (sixth season at school, 21st overall)
Last year: 11-13, fourth in Region 7A-AAA
Returning starters: G Ashely Lowery, 6-2 Sr. (15 ppg, 11 rpg.); PG Andrew London, 5-9 Jr. (5 ppg).
Key contributors: G Cam Segraves, 6-0 Sr.; C Cole Segraves, 6-4 So.; C Rick Anglin, 6-4 Sr.; F James Burnett, 6-2 Sr.; G D.J. Rogers, 5-10 Sr.; G Ethan Eaton, 5-10 Sr.
Coach says: White County will have no shortage of good athletes on the court with Lowery, Anglin, Burnett, Eaton and both of the Segraves brothers — all starting football players. Height will not be an issue either — four expected starters going 6-2 or taller.
“I believe we have a chance of having an outstanding year,” Carroll said. “We have eight players back with a lot of varsity experience and a couple of new players to the program.”
Towns County Indians
Coach: Ken Hamilton (1st year as coach, 1st year overall)
Last year: 5-21, 4-16 Region 8-A
Returning starters: G Bradley Swanson, 6-3 Sr.; G D.J. Rogers, 6-0 Sr.; G Devin Henderson, 6-0 Sr.; F Brett Bradshaw, 6-4 Sr.
Key contributors: G Corbin Gilfilian, 5-10 Sr., came off the bench last year and will start this season.
Coach says: “To be a successful team, we must return to the fundamentals of basketball,” Hamilton said. “With fundamentals, we will build consistency which has not been a basic aspect of this team for a long time. We have to do the little things right on offense and in our defense to be competitive in our region.”
Union County Panthers
Coach: David Tucker (1st season at school, 26th season overall)
Last year: 4-23
Returning starters: C Jake Gooch, 6-6 Sr. (Led team in blocked shots); G Seth Merritt, 6-0 Sr. (Led team in three-point attempts); F Trey Thomas, 6-1 Sr. (Led team in rebounds)
Key newcomers: G Pete Danek, 6-0 Sr., a transfer who is expected to push for a starting position.
Coach says: Tucker hasn’t named a starting lineup yet, but it’s a good bet that Gooch, Merritt and Thomas will continue in their roles.
Tucker said that the other two spots will come down to who works the hardest in practice.