Gainesville's D'Marcus Simonds driven by critics, aiming for basketball state title in senior year. READ HERE
Coach: Benjie Wood
2014-15 record: 25-5, second round of Class AAAAA playoffs
Who to watch: D’Marcus Simonds (6-4 Sr.); KJ Buffen (6-5 So.); Bailey Minor (6-5 So.); Michael White (6-3 Jr.)
Newcomers: Xavier Bledson (6-1 So.); Tae Turner (6-0 Sr.); Messiah Dorsey (5-10 Sr.)
Season Outlook: They’re experienced, they’re cohesive and they’re deadly shooters, but none of Gainesville’s players this season will have a set position, according to Wood. Instead, Wood said his team will practice to play balanced basketball, where everyone can have the ability to jump into each role and produce. … The Red Elephants will rely on four key returners, who all played significant minutes in Gainesville’s shock upset over No. 1 seed North Atlanta in the first round of the Class AAAAA playoffs. … Gainesville fell in the second round at Jones County. … Simonds, entering his senior year at Gainesville, is the team’s undisputed leader after averaging 22.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in 2014-15. He recently signed a letter of intent to play basketball at Georgia State University. … The Red Elephants play in a tough region, and will be challenged by Flowery Branch and Apalachee, who returns talented senior Kamar Baldwin for one more year. Baldwin is a Butler University commit. … Look for Lakeview Academy move-in Tae Turner to make an impact off the bench for Gainesville: He averaged 14 points, three rebounds and four assists per game with the Lions. … The Red Elephants have four players between 6-4 and 6-6.
Coach: Brenda Hill-Gilmore
2014-15 record: 22-9, quarterfinals of Class AAAAA state playoffs
Who to watch: PG/G Shikiya Brown (5-8 Sr.); PG/SG Taylor Hawks (5-5 Jr.); W/PF Kayla Kelly (5-9 Sr.); G/PF Breana Fair (5-9 Sr.); G Tanai Watson (5-5 Jr.)
Newcomers: G/PG Tija Blackwell (5-8 Fr.); SF Cori Griffith (5-9 SF); PF Sydney Payne (5-8 Jr.) G Najawela Jones (5-5 Sr.)
Season outlook: Coming off of a spirited appearance in the state quarterfinals, Gainesville will once again need to tackle a dangerous region schedule in Hill-Gilmore’s fifth year with the Red Elephants. … Gainesville, last year’s second seed behind Flowery Branch, topped both Kell and Greenbrier in the Class AAAAA state playoffs before losing a hard-fought road game to eventual state runners-up Mays. … Hawks, The Times’ 2014 Second Team selection, averaged 13 points, five boards and three steals for Gainesville, while Brown is also expected to be a consistent shooter for Hill-Gilmore’s team. … Gainesville’s coach said she’s noticed that her team has undergone a change in work ethic and commitment over the summer in the gym. … “They gained a lot of respect for themselves,” she said. “They understand what it really takes. They know it’s not easy, but they understand the commitment that it’s going to take to get it back.” … Gainesville will see its toughest region opponent in Flowery Branch, which lost only one region game last season and returns all five starters.
Coach: Marvin Latham
2014-15 record: 6-16; 7th in Region 8-AA
Who to watch: Davis Short (Sr., 6-5); Mason Green (Jr., 6-7); Wiley Burns (Jr., 6-5)
Newcomers: Davis Short, Javon Thompson (So., 6-2); Mason Green; Garett Wilson (Jr., 6-3)
Season Outlook: One starter (Burns) returning. ... Four returning overall with varsity experience. ... Short is a 6-5 wing, who can shoot the 3 or play inside and defend well. ... Green is 6-7 post, who can defend, block shots, rebound and going to score points as well. ... Burns is steady, can rebound, will score 8-10 points per game and can play defense. ... Garett Wilson is a transfer from Maryville, Tenn. He is a 6-3 junior capable of playing on the wing or as a forward. ... Coach Marvin Latham is in his second season over the Eagles. … As for region play, “Rabun County is going to be good. As will Union County, Washington-Wilkes and Greene County. We’ll have to beat one of those teams a couple of times,” Latham said. … Latham said the Eagles will play an up-tempo style. … The team will use its length and speed to go after easy, transition buckets. Green, Short, Wilson, Bryant Rudolph (Sr., 5-10) and Sipho Khoza (Sr., 5-10) will make up the team’s starting lineup early on.
Lakeview Academy boys
Coach: Todd Cottrell
2014-15 record: 17-11; first round Class A private school playoffs
Who to watch: Josh Randolph (6-2 Jr.); Tre Gober (6-2 Jr.)
Season Outlook: Lakeview Academy has no problem getting to the state playoffs. Winning in the state playoffs is another story. ... The last few trips to the state playoffs have ended in first round exits. Most recently, the Lions suffered a 103-59 loss to St. Francis last season. ... Expect Lakeview’s backcourt of Randolph and Gober to lead the Lions this season as they look to make the playoffs again.
Lakeview Academy girls
Coach: John Carrick
2014-15 record: 17-10; first round Class A private school playoffs
Who to watch: Hanna Grogan (5-9 Jr.); Christen Copeland (5-6 Jr.)
Newcomers: Ryann Moody (5-10 Jr.)
Season Outlook: The Lady Lions have made the state playoffs two straight years, losing in the first round on each occasion. Last year was a 51-43 loss to a Calvary Day team that went on to reach the semifinals. ... Lakeview won the region last year, but was upset in the region tournament by George Walton Academy, forcing them to travel on the road for the first round of the playoffs, something Carrick wants to avoid this season. ... The Lady Lions are led by a trio of juniors. Grogan (27 points per game so far this season) has already led the Lady Lions to a runners-up finish in the Piedmont Hardwood Classic, earning All-Tournament Team honors in the process. ... Copeland runs the point and, according to Carrick, runs the team as the leader on the court. Copeland is also an excellent defender and Carrick always matches her up against the opponents’ top scorer. ... Key newcomer Moody provides size in the post with the ability to hit the outside shot when the opportunity presents itself. ... Lakeview is expected to be the top team in Region 8-A again this year and compete for another region title.
North Hall boys
Coach: Tyler Sanders
2014-15 record: 14-15; 4th in Region 8-AAAA
Who to watch: Carson Heinen (Sr.); Evan Easton (Jr.); Sam Jackson (Sr.)
Newcomers: Dylan Satterfield (Sr.); Whit Powell (Sr.)
Season Outlook: 3 returning starters in Carson Heinen, Evan Easton and Sam Jackson. ... Each of the returning starters are in their third year at the varsity level. … Heinen averaged 17 points per game in 2014-15, Easton averaged 11 points and 9 rebounds per game. ... Getting into the state tournament last year was a “big deal for us,” according to third-year head coach Tyler Sanders. … Wins over Clarke Central, Lanier and Woodward Academy last season were important for the Trojans. All three are back on the schedule again this year because Sanders said he wanted to make the non-region schedule as tough as possible. ... Sanders is coming off his best finish as head coach, as his team finished fourth in region and made the first round of the state playoffs. ... “Our entire region is difficult,” Sanders said. He added the Trojans would be battling Buford, Stephens County, White County, Madison County and Monroe Area for one of the top four spots in the region to make another trip to the state playoffs.
North Hall girls
Coach: Kristi House
2014-15 record: 18-12; 2nd in Region 8-AAAA
Who to watch: Sarah Hollifield (Sr.) led team in rebounding; Taylor Anne Kelly (Jr.); Sadie Cleveland (Jr.) avg 9 ppg; Tatum McQuillian (Jr.)
Newcomers: Maurshonik Gill (Jr.); Niki Carver (Jr.)
Season Outlook: The Lady Trojans are returning three starters who played into the second round of the state playoffs in 2014-15. ... Tatum McQuillian will be running the floor as the point guard and her athleticism will be key on both ends of the floor. ... Niki Carver transferred into North Hall from East Jackson High over the offseason and will play forward for the Lady Trojans. Carver is already committed to play softball at Ohio State. Coach House expects her to make a difference this season because she “knows how to win.” … Though the program reached the second round in the last two seasons, the Lady Trojans not thinking about that this season. What they are focused on is “busting through that ceiling we’ve been at the last two years” and making it just a step further in the tournament. … House is in her sixth season as head coach. … The best finish for the Lady Trojans under House was a region championship and a fourth-round run in 2012. … Though deemed a player to watch, Sadie Cleveland is still in the process of coming back from a torn ACL. … As for trying to make it back to the state playoffs, the Lady Trojans will battle with Buford, Chestatee and Johnson.
Coach: Chad Pittman
2014-15 record: 12-13; 6th in Region 8-AAAA
Attempts to reach Pittman were unsuccessful.
Coach: Web Daniel
2014-15 record: 16-13; 4th in Region 8-AAAA (runner up in tourney)
Who to watch: Kayla Watson (Sr.); Lindsey Caudell (So.); Brooklyn Popham (Jr.)
Newcomers: Peri Satterfield (So.); Alexis Smith (So.); Maggie Brechter (So.)
Season Outlook: Three starters return for the Lady War Eagles and 10 of 13 return from last season overall. … Chestatee will depend on Kayla Watson to drive the ship. She averaged 12 points per game last year, was First Team All-Region for the 2013-14 season and Second Team All-Region last year. … Coach Web Daniel said Lindsey Caudell had a great summer and produced as a freshman last year, so he’s expecting a good season from her this year. ... Brooklyn Popham was better than 40 percent from the 3-point line last season. … Daniel is in his 10th season as head coach. … As the defending state champion, Buford is “the gold standard” and preseason No. 1 team in state for Class AAAA, so Chestatee will have to battle the Lady Wolves for region supremacy. … Another tough team Daniel is looking to contend with is North Hall, which was also ranked in the top 10 preseason. … Early season starting five: Watson, Caudell, Popham, Morgan Bryant and Eramiss Hernandez.
East Hall boys
Coach: Joe Dix
2014-15 record: 24-6, Class AAA state quarterfinals
Who to watch: Tylor Brown (6-3, Sr.); C Jason Winters (6-2, Sr.); G Andy Lara (5-9, Sr.); PG Jacquen Hopkins (5-11, Sr.); G Tristan Cooper (6-1, Sr.)
Newcomers: G Luke Cooper (5-8, So.); F Sedrion Morse (6-4, So.)
Season Outlook: Led by the return of three guards from last season, East Hall will have a solid shot to repeat in 7-AAA. ... Even with the graduation of Kyvon Davenport (22 ppg., 14 reb.) and leading defender Devin Watson, Dix believes he has plenty of fresh talent to fill in the gaps. ... East Hall will have plenty of games early to cut its teeth together, including a matchup against Class AAAAAA Peachtree Ridge, and tournament games in the South Carolina low country, before the Lanierland tournament. ... Brown can play multiple positions, due to his athleticism and competitive streak. ... Hopkins is a four-year starter who is a left-hander with a great touch on his shots and is also talented at distributing the ball. ... Tristan Cooper averaged 12 ppg. last season and drew 42 charges. ... Morse and Luke Cooper give the Vikings an infusion of youth. ... Dix feels they are both ready to contribute. ... East Hall remains one of the most accomplished in Northeast Georgia, winning more than 230 games in the past decade, along with state semifinal appearances in 8 of the last 13 seasons.
East Hall girls
Coach: Justin Wheeler
2014-15 record: 20-11, Class AAA state semifinals
Who to watch: F/G Jenny Edwards (5-11, Sr.); PG Ashlyn Ellison (5-7, Sr.); G Kylah Mize (5-7, Jr.); SG Carly Winters (5-8, So.)
Season outlook: With three returning starters from a trip to the fourth round of the postseason last season, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about the program in its third year under Wheeler. ... Leading the way is Edwards (10 ppg., 9 reb.), who was First-Team All-Region last season and is being recruited by a number of colleges. ... Mize also chipped in 10 ppg. last season, and was especially valuable during the playoffs. ... Ellison (8 ppg., 5 apg.) is committed to Armstrong Atlantic University in Savannah, while Winters had 7 ppg. and possesses the ability to be an strong outside shooter. ... In December, the Lady Vikings will have the chance to play in the South Florida Holiday Shootout, then come home for the Lanierland tournament. ... In his first two seasons at East Hall, Wheeler compiled a 35-26 mark ... The Lady Vikings were playing their best basketball last season in the postseason with double-digit wins against Oconee County, Peach County and Calhoun.
West Hall boys
Coach: Zac Swansey
2014-15 record: 3-23
Who to watch: Dylan Curry (6-5, 175 Sr.); Esteban Ulloa (6-0, 180 Sr.); Dylan Barron (5-10, 145 Sr.); Xzavier Reid (6-3, 145 Jr.)
Season Outlook: West Hall is coming off a season that only saw them win three games. Longtime coach Warren Sellers stepped down after the season and former Johnson High assistant coach Zac Swansey has been given the task of bringing the Spartans back to the top of Region 7-AAA. ... West Hall has a senior-laden team with the guard tandem of Ulloa and Barron controlling the ball in the backcourt and forward Curry working the frontcourt. ... Reid is expected to add strong play from the wing position for the Spartans. ... Swansey believes the Spartans have the talent to compete for a spot in the state playoffs. ... According to Swansey, they will have to continue to improve on both ends of the floor to reach that goal. ... Swansey has a background steeped in playing basketball. ... The new West Hall coach played his first two seasons at Flowery Branch, then finished out as an All-State player at Dunwoody High ... Swansey played his college basketball at Georgia.
West Hall girls
Coach: Bryan Richerson
2014-15 record: 11-14
Who to watch: Macy Passmore (5-9 Jr.); Anna McKendree (5-8 So.)
Season Outlook: Coach Richerson has been steadily improving the West Hall girls team since he was promoted to head coach in 2013. Last year’s 11-14 record was a three-win improvement over his first season as head coach where he went 8-17. ... The Lady Spartans have yet to make the state playoffs under Richerson, something they will look to change this season. ... West Hall is led by the guard duo of Passmore and McKendree. ... The Lady Spartans have a deep team that they will try to use to their advantage. ... Forward Meaghan Kelling (5-10 Sr.), guard Avery Prather (5-1 Jr.) and forward Megan English (5-10 Jr.) are all expected to make significant contributions this season. ... The Lady Spartans have seven upperclassmen on their roster with no freshman. ... West Hall hopes this experience will translate into wins.
Flowery Branch boys
Coach: David Sokol
2014-15 record: 14-12
Who to watch: G Jon Mills (5-10, Jr.); F Trey Bailey (6-5, Sr.); PG Chris Garcia (5-9, Sr.); F John Holston (6-3, Sr.)
Season outlook: The Falcons are entering season No. 3 under Sokol, so his roster should be familiar with the system. ... Mills is the leading returner after scoring 10 ppg. last season, which helps fill the shoes of long-range threat Taylor Bourdage who graduated last year. ... Bailey, Garcia and Holston combined for about 13 ppg. last season. ... Bailey will also be a leader for his defensive ability and length inside. ... Flowery Branch has only a few non-region games to get acclimated to its new starting five. ... The Falcons open 8-AAAAA play at Clarke Central on Dec. 1. ... Region 8-AAAAA is especially deep with Gainesville and Apalachee as two of the better programs to battle for four playoff spots.
Flowery Branch girls
Coach: Courtney Newton
2014-15 record: 21-6
Who to watch: G Breanna Locke (Sr.); G Maddie Hetzel (Sr.); G Kierra Knight (Sr.); F Julianne Sutton (Jr.); G Taniyah Worth (So.); PG Lexie Senghammee (So.)
Season outlook: The Lady Falcons have all the pieces needed to be successful with a handful of talented guards, size inside and a point guard who can orchestrate the offense. ... Flowery Branch has back about 20 points per game with the senior guards Locke, Hetzel and Knight. ... Sutton (9 ppg.) is a strong presence inside with good length to defend shots and rebound. ... Senghemmee is coming off a fantastic freshman season where she averaged 8 points a night. ... Steering the ship for the Lady Falcons is their first-year coach Newton, who was a four-year standout in high school at Flowery Branch and played in college at South Carolina. ... Newton steps in after former coach Hazel Hall retired following the 2015 season. ... The new Flowery Branch coach said her squad worked extremely hard during the offseason toward reaching its potential for the season that is now underway. ... The Falcons’ main competition for the region title will likely come right in Hall County from Gainesville.
Coach: Tim Slater
2014-15 record: 29-1, quarterfinals of Class AAAA playoffs
Who to watch: C Andrew Sims (6-3 Sr.); PG Ahmad Harrison (5-10 Sr.); W Yaz Hagins (5-11 Sr.); PG Kylan Curry (5-8 Fr.); SG Qua Butler (6-2 So.)
Newcomers: G Travarian Lott (6-1 Sr.); SG Peyton Dempsey (6-1 Sr.)
Season outlook: Entering his first year at Johnson, later said his team can experience a “high level of success” despite losing talented pieces like Ty Cockfield and Roderick English to graduation from last year’s 29-1 Knights squad. … Johnson has six seniors who all have experience from last season’s playoff bid, and will be expected to provide at each position. … Slater took over when longtime coach Jeff Steele left Oakwood to take over at Lumpkin County. … Slater built up his coaching experience at Bulloch Academy and Robert Toombs Academy, before becoming an assistant at Buford for the past two seasons. … Slater often scouted Johnson’s players as a Buford coach, and said his new team was “shocked” that he already knew so much of their tendencies. … In the five games Johnson had played prior to Thanksgiving, the Knights had five different leading scorers. … Johnson will be starting two underclassmen, Curry and Butler. “We’re young, young, young,” said Slater. “But the future’s bright.” Curry has a 4-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Coach: Tiffany Russell
2014-15 record: 5-20
Who to watch: W/P Hannah Hester (5-9 Jr.); P Kimmie Brady (5-10 Sr.); PG Caroline Odum (5-6 So.); G Katie Wiese (5-6 Sr.)
Newcomers: G Chelsea Reece (5-4 Fr.); P Sidney Vickery (5-8 Fr.); P Emma Hernandez (5-10 Fr.)
Season outlook: Don’t let the record fool you: The Lady Knights are on the upswing. Last year’s five wins were more than the previous three seasons combined, and Johnson now brings back three returning starters. … Graduated point guard Sarah Williams, an honorable mention on The Times’ All-Area basketball team, is now playing at Truett-McConnell College. … Johnson averaged just a sliver more than 34 points per game last season.
Coach: Eddie Martin
2014-15 record: 16-13, second round of Class AAAA state playoffs
Who to watch: F Will Springer (6-7, Sr.)
Newcomers: PG Alex Jones (5-10, So.); G Dawson Wehunt (6-2, Jr.); F Sahil Patel (6-8, Jr.); G Brandon Iverson (5-10, Sr.)
Season outlook: As one of the winningest coaches in state history, the Wolves’ first-year coach, Martin, will have a chance to mold young talent into his system. ... His first priority is to stress the importance of playing great defense. ... Buford will have a tough early-season schedule, including tournament games against larger programs in the Grayson Ram Classic. ... Martin, a 34-year coaching veteran, brings a career 713-227 mark to the Wolves. ... Martin won four state championships during his seven-year stint at Greater Atlanta Christian (2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014) before arriving at Buford. Prior to coaching at GAC, Martin led Norcross to three straight state championships (2006-08), the first time a three-peat has been accomplished in the state’s largest classification since 1938-40. ... Jones is a promising young point guard who moved to Buford from Alpharetta. ... From last season, Buford lost about 25 points per game with the graduation of Tre Hansbrough and the departure of Kyrin Galloway, who moved to Milton. ... Martin takes over for Allen Whitehart, who led Buford to four seasons with more than 20 wins during his five-year stint. ... Buford made the state title game twice for Whitehart and the state playoffs all five years.
Coach: Gene Durden
2014-15 record: 30-3, Class AAAA state champions
Who to watch: F Chandler Hall (5-11, Sr.); P Zikaya Wright (5-11, Jr.); PG Pamela Johnson (5-5, Jr.); F Marissa Bruce (5-7, Jr.)
Newcomers: SG Rachel Dobbs (5-6, Jr.); PG Tory Ozment (6-0, So.); F Audrey Weiner (5-10, So.); F Mary Walters (5-9, So.); P Jessica Nelson (6-2, So.); G Kya Styles (5-6, So.)
Season outlook: The Lady Wolves will have plenty of length and a strong defensive foundation back from the defending state championship squad to help fill the hole left by the graduation of guard Camille Anderson (16 ppg.), who now plays at N.C. State. ... Buford is the most accomplished girls program in Northeast Georgia in the past decade, winning 263 games and four state championships (2009, 2010, 2011 and 2015) for the 11th-year coach. ... Also gone from last season’s squad for Buford is Corey Staples (8 ppg.) who now plays at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla. ... Last year, Buford got over the hump with a thrilling 59-55 win against St. Pius X, led by All-American Asia Durr, in the quarterfinals at Buford. ... It was an especially sweet win for Buford after falling to St. Pius X in the championship game the previous two seasons. ... Durden should reach the 700-win mark in his career early this season.
Lumpkin County boys
Coach: Jeff Steele
2014-15 record: 9-20; first round Class AAA playoffs
Who to watch: Jack Howard (6-4, Sr.); Zack Pulley (6-3, Jr.); Brandon Zarate (6-5, Sr.)
Season Outlook: The Indians will return essentially the same team that won only nine games last season with the exception of new head coach Jeff Steele. ... Steele comes over from Johnson where he coached for 16 seasons, reaching the state quarterfinals last year with a 29-1 record. ... Steele was The Times’ All-Area boys basketball coach of the year each of the past two years and finished with a 270-81 overall record at Johnson. ... Steele will look to change the momentum of the Lumpkin County program. ... The first order of business is to improve the mentality of his team. ... He wants his team to come out every game expecting to win. ... Despite only nine wins, the Indians made the playoffs for the second straight year. ... Their playoff run ended with an 82-33 loss to Morgan County in the first round. ... This year’s Lumpkin County team is led by Howard. The senior guard is averaging 23 points through three games this season. ... Helping out Howard will be junior guard Pulley (16 points, 9 assists per game) and senior forward/center Zarate (12 points, 10 rebounds per game). ... Steele likes to play a fast, up-tempo offense. That was his bread and butter at Johnson, but he said he plans to slow it down a bit, at least for the first part of the season, as the players he inherited at Lumpkin County are better suited for that kind of offense. ... Steele wants his team to achieve double-digit wins and to compete for a region championship.
Lumpkin County girls
Coach: Greg Murray
2014-15 record: 2-24
Who to watch: Rylie Vaughan (Jr.); Hope Foster (So.); Holly Foster (So.); Maddie Self (So.)
Season Outlook: Lumpkin County has a new head coach as they look to improve from a two-win season. ... Murray says he has high expectations for his team, but he understands there is a lot of work to do. ... He wants to limit turnovers and put a focus on playing team ball. ... Lumpkin County is a young squad without much experience. ... The Indians are led by the junior Vaughan and a trio of sophomores (both Fosters and Self). Murray knows this season will have its ups and downs but expects his team to stay competitive all year.
Jackson County boys
Coach: Chuck Butler
2014-15 record: 4-22; 7th in Region 8-AAA
Who to watch: Joel Ellis (Sr.)(made all region as junior last year); Preston Giroux (Sr.); Christian Smith (Jr.)
Newcomers: Brock McCullum (Jr.), Kyron Baker (Jr.)
Season Outlook: The Panthers are returning all five starters under second-year coach Chuck Butler. The team only had one senior last season. ... Giroux plays a big part for Jackson County, according to Butler. He’s an all-purpose, 6-foot-2 guy, who can play guard or forward. ... Smith was an honorable mention for All-Region last year after shooting 40 percent from the 3-point line as a sophomore. … Malique Wade (Sr.) was an honorable mention as a point guard. … The Panthers are coming off a season where they lost 10 games by 10 or less points — three of those by three or less. … This season, Butler has senior leadership he didn’t have last year. ... In the region, Morgan County is coming off a state runner-up season and is two years removed from a state title. ... East Jackson had new players roll in and has a new roster, according to Butler. ... Hart County and Elbert County, along with Morgan County and East Jackson have been the consistent top four. … Butler said, in order for his team to make a run for a top four spot and get into the state tournament, it comes down to battling with Elbert and Hart. ... This season, the Panthers will be working on “closing the deal,” according to their coach. … Jackson County will have depth and senior contributors coming off the bench this season, a welcome change for the program. “We’re looking forward to having a rotation of nine or ten guys who can contribute and we don’t fall off a whole lot by rotating players,” Butler said. ... An early look at a starting five looks like this: Wade, Smith, Giroux, Ellis and Skylar Hancock (Jr.).
Jackson County girls
Coach: Julie McCutcheon
2014-15 record: 9-17; 5th in Region 8-AAA
Who to watch: Brianna Love (Jr.); Logan Cook (Jr.); Destiny Gaudlock (Jr.); Shelton Kendrix (Sr.)
Newcomers: Each of the players on the roster have some varsity experience entering the season.
Season Outlook: The Lady Panthers have three starters from the 2014-15 season returning to the team. … Six players return this season with significant varsity time. … Love is a point guard who can score with her shot or by driving to the basket. … Cook is a strong shooter for Jackson County. … Gaudlock is great at slashing through defenses and is very strong on the defensive side of the floor. … Kendrix is going to be a versatile swing player for the Lady Panthers. … Caroline Davis (Fr.) is expected to help on both sides of the floor. … Morgan County and Jefferson were preseason favorites to win the region this season and, according to coach Julie McCutcheon, both have depth, which will make them strong opponents. … The Lady Panthers are coming off a season which had them on the cusp of making the state tournament. In fact, an overtime loss to Oconee County kept them from making the bracket. It would have been the first trip to the state tournament in 12 years for Jackson County. … This season, the team is using the motivation of being so close to the postseason as a reason to work harder toward that goal.
Banks County boys
Coach: Mike Cleveland
2014/15 record: 24-6, No. 2 seed in 7-AAA, second round of Class AAA state tournament
Who to watch for: PG Zez Steeple (5-7 Sr.); PF Zac Orr (6-6 Sr.); W Trevae Cain (5-11 Sr.); SF Kahmal Wiley (6-4 Jr.); PG Kendrick Simmons (5-9 Sr.)
Newcomers: G Gabe Martin (6-1 So.); Dylan Orr (6-5 So.)
Season outlook: Led by two All Region 7-AAA selections, Banks County will look to improve on its most successful season in recent history. ... The Leopards won 24 games last season, including a first-round playoff game against East Jackson.
Guard Zez Steeple and post Zac Orr will lead the charge for Banks, while Trevae Cain can provide production on the wing. ... The Leopards are without graduated senior Austin Venable, who led Banks with 17 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks per game last year. He committed to Presbyterian College. ... Cleveland said the focus will be peaking near region tournament time.
Banks County girls
Coach: Jerry King
2014/15 record: 24-6, No. 3 seed of 7-AAA, second round of the Class AAA state tournament
Who to watch for: G Jaylyn Lack (5-4 Sr.); G Allison Smith (5-9 So.); F Gabby Kennedy (5-9 Jr.); G Taylor Parson (5-6 Jr.)
Newcomers: G Mattie Thomas (5-8 Fr.); F Jaycie Bowen (5-10 Fr.); F Amber Williams (5-10 Fr.)
Season outlook: Coming off of a strong performance in the second round of the state playoffs, Banks County will rely on several new faces to produce significant minutes. ... The Lady Leopards will not return any of their five starters from last year, but can still rely on playmakers like Jaylyn Lack and Allison Smith to step up. ... Banks was led last year by Kaitlyn Duncan, a 6-1 forward who averaged 20.4 points and 11.2 rebounds before leaving to play for Furman University. ... Kennedy and Parson are expected to make an impact on the boards, according to King. ... Lack set a school record for most charges taken in a season. ... King said the focus will be to make sure his bench is ready for the postseason. ... Banks County won a program-best 24 games last season.
Coach: Bolling DuBose
2014-15 record: 7-22, first round Class AAA state playoffs
Who to watch: PG Hunter Thompson (6-0, Sr.); F Adrian Turpin (6-2, Sr.); G Malik Elamin (5-10, Sr.); C Kasen Rainey (6-1, Jr.)
Newcomers: G Colby Wood (5-11, So.); SF Jamal Meadows (6-1, So.); F Cale Compton (6-1, So.)
Season outlook: Thompson, who has started three years now for the Dragons, will head a unit with three returning starters. ... Thompson shifted to point guard from shooting guard during the offseason. ... DuBose said Thompson has demonstrated he he is Jefferson’s top perimeter defender, very effective 3-point shooter and can attack the basket off the dribble. ... The Dragons should also benefit from the return of Turpin, who is expected to be one of their top scorers and rebounders, after going down with a season-ending patella tendon injury early last year. ... Rainey is Jefferson’s lone returning post player, and should have no trouble averaging double digit points and rebounds this season. ... Wood and Elamin are both young guards who are adept at driving to the basket with the ball. ... Wood is fresh off a spectacular football season where he rushed for more than 2,000 yards as a running back.
Coach: Jason Gibson
2014-15 record: 21-7
Who to watch: PG Abbie Franklin (5-8, Jr.); C Hope Forrester (6-1, Jr.); W McKenzie Tyner (5-8, So.)
Newcomers: G Mariah Starks (5-8, So.); G/F Jazmin Allen (5-8, So.); G/F McKenzie Ulmer (5-9, So.)
Season outlook: Gibson likes his bunch which prides itself on running an uptempo style ... The Lady Dragons return three starters off the region runner-up in 8-AAA last season. ... Franklin is the catalyst for the offense, scoring 16 points per game and six assists a game last season. ... Forrester (10 ppg., 6 rpg.) provides good length inside, and Tyner is also a leader after chipping in eight points a game last season. ... Jefferson will also have seniors Allison Patrick and Jalerica Smith, and juniors Lauren Wagner and Baylee McCullough will get substantial minutes. ... A tough early-season schedule for Jefferson includes a trip to defending Class AAAA state champion Buford in its next game Dec. 1.
Dawson County boys
Coach: Thad Burgess
2014-15 record: 7-19
Who to watch: G Cullen Reed (6-1 So.)
Newcomers: Gabe Bryant (6-8 So.); Noah Davis (6-7 Jr.)
Season Outlook: The Tigers had a down year last year, winning only seven games after back-to-back 20-plus win seasons. Burgess will look to right the ship and get the Tigers back in state playoff contention. ... Dawson County has a very young, inexperienced team that could possibly start four or five sophomores. The only returning stater from last season is Reed. ... What Dawson County does have, however, is size in the paint. ... Bryant and Davis have the potential to be a dynamic duo in the post and under the rim. ... The Tigers’ tallest player last year was 6-4, so this will be a new dynamic for Burgess to utilize. ... Burgess expects to see some really good things from his team as the year progresses. ... According to the coach, Dawson County has to stay patient in a very strong Region 7-AAA that is full of returning players.
Dawson County girls
Coach: Steve Sweat
2014-15 record: 29-1; quarterfinals of the Class AAA playoffs
Who to watch: Karlie Bearden (5-11 Sr.); Haley Burgess (5-7 Sr.); Peytan Porter (5-8 Sr.); Katelynn Simpson (5-10 Sr.)
Newcomers: Kaylee Sticker (5-10 Fr.)
Season Outlook: The Lady Tigers have enjoyed plenty of success on the court in recent years, and this year should be no exception. ... Dawson County won their first 29 games last season before losing to eventual Class AAA state champions Laney High 70-64 in the state quarterfinals. ... Sweat wants the Lady Tigers to push the pace. He says he hopes to play fast by pressing and running. ... Dawson County is only returning two starters but has a veteran line-up ready to step in and take charge. ... In all, the Lady Tigers will have 10 seniors on their roster. ... Seniors Bearden (12 points, 8 rebounds per game last season) and Porter (8 points, 4 assists) will man the wing positions. Simpson (4 points, 5 rebounds) will start at the post, and point guard Burgess (8 points, 4 assists) will be the floor general for the Lady Tigers as they look to repeat as region champions. ... Sticker is the only freshman on the team, and is expected to be a key contributor according to Sweat.
White County boys
Coach: Sam Borg
2014-15 record: 13-13
Who to watch: G Whit Mauney (6-0 Sr.); F John Ward (6-5 Jr.); G Brad Hurst (6-2 Sr.); Crawford Abernathy (Sr.); Clancy Loudermilk (Sr.); Desmon Mataro (Sr.)
Newcomers: PG Austin Harris (Fr.); Kaleb Crane (So.); Jay Lepkoske (Fr.)
Season outlook: Playing with “one of the better teams we’ve had,” White County coach Sam Borg is optimistic about his team’s chances this year in Region 8-AAAA. … The Warriors return leading scorer Whit Mauney, who currently leads the team with 29 points per game through three wins. He was a first-team selection on The Times’ All-Area team in 2014-15. … Borg is particularly bullish on junior John Ward, who has a proclivity for double-double performances, and can distract defenders who want to double-team Mauney. … Hurst is White County’s best option from beyond the arc and is also the Warriors’ leading rebounder from 2014-15. … All but two of White County’s starters played on the football team earlier this fall. … Borg said his players’ commitment to the weight room should play dividends defending and driving in the lane. … White County has already played first-year Gwinnett County school Discovery twice, and is slated to tackle Marist and Brookwood later in the season. ... Borg wanted a challenging non-region schedule in order to be strong come region play.
White County girls
Coach: Tyler Whitlock
2014-15 record: 16-10
Who to watch: G Abby Watson (Sr.); G McKayla McCallister (Sr.); G Denisia Mataro (Jr); G Charlsie Maddox (Jr)
Newcomers: Annabeth Vandiver (Fr.); Sakina Wilmont (Fr.); Maddie Stephens (Fr.); Chanlder Maddox (Fr.)
Season outlook: The Warriors narrowly missed out on a playoff spot in the highly-competitive 8-AAAA, and should be expected to compete this year. … Whitlock is entering his second year as White County coach. … The Warriors have two players who went on to play in college, including Paige Thomas (Truett-McConnell College) and Abbey Craven (Piedmont College).
Habersham Central boys
Coach: Don Ledbetter
2014-15 record: 8-19; 10th in Region 6-AAAAAA
Who to watch: Cody Patterson (Sr., 6-4); Mason Kinsey (Sr., 6-0)
Newcomers: Bryce Tanner (So., 6-2); Caleb Hodges (So., 6-2)
Season Outlook: Two returning starters in Mason Kinsey and Cody Patterson. ... Five players return to the Raiders’ roster from last season. … Patterson is a senior with two years of experience under his belt. He had shoulder surgery after the last game of the 2014-15 season and is a good look around the basket. ... Kinsey averaged 12 points per game last season, and the Raiders will need a big year out of him to be successful. ... Austin Frady (Jr., 6-5) is playing big around the basket and looks to be much improved from last year. … In region play, Lambert is the team to beat, according to ninth-year head coach Don Ledbetter. ... Johns Creek will be in the mix and Centennial will be tough as well. ... “We have to take care of us,” Ledbetter said.
Habersham Central girls
Coach: John Hood
2014-15 record: 14-13; 7th in Region 6-AAAAAA
Who to watch: Lainey Gosnell (Jr., 6-0); Alley Parham (Jr., 5-11); Kiley Blackburn (Jr., 5-3); Abi Lovell (Sr., 5-10)
Newcomers: Catherine Lama (5-9, Fr.); Jenna Williams (5-7, So.); McKenzie McDuffie (So., 5-8); Chandler Bennett (Jr., 5-7); Halle Black (So., 5-2)
Season Outlook: Three starters are returning for the Lady Raiders this season. … Six players are returning with significant varsity experience. ... Gosnell is 90 points shy of 1,000 career points as a junior. ... Hood looking to move Gosnell to the wing as Lovell, Parham and Kendall Barclay develop their post game. ... Lama will be the primary point guard for the Lady Raiders as a freshman. ... Black and Williams will give Lama a break from time to time and provide depth at the point guard spot. ... Experienced guards Carlee Ruark and Riley Perry are out for the season with knee injuries. ... Hood expects Lama to be a real difference maker as the season progresses. ... Black and Williams have the potential to be good players as they gain experience, according to Hood. … The Lady Raiders are going to have to contend with the likes of North Forsyth, South Forsyth, West Forsyth Lambert and Centennial to make a run at even getting one of the top four spots in the region to head to the state tournament.