Deep down, Gainesville High boys basketball coach Todd Cottrell knew his team could compete for the Region 8-AAA championship. His thoughts have now become a reality.
After starting the year 4-2, the Red Elephants have reeled off five straight wins, including a 70-67 triple-overtime thriller against No. 2 West Hall on Monday. With two subregion games remaining in the regular season — vs. Monroe Area on Tuesday and vs. Johnson on Feb. 10 — Gainesville (15-6, 8-2 Region 8B-AAA) is in prime position to earn a No. 2 seed for the region tournament.
“We’ve had potential to be a good team all year,” said Cottrell, whose team has won seven of 10 since Jan. 1.
“Lately we’ve played better on the defensive end, our senior leadership has been outstanding, and our younger players are finally understanding what we’re trying to do here.”
One of those young players is freshman Deshaun Watson, who torched West Hall for 34 points Monday. That performance, combined with the continued development of sophomores Shaquan Cantrell and Tray Harrison, has Gainesville peaking at the optimal time.
“This year, we’ve had players who didn’t have a lot of varsity experience,” Cottrell said. “It’s been an adjustment for them, but that journey is the fun part of basketball.”
Cottrell also credited the assistant coaches at Gainesville for the team’s recent success, and he also believes that his team comprised of a bevy of football players is finally healthy.
“I think we’re a little more refreshed,” he said. “It took a while for the football players to recover from their season.”
Five of the six losses by the Red Elephants are from top-notch teams like Wesleyan, Carrollton and East Hall, which hosts Gainesville at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
WARRIORS ON THE RISE: Mediocrity and White County boys basketball have been synonymous for the past few years, but that’s not the case this season.
The Warriors (14-7, 5-2) haven’t had a winning season since 2006-07, but thanks to winning six of their last seven games, they currently find themselves in second place in the subregion with three games left to play.
White County has a winnable game against Stephens County (0-15, 0-6) tonight, but a visit to first-place Franklin County (19-11, 6-2) on Tuesday might prevent it from holding on to that all-important No. 2 seed.
Despite that game’s outcome, the Warriors have already secured a winning season, and with their height and athletism, they could be a surprise team in the region tournament.
IT’S ALMOST TOURNEY TIME: The regular season is coming to a close and teams from around the area are gearing up for the most important time of the year: region tournaments.
Seeding for the Region 8-AAA tournament will be decided Sunday, and the tournament will likely begin Feb. 12 at either Monroe Area or Lanier, the two teams with the worst record on the girls side of Region 8B-AAA. The tournament concludes Feb. 19 at Chestatee.
The Region 8-AA tournament, which features teams like Jefferson, Jackson County, East Hall, Banks County, Dawson County and Union County, begins Feb. 12 with a play-in game between the last-place teams from both subregions. The tournament concludes Feb. 19 at Rabun County High.
Flowery Branch begins play in the Region 8-AAAA tournament on Feb. 14.