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HS basketball notebook: County teams embrace up-tempo style
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East Hall girls coach Joey Rider recited a quote he had heard when talking about his change in offensive philosophy Thursday at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes high school basketball media day at the Longstreet Cafe.

“Playing fast is kind of like recess,” he said. “Playing the traditional, half court game is more like social studies.”

For a number of Hall County basketball teams, the recess bell will always be ringing this season.

For some, it’s a new philosophy, for others, it’s a necessary change due to a changing roster.

A few are changing for the first time this year, and a few are trying to improve upon the strategy.

The East Hall boys averaged just under 80 points per game last season, led by All-Area Player of the Year J.C. Hampton. This year, coach Joe Dix wants to see his talented squad average 90, or even 95, despite the loss of last year’s star.

“We want to make folks uncomfortable with our speed,” Dix said.

Last season, one of the best displays of fast-paced basketball took place at Lanierland, when the Vikings held off Chestatee 101-97.

That was the first year for the War Eagles running the up-tempo offense. With a year under their belts coach Gary Barnes expects his team to be much better, and he couldn’t imagine going back.

“We’re enjoying it as coaches,” he said. “This is my 15th year coaching, and for the first 13, I had conventional offenses. Now getting a chance to experience this, I don’t think I could ever go back.”

A WHOLE NEW LOOK: Fans of the North Hall, East Hall and Johnson girls might need to take a roster to the first few games this season to learn all the players.

“You’re probably not going to recognize any of our kids, except maybe (Latisha Shelton),” said Rider, who added that his full 18-player team includes nine freshman. “This is going to be a different East Hall team, it’s going to be a new era.”

East Hall saw its senior tandem from last season of Jasmine Jenkins and Morgan Jackson graduate, North Hall is moving on from a loaded senior class last season that took the team to the state semifinals, and Johnson is replacing its entire starting lineup.

It’s a lot to overcome, but the players moving into the starring roles are excited to get their chance to shine.

“I’m excited for a new challenge,” Johnson senior Ariel Collins said. “They left us with great leadership, and now I can help some of the younger girls develop.”

North Hall coach Kristi House said that her younger players should be ready after practicing against the seniors last season. And, with Sydney Cleveland and Allie Staub, both who played significant minutes in the postseason returning, House said she’s happy with how things are shaping up.

STRAIGHT INTO REGION: For Gainesville and Flowery Branch, there’s almost no room to be rusty this season. Both head directly into Region 8-AAAAA play this season, with the Falcons playing Salem and the Red Elephants taking on Clarke Central on Nov. 27; the season opener for both squads.

Flowery Branch boys coach Duke Mullis said its the first time he’s ever had a team go straight into region play, but it was a necessity with a 14-game straight region schedule.

The issue for both the Gainesville and Flowery Branch boys involves the football teams, both of which are playoff bound and both of which include a number of key players for basketball season, including Deshaun Watson for the Red Elephants and Jamaad Stephens for the Falcons.

The playoffs start Nov. 16, and the third round games will be played Nov. 30, after the start of region play.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m very confident in the guys we have,” Gainesville coach Todd Cottrell said.

LEAVING HALL COUNTY: With region realignment, teams are spreading out further and further from the county to play region opposition, and with the advent of 14-game straight region schedules, it leaves less time for games against county rivals and nearby opponents.

Some coaches like the change, others wish they could play more of the local teams, but Chestatee girls assistant coach Danielle Cleveland, for one, said it should make the Lanierland tournament more fun.

“After so many years of playing county teams over and over, we knew exactly what each of was going to do and it made it a little monotonous,” she said. “With this schedule, now Lanierland will be more exciting.”

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