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Parity more pronounced for 7-AAA boys this season
East Hall’s Ashton Cheeks, left. looks around Gainesville High’s Ty Redmon for help during Tuesday night’s game at the East Hall High gymnasium. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

When coaches say that any team can win on any given night, it can often be passed off as just polite coach speak.

However, this year in Region 7-AAA basketball, the competition on the boys side of things makes that general statement the absolute truth.

Through the first half of the regular season there is no clear-cut favorite to win the region title. Almost every team that has a chance of winning has dealt with factors such as injury, sickness or just getting all their team back on the same page since the end of football season.

"It’s like every year playing in Hall County," North Hall coach Benjie Wood said. "You have to be ready to play every single night."

Despite the fact that we’re only at the midpoint of the regular season, it is anyone’s guess as to which team will claim the boys region title.

Yes, East Hall (8-5, 2-1 Region 7B-AAA) is a region contender and backed it up with a 72-66 win over the defending region champion Gainesville (3-7, 1-2) on Tuesday night. On top of that North Hall also is near the top of the heap with a 10-2 overall record and a No. 8 ranking in Class AAA.

But unlike some seasons, the balance flows almost all the way through the region with Flowery Branch (6-4, 3-0), Johnson (6-3, 2-0), West Hall (8-5, 1-2), Creekview (8-6, 1-2), and even Pickens (10-4, 3-0) all right in the thick of the region title picture.

"I think the balance with the teams is as good as it’s ever been," East Hall coach Joe Dix said. "If you’re not focused, you could lose two or three games real quick."

Then there’s Chestatee (6-7, 1-1), which defeated White County 52-50 with a game-winning basket and only three seconds left to play Tuesday. And White County (5-6, 1-1) has a head-to-head victory against Creekview from earlier in the season.

Clearly everything in this region will go right down to the end, which should make things particularly interesting for the fans to see as the second-half of the season unfolds.

"I don’t think that I’ve seen balance in this region to this degree before," said 11th-year Johnson coach Jeff Steele. "Top to bottom in this region anyone can get beat, and I like that.

"It keeps you on your toes."

The biggest wildcard in Region 7-AAA would certainly be Pickens. A Dragons squad that finish 8-18 last season, has already had a nine-game winning streak that included a 72-71 overtime victory at North Hall before Christmas.

"I think there is a definite race in 7-AAA," Pickens coach Brad Steinhauer said. "I have not seen all of the teams yet, but I believe that North Hall has the best talent."

If there is a tradeoff in a season where there is so much parity, it could be the lack of premier talent in the county and region.

While there are no players in Hall County such as past standouts Walter Hill, former Johnson star Marquise Wright or Zac Swansey this season, every school brings a couple of players to the table that have college-level talent, which helps to highlight the parity.

"With the parity this region has and the talent in Hall County, it should make for some great basketball the remainder of the season," Gainesville coach Todd Cottrell said.

As for Steele, he is especially pleased that his Knights are right in the thick of things. They’ve been hit especially hard by injuries with senior guard Michael Kimbrell (broken leg), Ryan Reach (torn calf) and Devin Glasper (knee) all missing time this season.

Kimbrell may not be able to play at all this season, says Steele.

And at Gainesville, senior guard Blake Sims was sidelined with a concussion following an All-Star football game, but is expected to be ready to play Saturday against Franklin County.

Clearly with so much basketball left on the schedule and the Region 7-AAA tourney still on the horizon, it is anyone’s guess how things will all pan out and which four teams will qualify for postseason.

The only guarantee is that it will make for some compelling action.

"It is good for all the schools and the morale that there is so much parity," Steele said. "It benefits everyone."

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