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Prep basketball: Lions ready to prove they belong with the best
Lakeview Academy’s Haughton Carswell runs basketball drills with his teammates on Monday afternoon. The Lions will play host to second-ranked Whitefield Academy at 7 tonight. - photo by ROBIN MICHENER NATHAN | The Times

Lakeview Academy boys basketball coach Seth Vining doesn’t try to sugarcoat the fact that the Lions are playing against a more athletic basketball team in the second round of the Class A playoffs tonight. On top of that, the visitors from Whitefield Academy (19-8) are bigger, stronger, and almost always playing for a Class A title this time of the year.

But the Lions coach doesn’t waste time worrying about what he can’t control. Vining says this is just a chance for Lakeview Academy (21-8) to prove it belongs on the court with the big boys.

"Their program (Whitefield Academy) really speaks for itself," Vining said. "They have an outstanding program and play a tough schedule."

The Lions’ second-round opponent comes to Gainesville tonight with a track record for dominating among the state’s smaller programs. The back-to-back state runner-ups from Class A are the last thing standing between Lakeview Academy and its first trip to state quarterfinals in school history.

Whitefield Academy hasn’t skipped a beat this season either with wins against Class AAAAA’s Marietta (26-3), Harrison (20-9) and also a pair of wins this season against Class A powerhouse Southwest Atlanta Christian (22-7). The Wolfpack’s only regular season losses in state were to pair a pair of AAAAA schools Centennial (24-5), Meadowcreek (18-10) and against East Hall (23-6) heading into the Region 5-A tourney.

"They’re a single A powerhouse," Lakeview Academy senior Neil Stanford said. "They’re like the East Hall of single A."

But the Lions’ players don’t look at this game with a sense of doom and gloom. In their eyes, this is just another opportunity to make a statement on how far Lakeview Academy basketball has come in its fifth straight postseason appearance.

And what better time to make a statement. This is a season full of firsts for Lakeview Academy. The Lions have already picked up their first home playoff win and first trip to the second round of the state playoffs.

So why not pull of an upset at home against a more athletic squad?

"Whitefield Academy is a great team," Lakeview junior point guard Haughton Carswell said. "With the playoff brackets you may have to play a team that good this early.

"But eventually you’ll have to beat some really good teams if you’re going to get to the top."

Lakeview Academy certainly has earned the chance to play against such a elite program. The Lions rolled to the Region 8-A championship and breezed through the first round of the playoffs last Friday against Bremen.

"We feel like we have nothing to lose," Stanford added. "We don’t feel like anyone is really giving us a chance to win this game.

"So if we win, it’s kind of like the icing on the cake of what’s already been a great season at Lakeview Academy."

Vining says if Lakeview Academy is going to be competitive with Whitefield Academy, the Lions are going to have to make it a full-court game to avoid letting Whitefield Academy use its size advantage on offense and prevent the Wolfpack from getting into their offensive sets.

"They go 6-foot-6, 6-5 and 6-5," Vining said. "We go 6-3, 6-foot and 6-foot."

Lakeview Academy players talk about the need for another big crowd against Whitefield Academy. Stanford says its first-round win against Bremen was its biggest crowd of the season. The Lions are also banking on some fans from other schools coming in to the Walters Athletics Center.

"It would be huge for us to beat Whitefield Academy with just their name alone," Carswell added. "It should be a great atmosphere for this game."

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