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Region 7-AAA stacked with talent in boys basketball
North Hall, Buford and Dawson County are the 3 frontrunners to win and take top spot into postseason
North Hall’s Taylor Ryder, left, Adam Kelly, center, Ethan Smith, right, work on a fast break during the team’s practice on New Year’s Day Tuesday morning. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

To try and pick a frontrunner among the boys basketball programs in Region 7-AAA would be the ultimate shot in the dark.

Dawson County has jumped out to an early 13-0 record, but has a very challenging stretch of games on the horizon. North Hall is 10-1 overall and appears set with as formidable of a starting five in the region as anyone else. Buford has a 6-5 record, 3-0 in region play, and its losses are all against teams in higher classifications, two of those in Class AAAAAA.

And even though East Hall is 3-8 overall, no one with local knowledge of the Vikings’ long and rich history — three state titles since 2001 — would ever count the Vikings out.

To make it even deeper, Dawson County coach Thad Burgess said that White County (5-7, 0-2) and West Hall (6-5, 2-0) have some of the same qualities of his own program in 2012 that went on a blitz down the stretch to win the Region 8-AA championship, beat Buford in a classic second-round playoff matchup, and only fell one point shy of a trip to the final four with a 48-47 loss to Jordan in the state quarterfinals.

“We have six or seven teams in this region that can play with anyone in the state,” Burgess said.

None of the coaches expect the region picture to be fully in place before the region tournament, which will take place the middle of next month. The top four teams out of the region tournament will be going to the state playoffs. East Hall coach Joe Dix said the four out of 7-AAA equipped with a playoff berth will all be capable of going deep in the postseason.

“We all know what’s coming in this region,” Buford coach Allen Whitehart said. “There’s a lot of quality basketball there at the top in 7-AAA.”

And most of the teams in the region have pretty solid history. North Hall, Buford and East Hall have all been to the state semifinals under their current coach, while the Tigers had the best local finish last season.

The Trojans are no surprise at this point with four senior starters back from last season, led by Ebo Smith (20 points and seven rebounds a game) and Adam Kelly (15 ppg, 8.5 rpg). Trojans coach Benjie Wood said the biggest challenge is playing a straight region schedule, meaning two region games every week.

“Every single week on Tuesday and Friday, you better come ready to play,” Wood said. “This is the first time we’ve played a straight region schedule in a long time.”

Dawson County also has considerable talent with four senior starters, led by four-year starter Tyler Dominy with 13 points a night. This season, Burgess has had a handful of guys lead the team in scoring, most recently a career-high 26 by Will Anglin in the championship game win over Murphy (N.C.) on Saturday at the Battle of the States tournament in Hiawassee.

With six wins of more than 20 points, Dawson County has addressed a preseason concern of finding some depth with the emergence of juniors Lucas Pain and Jackson Putnam.

The toughest is still to come for the Tigers with its next three games against East Hall on Friday in Gainesville, a visit from Buford on Tuesday, then a trip to North Hall next Friday. Dawson County’s coach said that his best path for success is to get teams into low-scoring ball games. The Tigers beat White County 42-38 on Dec. 18, and Banks County 39-33 in their first region outing on Dec. 7.

“There’s definitely going to be a little bit of separation from these games,” Whitehart said.

Right now, Burgess said that Buford and North Hall are probably a little bit ahead of the rest of the region.
The Vikings have probably the most deceptive record of all in 7-AAA. Even at 3-8 overall, East Hall took Buford down to the wire earlier this week before losing 59-57, along with going to overtime against North Hall before losing 72-69 on Dec. 7.

For that reason, Dix said that tonight’s game against Dawson County in Gainesville, then against West Hall on Tuesday in Oakwood are almost a must-win for his program, given the depth of the region and preference to stay in the top half of the region for playoff seeding in February.

“The bottom line for us is that we have to get better,” Dix said. “We’re close, but like Bill Parcells says, ‘we are what the record says we are.’”

Buford may be the biggest mystery still remaining in the region with only three games played against local schools, even though it already owns a season sweep of East Hall with a pair of wins. There is, however, no doubting the star power that the Wolves bring to the court.

Buford is led by seniors Kyle Doyle (22 points, seven rebounds), Isaiah Williams (16 ppg) and Tennessee commit A.J. Davis with 16 points and nine rebounds.

“Buford looks like the North Carolina Tar Heels,” Wood said.

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