Today at Columbus State University
Flowery Branch vs. Southwest DeKalb, 2 p.m.
Buford girls vs. Griffin, 6 p.m.
Buford boys vs. Fayette County, 8 p.m.
Class A Private
Today at Cobb County Civic Center
Lakeview Academy girls vs. Wesleyan, 6 p.m.
Lakeview Academy boys vs. Southwest Atlanta Christian, 8 p.m.
Tickets are $12, per GHSA rules.
The plan was never for Tre Gober and Josh Randolph to start as freshmen.
But that became a necessity when the injury bug bit Todd Cottrell’s first Lakeview Academy boys basketball team heading into the 2013-14 season. With four starters sidelined — two because of ACL tears — the Lions needed Gober and Randolph to pick up the slack.
“We had four key injuries right before the season started,” Cottrell said. “So we decided, let’s just play our young kids and stick with them and grow with them.
The program has grown quite a bit since then.
No. 2 seed Lakeview Academy will participate in the state semifinals for the first time in school history when it faces sixth-seeded Southwest Atlanta Christian at 8 p.m. today at the Cobb County Civic Center in Marietta.
Four-year starters Gober and Randolph have been instrumental in the Class A private school playoffs as part of the Lions’ deepest run since the school’s founding in 1970. After missing the playoffs as freshmen, the senior duo has sparked Lakeview Academy’s rapid year-by-year improvement and positioned it just two wins away from only its second state championship in any sport.
“It’s pretty cool to see how we’ve built it,” Randolph, a 6-foot-2 guard, said. “We started out and didn’t even make state. Then we had a solid year as sophomores. But in our junior year, we were undefeated region champs. And this year, we’re still doing it.”
So are the Lakeview Academy girls, who will take on No. 2 seed Wesleyan at 6 p.m. today. The No. 3 seed Lady Lions (25-4) have a potent senior class of their own in Christen Copeland, Ryann Moody and Hanna Grogan, the school’s all-time leading scorer.
The Lions (25-5) joined them in the semifinals thanks to big playoff performances from Gober and Randolph, especially in a 63-55 quarterfinal win against Athens Christian on Wednesday.
Gober, a 6-foot-3 forward, continually penetrated the paint and sank several difficult shots to finish with a career-high 32 points. Randolph made his presence felt on both ends of the floor with 16 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals.
“We liked the matchup in the paint,” Gober said after the game. “Me and Josh have been here for four years, so we knew what we had to do.”
They weren’t always so sure.
Cottrell threw his pair of then-freshmen into the fire to patch up the hole created by the loss of “go-to” seniors Zach Montgomery and Patrick Avery, as Gober called them, among others. Lakeview Academy went 15-13 and missed the playoffs in 2014, just one year after Cottrell took Gainesville High to the state championship game in Class AAAA.
“It was kind of crazy getting put in as freshmen,” Gober said. “I mean, I was nervous, but me and Josh held it down for a little bit.”
The Lions won two more games and made a playoff appearance the following season before taking a giant leap with Gober and Randolph as juniors. Lakeview Academy recorded 25 wins last season before getting bounced in the quarterfinals, and the seniors took their team one step further this season while finishing as undefeated region champions for the second consecutive year.
It’s all thanks to their ample experience and playing time. Cottrell said Gober, who is averaging 29 points per game in the playoffs this season, has enhanced his natural scoring abilities throughout the years, while Randolph’s work ethic has helped him evolve into an explosive player.
“Those guys have taken advantage of the opportunity to play as freshmen and have gotten better,” the coach said.
Gober and Randolph have developed their physical abilities over the last four years, but they didn’t neglect their role as leaders.
On top of the seniors who missed time with injury during the 2013-14 season, Gober said the upperclassmen “didn’t have the best leadership.” Already thrust into serious playing roles, he and Randolph took it upon themselves to provide some guidance to the team.
Randolph prefers to set an example for his teammates, while the outspoken and charismatic Gober — who’s also the student body president — serves as more of a vocal leader.
“Their dynamic is great for our team,” junior guard Drew Cottrell said. “It’s good because I think at certain times, you need a different kind of leader. I think what makes them great leaders is that they’re great guys. On and off the floor, we respect them.”
When they’re on the floor, Gober and Randolph are integral to what makes the Lions’ multi-faceted offense work so smoothly.
Take the quarterfinal matchup against Athens Christian, when the Eagles denied 3-point sharpshooter Drew Cottrell the ball on the perimeter. Gober and Randolph exploited open lanes to the basket to score 48 of their team’s 63 points and punch a ticket to the semifinals.
Lakeview Academy doesn’t mind playing inside-out, either.
“We open things up a lot,” Randolph said. “Teams have to drop down when we get the ball inside, so we have to get it back outside. When they double team you, 3-pointers are just wide open.”
The seniors have created an example of unselfishness for their team, which Todd Cottrell believes has helped the Lions make the jump into the semifinals this year.
They’ve had great years as individuals, as well. Randolph, a First Team All-Region 8-A selection, averaged 12 points and seven rebounds per game. Gober, who landed on the second team, is putting up 16 points and four boards a night.
But for all the history they’ve made as seniors, Gober and Randolph trace it all back to the season that started their careers as four-year starters.
“Not making state as freshmen for Coach Cottrell, it was his first time not making state in a while,” Gober said. “That kind of hurt us and made us more motivated to get him back there and do better.
“Coach Cottrell has been (with) some good teams. We just want to give him another good team that he can look back on.”