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The balance of power: From top to bottom every night's a fight in Region 7B-AAA
Johnson High's Devin Glasper, blocks fellow teammate Devaris Finch as he looks for an opening during basketball practice Monday. - photo by SARA GUEVARA | The Times
It’s a favorite saying among coaches: A team has to come ready to play every night, because on any given night, any team can win.

When the coaches for the six teams in Region 7B-AAA say it, it's more than filler cliche.

Consider this: Had West Hall beaten Gainesville last Friday night, there would be a four-way tie for second place in the subregion standings.

“Everybody’s competitive because we play each other so much now,” Gainesville coach Todd Cottrell said. “This year’s the year that everybody’s good.”

From the top (Flowery Branch and Gainesville) to the bottom (East Hall), there is no clear-cut subregion favorite. In 12 subregion games in 7B-AAA, the average margin of victory is just over seven points with no team winning by more than 13.

“It’s great because every night is going to be a good game,” Cottrell said. “Hall County has always been considered one of the best basketball areas in the state, and the competitiveness of this year just makes for a great atmosphere.”

Parity at its best, that’s Region 7B-AAA.

West Hall came into subregion play with a 14-1 record, a Lanierland title and a No. 6 ranking in Class AAA.

Then the Spartans lost their first two subregion games to West Forsyth and Johnson by a total of 11 points.

“On our side everybody is good,” West Hall coach Warren Sellers said. “If you don’t bring your best game, you’ll get knocked off.

“The good thing about though is that come region and state tournament time, we’re all going to be battle tested.”

Flowery Branch entered subregion play with a 5-6 record, but are 3-1 in the sub region and sitting atop the standings with wins over Gainesville and Johnson, and a forfeited win over East Hall.

And speaking of Johnson, the Knights are in the midst of a turnaround.

After going 10-14 last year, Johnson is currently 10-6 and tied for third in the subregion with West Forsyth.

On back-to-back nights earlier this month, Johnson got its two biggest wins of the season against state-ranked opponents West Hall and Hart County.

For Johnson coach Jeff Steele, the difference between this year’s team and the team’s of the past is athleticism and a commitment to doing the little things better.

According to Steele, however, the problem is keeping players humble and focused, especially when you’re playing formidable competition night in and night out.

“This is not to take anything away from Flowery Branch because they are good, but I think that’s why we lost (last) Friday night,” Steele said. “Your kids walk around all day and kids are telling them how good they are and they start to think that.”

A win against Flowery Branch would have put the Knights in first place in the subregion.
“To be a consistent winner, you have to have blinders on,” Steele said. “We haven’t grasped that concept, so we constantly have to get the team refocused.”

That will be key for Johnson tonight as it takes on Gainesville. A win could put the Knights in second place. A win and a Flowery Branch loss against West Forsyth, could catapult Johnson into a tie with the Falcons for the top spot in the standings with five subregion games remaining.

“Gainesville is by far the most athletic team we’ve played,” Steele said. “We have to play our best game.”

According to Steele, the key component to his team playing its best is everyone accepting a role.

“We’re trying to get the kids to understand that it takes everybody in their roles to complete the package,” he said. “Players say, ‘Well, I got mine.’ But, ‘I got mine’ (stinks) if you don’t win.”

Probably the most evident example of the competition level in Region 7B-AAA is that traditional powerhouse East Hall is at the bottom of the standings.

Making it even more evident is that the Vikings’ only subregion win came against Johnson.

“For (East Hall) to be at the bottom of the subregion is astonishing,” Steele said. “They came in second in the tournament in Florida and played Norcross tough.

“It just goes to show you what we face on this side of the region.”

While the competition is tireless and none of the games automatic wins, the coaches agree that what’s happening this year in Region 7B-AAA is what makes the game great.

“This is why you play and coach the game,” Sellers said. “You’d like to see a breather, but the kids don’t get up for those, and those type games don’t make you better.”

“Because of what’s happening night in and night out around here,” Steele said, “because of not having an easy game on the schedule — the four teams that come out of this region tournament for state are
going to represent.”
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