As the football season winds to a close, the focus among high school sports fan shifts to basketball instead. Some local teams have already started their seasons, and every team will have at least one game under their belt by the end of this week.
Here are a few things to look for among Hall County basketball teams ahead of the coming year:
Can Shad Dabney carry on multisport success for Riverside Military Academy?
Riverside Military guard Shad Dabney burst onto the scene last basketball season when he led the Eagles to their first playoff appearance since joining the GHSA. Dabney’s big year was highlighted by a buzzer-beating floater that knocked out Walker High School in the second round of the Class A-private state tournament.
Dabney flashed similar athleticism during the football season, when he topped 500 yards passing, rushing and receiving and accounted for 28 total touchdowns in 2019. Dabney is a junior this year, and without the assistance of recently graduated former stars Isaac Teasley and Khalid Duke, much of the burden for continuing the team’s unprecedented recent success falls on his shoulders.
Can Cherokee Bluff make its first playoff appearance?
The Bears came up a tad short of the state playoffs last season following a loss to East Hall in the first round of the Region 7-3A tournament, but Cherokee Bluff has plenty of room for optimism. For one, the Bears battled to a 15-11 finish in their first ever season. They also return all but three players from last year’s team, as well as head coach Benjie Wood, who has a history of playoff success from his time at Gainesville High.
Cherokee Bluff will hope to make the most of senior and Young Harris commit Griffin Neville’s final year with the program as it aims for a first ever playoff berth.
How will Lakeview Academy deal with departure of impactful senior class?
The Lions have topped 20 wins in each of the last four seasons, but this year could be the start of a new era for Lakeview Academy. The team lost four of five starters to graduation in the offseason, including top two scorers Blake McIntyre and Adam Cottrell.
The departures leave just three fourth-year players remaining on the team, which is significantly less experienced coming into this season than it was this time last year. Lakeview Academy will need its new youthful corps of players to adapt quickly in order to continue its winning ways.
How will Seth Vining’s return impact East Hall?
After six years in retirement, legendary East Hall coach Seth Vining decided to return to take over the Vikings following just their second losing season in the last decade. East Hall fans hope Vining’s second stint with the team will produce similar results as the first — when Vining led the Vikings to a pair of boys state championships in the early 2000s.
Vining will have plenty of work to do after last year’s 13-15 finish that saw the team exit in the first round of Class 3A state playoffs.
With a mostly intact roster, can Gainesville take the next step?
Gainesville’s first season under Chuck Graham last year was a major success for the program. After starting off 1-4, the Red Elephants rallied to finish the season at 20-9, including a Lanierland title and an appearance in the Class 6A quarterfinals. Now, the pressure is on to win it all.
Gainesville returns much of its corps unit from 2018-19, including star point guard Rafael Rubel, who is back for one more season. The Red Elephants are talented enough to hang with anyone in the state, and competing for a title has become the expectation for a squad that is just two years removed from playing in a championship game.