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Team-wide contributions key as East Hall girls basketball team advances in state playoffs
Hero Drill helps Lady Vikings build skills, confidence for any game situation
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East Hall guard Summer Lindsey (10) dribbles downcourt during the semifinal game against Lumpkin County in the Region 7-3A tournament in Gainesville, on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. - photo by David Barnes

Playoff schedule

Wednesday’s games

Flowery Branch girls at Lithia Springs, 6 p.m.

Buford girls vs. Jackson-Atlanta, 6 p.m.

Gainesville boys vs. Alexander, 7 p.m.

Thursday’s games

East Hall girls at Lovett, 6 p.m.

Flowery Branch boys at Lithonia, 6:30 p.m.

Lakeview Academy boys at Holy Innocents, 7 p.m.

Buford boys vs. Miller Grove, 7 p.m.

Dawson County boys at Cedar Grove, 7 p.m.

Tickets are $7, per GHSA rules

Throughout the preseason, during the occasional practice and on every game day, the East Hall High girls basketball team spends time practicing the Hero Drill.

Five players space themselves along one end of the court, with a coach putting them in a specific spot and directing each of their movements. Dribble here. Pass it to the corner. Drive the baseline. Kick it out to the open shooter. Take the shot.

It’s designed to make every player comfortable handling or shooting the ball in any situation, and it has paid off in a big way for the Lady Vikings this season.

East Hall has advanced to the second round of the Class 3A playoffs, where it will face fifth-ranked Lovett at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, in Atlanta. Thanks to contributions from up and down the roster along the way, the Lady Vikings (17-12) won their first playoff game since 2015 and are looking to keep their run going.

They have the Hero Drill to thank for that.

“We want to give them freedom and let them play fast,” East Hall coach Justin Wheeler said. “We want to make it so these situations become second nature. … Now the kids are going through it during actual games. Our offense is based around all those movements.”

Well, that and Carly Winters.

The Georgia State signee has turned her well-deserved high volume of shots into several school records. This season, Winters claimed the program high mark for made 3-pointers in a game (12), broke her own record for made 3-pointers in a season and topped 500 points.

Winters’ success naturally draws the attention of opposing defenses, which is where the Lady Vikings’ supporting cast comes in. While Wheeler frequently calls set plays for his senior sharpshooter, East Hall’s role players usually find their shots within the natural ebbs and flows of the game, which they repeatedly review in the Hero Drill.

“We can run plays for others, but we don’t do that much because they’re usually open anyway,” Wheeler said. “We talked about that all preseason. Carly will get doubled or sometimes even have three players on her, and that leaves two or three of our girls wide open.”

Her teammates have stepped up to the challenge, especially in big games during the Lady Vikings’ playoff push.

Junior guard Jenny Lopez scored 16 points as East Hall clinched a playoff berth with a narrow win in the first round of the Region 7-3A tournament against a plucky Lumpkin County squad that limited Winters to just six points.

Then came a career night from junior guard Ivey Shadburn. She had 24 points and made six treys in the team’s 63-52 win against No. 3 seed Hart County, which had enjoyed a top-10 ranking for most of the year, in the first round of the state tournament Feb. 16.

The second-seeded Lady Vikings sank 13 3-pointers in the contest, even receiving one from sophomore guard Carley Cox.

“We’re confident in all of our teammates,” senior guard Summer Lindsey said. “We run (the Hero Drill) where we work on passing the ball around and finding the open shooter in different scenarios. Everybody gets involved.”

That’s a boon for Winters, who is more effective when her teammates make defenders pay for leaving them open.

“I like it,” Winters said of the Hero Drill. “I’m there cheering everybody on when they get to take a shot and make it. … And once everybody gets involved and is touching the ball in a game, it really gets the energy going for us.” 

Wheeler said he made that a priority heading into this season. With a deadly shooter like Winters attracting the defense’s attention, he needed the rest of his players to be willing and able to make shots, especially from outside.

The Hero Drill, which Wheeler said he instituted last season after borrowing it from East Hall boys coach Joe Dix, has played a huge role in making that a reality.

The Lady Vikings will be drawing on the drill when they go for another upset against top-seeded Lovett (24-4). They’ll likely need a big night from someone besides Winters yet again, but Wheeler can rest easy knowing all his players are prepared to fill that role.

“It’s very important for us to have somebody else taking some pressure off Carly, but the good thing is we don’t know who it’ll be to step up,” the fifth-year coach said. 

“A player like Carly comes around once in a blue moon, but we also have a lot of kids that people probably didn’t think too much of. Those are the players who make our program what it is.”

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