Basketball Featured

Local Hoops Squads Enjoying 2016 Success

As the 2016 part of the season draws to a close, as many as eight of our local teams are playing so well, they have at one point been among the top-10 teams in the state.

Check out how both boys and girls are doing from our 11 local schools, in order by highest classification (6A) to lowest (1A).

HABERSHAM CENTRAL

Boys: 0-10 (0-0)

The Raiders are still in search of their first win of the season, and have come oh so close a couple of times, including a heart-breaking one-point loss at West Oak in early December. Coach Ledbetter’s young team continues to gain experience in hopes of besting last season’s 5-win total.

Girls: 8-3 (0-0)

The Lady Raiders are enjoying a great season, which features two close losses to #2-ranked Chestatee. Senior Lainey Gosnell has eclipsed the all-time scoring record for Habersham, and has a shot at 2,000 career points should the Lady Raiders make state and advance, or if Gosnell has a handful of incredible performances among her usual great nights. Habersham has been ranked #10 in the state, and look to make state for the first time since 2011-12, when the girls advanced to the Sweet 16 and fell on a buzzer-beater that otherwise would have seen them go to the Elite 8.


STEPHENS COUNTY

Boys: 4-2 (0-0)

The Indians are ranked #10 in the state after a solid start to the season, and coach Chad Bridges looks to get his guys back to state after last year’s 16-9 run.

Girls: 0-7 (0-0)

The Lady Indians are still winless in 2016, looking for their first win under coach Scott Strickland, who’s looking to get the girls to surpass last season’s 8 wins.


WHITE COUNTY

Boys: 6-3 (0-0)

The Warriors once again are proving that despite losing talented players, they can still be a force. Coach Sam Borg seems to always put his players in a great position to compete, regardless of the turnover. This year is no different, as White County is 6-3 and are led by senior college recruit John Ward, who is a dominant presence in the paint. In Borg’s sixth season, the Warriors are looking to return to state for the first time since the 2013-14 season, despite winning 47 games from 13-14 to 15-16. White County seems to get bitten in the region tournament, but this year they’re hoping to peak at the right time.

Girls: 3-6 (0-0)

After three straight winning seasons, the Lady Warriors won only six games last season. The girls, under new head coach Jarvis Davenport – the fourth in the last seven years – will look to get back to state for the first time since 2012-13, but have a lot of work to do.


DAWSON COUNTY

Boys: 3-5 (0-1)

It’s a new era for Dawson boys basketball. A program that was brought to greatness by coach Thad Burgess has now been passed to Chad Pittman, who has the Tigers off to a 3-5 start. A team that made the Elite 8 in 2011-12 and the Sweet 16 in 2013-14, they went from just seven wins two years ago to 13-13 last season. Pittman will try to return the boys to state for the first time since the 22-8 Sweet 16 run.

Girls: 1-7 (0-1)

One of the longest-tenured coaches in the state, Steve Sweat, is back for another run. This time, he has no senior leaders and a young team that’s trying to find its identity. Sophomore Kaylee Sticker continues to be a solid player in the making and a potential 1,000 point scorer before her career is up. Last year’s senior group, led by Karlie Bearden and Haley Burgess, gave way to a new era in Lady Tigers basketball. After making the State Championship in 2012-13, they followed that up with a Sweet 16 run in 13-14, Elite 8 run in 14-15 (with 29-1 record and undefeated regular season), and another Sweet 16 run last year. Four straight seasons with 20-plus wins and state playoff appearances will likely come to an end, as this may be coach Sweat’s toughest season to endure in quite a long time.


LUMPKIN COUNTY

Boys: 4-5 (1-1)

Jeff Steele has the Indians 1-1 in region play and hovering near .500 play. After losing possibly the best scorer in school history (Jack Howard) along with talented players like Brandon Zarate and Cal Thrailkill, Lumpkin is relying on many players who lack experience. However, Zach Pulley has been a rock for the Indians in hopes of making state for a fourth straight season.

Girls: 2-7 (1-1)

The Lumpkin Lady Indians have already matched their win total from last year in region play, but they have bigger things in mind for 2016-17. Greg Murray would love to see his girls surpass six wins for the first time in over a decade.


UNION COUNTY

Boys: 2-4 (1-0)

Union is off on the right foot in region play, as coach Casey Jones will look to make it 4-for-4 in his time at Union in getting the boys to the playoffs. The Panthers have just one losing season in the past six years, and are fresh off a Sweet 16 run. Jumping up from 2A to 3A will prove difficult, but Union should be able to compete in its new region.

Girls: 3-3 (1-0)

The Lady Panthers look for a seventh straight trip to state under coach David Tucker. Last year’s Sweet 16 run was the furthest they’ve advanced in a decade, and this team is almost annually a top-10 ranked team somewhere within the season.


BANKS COUNTY

Boys: 3-4 (1-0)

The Leopards began the season as a top-10 ranked team, but after some close losses have fallen out of the rankings. However, senior Kahmal Wiley is one of the more physical players in the area and a superb athlete. Coach Mike Cleveland has complimentary pieces in big man Dylan Orr among others who can step up. This team has seen three 1,000-point scorers Zez Steeple and Zac Orr (c/o 2016) and Austin Venable (c/o 2015) move on, so this year’s team looks very different than the past few seasons. Cleveland is fresh off back-to-back Sweet 16 runs and has 61 wins over the past three seasons prior to the beginning of this one. Dropping down from 3A to 2A should help make Banks the team to beat in region 8-AA.

Girls: 4-3 (1-0)

The Lady Leopards, under new head coach Steve Shedd, were ranked #8 in the state after a quick start. Despite long-time coach Jerry King moving on, this team still has pieces (Gabby Kennedy, Allison Smith, etc.) to make a third straight state playoff run. This is a program that has won 100 games since the 2011-12 season, so its no surprise contender.


RABUN COUNTY

Boys: 5-3 (0-0)

The 5-3 start for the Wildcats is misleading, albeit solid. Junior star guard Bailey Fisher is one of the top QB prospects in the state on the football field, and his deep playoff run meant a few games absent on the court. Now he’s dialed back in on the hardwood, and the Cats are #10 in the state. Tevan Dixon is enjoying a fantastic season, as is freshman Braxton Hicks. It hurts missing senior Trey Wilcox, who transferred to Tallulah Falls (see below). However, the boys are primed for another state playoff run (potentially fourth straight) after last year’s Sweet 16 run, which followed a similar run the prior year as well.

Girls: 7-1 (0-0)

The Lady Cats are one of the top teams in the state, ranked #2 to be exact. While it’s no surprise since it’s a DeeDee Dillard-coached team (200-plus career wins), it’s amazing how frequently this program shakes off losing talented seniors every year and reloads with new playmakers, who are hungry to write their own legacy. Leading the way is senior Savanna Scott, fresh off scoring her 1,000th career point. Dillard looks to make it nine years in a row to state. Her resume includes four Elite 8 runs (including last season) and two other Sweet 16 runs among the 10 playoff trips.


TOWNS COUNTY

Boys: 6-2 (2-1)

Don’t look now, but the Towns County Indians are having what might just be the best year in school history. It’s turning heads, as they are ranked the #5 team in 1A public school polls. Once a team that could count it successful to win just five games turned a corner in 2014-15 when winning nine games. Last year was even better, as coach Rob Benson led the Indians to a 12-14 season, the best in school history, though just missing the playoffs. This time, Towns is loaded with four seniors and tons of experience, and this could be the year they finally end the playoff drought.

Girls: 0-7 (0-2)

Coach Jim Melton continues to search for the first win of the season, but it goes deeper than that. This program was one of the state’s most consistent and powerful programs in class 1A, but ever since the departure of 2,000-point scorer and Division-I recruit (Liberty University) Stephanie Patton in the midst of her junior year in 2013-14 season, this program took a sharp decline. Patton moved to rival school Hayesville (NC), where she continued to shine. Towns County made the Elite 8 that season, but won nine games the following year and just four last season. Melton had won well over 100 games from 2010-14, but continues to search for answers to rebuild this storied program.


COMMERCE

Boys: 1-3 (0-1)

The Tigers enjoyed their first win in over a year. Last season, Commerce went 0-23, so anything better than that this season is a step in the right direction.

Girls: 0-5 (0-1)

Commerce basketball is on a tough road these days, as the girls are also looking for their first win. A senior-less team this year, this is still a surprising start, as the Lady Tigers were an Elite 8 team just two seasons ago, and made state last year also with a 17-8 record and region runner-up finish. The girls should begin to turn things around, as there are still plenty of players on the team who have been part of the past two years success.


TALLULAH FALLS

Boys: 9-0 (4-0)

The best start in school history. Period. Now the #4-ranked team in the state in 1A private schools, it’s fair to ask – can anyone beat the Indians? Coach Jim Van Hooser has the Indians off to an incredible start to what’s sure to be a special year. Senior transfer Trey Wilcox has been a great addition, while seniors Josey Keene (16.4 ppg) and Michael Van Hooser (13.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg) have been outstanding so far. This senior-laden team (7 seniors) could make this year historic for Tallulah Falls.

Girls: 5-5 (3-1)

The Tallulah Falls girls are also in the midst of a special season, starting 3-1 in region play under coach Tom Tilley. No surprise after last year’s 13-12 team that put together one of the best seasons for the girls in a very long time.

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