With Tuesday night’s overtime thrilling victory, the Banks County Leopards are 16-4 on the season.
More impressive is the fact that the boys have now won 13 straight games and stand at 8-0 in Region 8-AA play. The Leopards top the region in defense (under 50 pts per game allowed) and are far and away one of the toughest teams to keep off the board.
“Kahmal [Wiley] is our best player, there’s no doubt about that,” says sixth year head coach Mike Cleveland. “I think other coaches try to take away Kahmal first. We try to look for mismatches and take advantage anywhere we can. We’ve had four [different] guys lead us in scoring this year, and eight reach double-figures. We have some options offensively.”
It took awhile for the Leopards to grow into the team they are today, as they lost two 1,000-point scorers from a year ago in Zez Steeple and Zac Orr, who both now play at Erskine College. Banks won its season-opener, but got off to a 3-4 start before the win streak.
“I feel good about this team, where we’re headed. I still think we can get better.” -Coach Mike Cleveland
“This year was like starting over, with Kahmal as the center piece” states Cleveland. “Dylan Orr and Gabe [Martin] around him, who saw floor a little, and a bunch of guys who hadn’t seen the floor before. We started off slow, but we’re playing well as of late.”
The slow start is also, according to coach Cleveland, attributed to a tough non-region schedule early on that has helped the team grow quickly.
“We pulled from our pride, and got tired of losing,” said Orr, a junior forward who is a dominant presence in the paint. “Once we got that next win, we just started rolling and went from there.”
Cleveland and the Leopards went 24-6 in each of the last two seasons, capturing a regular season region title and two Sweet 16 trips. Two things are missing – a region tournament championship trophy and a trip to the Elite 8.
“We will give it all we have to get past that Sweet 16,” exclaims Wiley. “We want to win a region championship, and just take it one game at a time and see how far we can go with this thing. We don’t care how it gets done, as long as it gets done.”
As is typical with teams that have this level of success, there is a sense of brotherhood and solid chemistry that goes beyond the locker room or court.
“We’re like a brotherhood, and our motto the last few years has been family,” says Orr. “We have become that; we all get along so great, and we know what our strengths and weaknesses are on the court.”
With just four games remaining in the regular season, Banks County has just about wrapped up yet another regular season region title. But that’s not what they’re after.
“I feel good about this team, where we’re headed,” says Cleveland. “I still think we can get better.”
While that’s great news for Banks County, not so much for opponents.