Boys Basketball Preseason Preview & Power Rankings
We are set for the opening tip (is that still a thing?) for the basketball season, which is sure to be a great one. Here are the team-by-team previews and ordered by our Preseason Power Rankings for the boys!
#1 » RABUN COUNTY
COACH: David Adcock (4th Season)
2020-21 RECORD & ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 9-21, Region 8-AA 3rd, Class 2A Elite 8, #8 State Ranking
KEY DEPARTURES: Adriel Clark
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Connor McKay (19 PPG, 14 RPG, All-State), Jaden Gibson (transfer, 1st Team All-Region), Gus Hood, Grayson Carver, Clayton Dixon, Bo Anderson, Aidan Thompson, Jayton Henry, Andrew Truelove, Evans Palmer, Nathan Thompson, Cooper Welch, Willie Goodwyn, Tristen Burrell, Jarret Giles, Mike Swager, Paul Picciotti
TEAM STRENGTHS: “Rabun will be a very deep and athletic team, which will help with defensive intensity and on the ball pressure,” states Adcock. “There are 12 to 15 players that can play meaningful minutes every single night. This depth will allow Rabun to play uptempo. There are 7 to 8 players who have the ability to shoot higher than 40% from the 3 point line, which will make it very hard for anybody to pack the lane, allowing McKay, Hood, and Gibson to attack the rim and create for themselves and others. McKay will create mismatch problems for any team in the area.”
EXPECTATIONS: “Compete for a Region Title and make it back to the Elite 8 or better,” adds Adcock.
The Wildcats are loaded heading into 2021-22. Aside from the loss of one-and-done Adriel Clark, Rabun returns arguably the best player in this part of the state in Connor McKay. Jaden Gibson comes in from Dawson, and is insanely good. Add in stellar players like Gus Hood, Grayson Carver, and Clayton Dixon, and David Adcock’s group is poised to win a region title and make it to the quarterfinals…or dare we say deeper than that. This is the year for Rabun County, who comes in ranked #10 in the state in 2A!
#2 » TALLULAH FALLS
COACH: Cody Coleman (3rd Season)
2020-21 RECORD & ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 18-5, Region 8-A Private Champions, Class 1A Private Rnd 1, #9 State Ranking
KEY DEPARTURES: Sammy Davis, Simeon Respress, Gabe Keene (transferred to IMG Academy)
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Devonte Allen, Anfernee Hanna, Gavin Page, Charlie Cody, Milos Vico (transfer)
TEAM STRENGTHS: “Athleticism, experience (key players returning with major minutes from last season),” says Coleman.
EXPECTATIONS: “We want to continue to build on program’s foundation,” states Coleman.
The Indians were vastly underrated last year by many. Yes, they lose Sammy Davis and Gabe Keene (transferred to IMG), but Anfernee Hanna is as good as they get. Devonte Allen is a top-notch talent, and Gavin Page is a legit ball-handler and slasher. Milos Vico has a lot of hype around him as a Serbian transfer, so another region title run isn’t out of the question. This is a well-coached, solid team.
#3 » WHITE COUNTY
COACH: Robbie Bailey (2nd Season)
2020-21 RECORD & ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 16-6, Region 7-AAA Champions, Class 3A Sweet 16, #8 State Ranking
KEY DEPARTURES: Cooper Turner (All-Region), Jimmy King (leading rebounder), Reece Dockery
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Jadon Yeh, Silas Mulligan, Kenny Simpson, Tavi Simmons, Dawson Bailey, Noah Futch, Chad West
TEAM STRENGTHS: “Experience, Play hard, good dynamic offensive potential,” says Bailey.
EXPECTATIONS: “Region Title, State Tournament, Elite Eight,” exclaims Bailey.
There’s no doubt White County has to be among the favorites to win the 7-AAA title when bringing back star guards Jadon Yeh and Silas Mulligan. Add in Kenny Simpson back for another run, and this team is ready to go. Beyond those three, there are a lot of guys that will need to prove quickly they can handle the speed and physicality of the region, but they’ll grow in nicely.
#4 » HABERSHAM CENTRAL
COACH: Aric Mawdesley (1st Season)
2020-21 RECORD & ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 11-16, Region 8-AAAAAA 7th, No Playoffs
KEY DEPARTURES: Jacob Brown, Grant Tipton, Cade Williams (transfer to Chestatee)
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Malachi Dooley, Mekhi Mawdesley (transfer from Newnan), Bryce Pittman, Brannon Gaines, Kaden Hooks
TEAM STRENGTHS: Guard play
EXPECTATIONS: Take the next step and fight for a playoff spot in a tough region.
The Raiders have arguably one of the top guards in North Georgia, if not, the state in Malachi Dooley. He’s quick, athletic, and is one year better coming into his senior season. Losing Cade Williams to Chestatee hurts, as does losing Jacob Brown to graduation. But coming in is Mekhi Mawdesley, another talented guard to play alongside Dooley. Aric Mawdesley takes over the program, which should make a run in the region to get to state.
#5 » JEFFERSON
COACH: Kevin Morris (4th Season)
2020-21 RECORD & ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 19-6, Region 8-AAAA Runner-Up, Class 4A State Rnd 1, #8 State Ranking
KEY DEPARTURES: Spencer Darby, Josh Howell
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Dalen Gales, JT Fulkrod, Max Aldridge, Tra Harrison, Riley Holliman
TEAM STRENGTHS: Experience at the varsity level
EXPECTATIONS: Compete for a region title and deep playoff run
The Dragons always have a high expectation. They lost one of their key pieces in the program in Spencer Darby, but coming back with Dalen Gales and JT Fulkrod leading the way will be pivotal. The Dragons should be right in line with where they were last season, but perhaps making a deeper run at state. The caveat here is…as always for Jefferson…they won’t be full strength until their football guys get done with the playoffs.
#6 » TOWNS COUNTY
COACH: Brian Hunnicutt (1st Season)
2020-21 RECORD & ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 25-3, Region 8-A Public Champions, Class 1A Public State Champions, #1 State Ranking
KEY DEPARTURES: Kolby Moss (all-time leading scorer at Towns), Aidan Berrong, Jake McTaggart (transferred to Hayesville), Kabe Ellis, Kolton Day, Hayden McClure
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Collin Crowder, Kyle Oakes
TEAM STRENGTHS: “The team only returns two players who played on last year’s state championship team,” says Hunnicutt. “However, those two players are great leaders and provided much of the grit and moxie that was shown during the stretch run at the end of last season. The team is very young this year, but full of young talent. This team features a great group of kids who compete at their fullest potential.”
EXPECTATIONS: “The team expects to compete to be one of the top four in a strong region and once again qualify for the state tournament,” states Hunnicutt.
This Indians team will look leaps and bounds different than it has in many years. The reigning state champions lost just about everyone on the roster except football players Collin Crowder and Kyle Oakes. Those two will make sure that this team remains a threat in 8-A Public, though there are several young players who have to earn their playing time and make a name for themselves in 2021-22.
#7 » COMMERCE
COACH: Russ Gregg (5th Season)
2020-21 RECORD & ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 8-19, Region 8-A Public 4th, Class 1A Public Rnd 1
KEY DEPARTURES: Ian McConnell (11 PPG), Creed Dunbar (9 PPG)
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Jackson Morris (G/9 PPG), Cayden Lord (G/6 PPG), Matthew Simpson (F/4 PPG)
TEAM STRENGTHS: “We will be quick, skilled and have a lot of experience on the perimeter,” says Gregg.
EXPECTATIONS: “We will need some guys to step up on the inside to replace McConnell,” adds Gregg. “Rebounding will be a huge concern early in the season. Region 8A is one of if not the best region in Class A. Towns Co won the state championship last season and on paper Social Circle will be a favorite to win it all this season. Our goal is to be playing our best basketball in February. Our expectations are a return trip and advancing in the state tournament.”
The Tigers turn to others to replace what Ian McConnell and Creed Dunbar supplied, a minimum of 20 points per game and over 15 rebounds per game between the duo. Jackson Morris and Cayden Lord will lead the way offensively, and others will have to step up to help get Commerce back to the playoffs.
#8 » STEPHENS COUNTY
COACH: Jeremy Hughes (3rd Season)
2020-21 RECORD & ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 10-12; Region 8-AAA 5th, No Playoffs
KEY DEPARTURES: Kenny Colwell, Javian Hightower, Dominic Forbes
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: DJ Hampton (F/C), Tyrece Mackie (G), Kairion Morrison (G), Corey Richie (G), Cam Lacy (G)
TEAM STRENGTHS: “Our team will be focused around our speed and athleticism,” says Hughes. “We feel as though we are very strong with our pressure defense and our relentless playstyle, which has only improved with the addition of several young players.”
EXPECTATIONS: “We expect to turn some heads,” states Hughes. “We are placed right in the middle of Region 8-AAA, where 3 of the 6 teams are ranked in the top 10 of the state. We may not look like much getting off the bus, but our competitive nature drives us to compete with anyone. We look to continue to build on our growth from the previous two seasons and begin to let people know that Stephens County is coming for years to come.”
The Indians lost a good bit with the core that graduated, but return a great deal of athleticism and talent. There might be some growing pains early until the football players transition to the court, but Stephens County looks to be a potential playoff team out of the tough 8-AAA.
#9 » DAWSON COUNTY
COACH: Todd Cottrell (2nd Season)
2020-21 RECORD & ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 22-8, Region 7-AAA Champions, Class 3A Sweet 16, #8 State Ranking
KEY DEPARTURES: Joakeim Celestine, Max Tierney, Jake Craft, Tyler Lane, Jaden Gibson (transfer to Rabun)
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: AJ Moore, Trey Harvey, Caden Reed, Tyler Massey
TEAM STRENGTHS: Physicality
EXPECTATIONS: Regardless of turnover, the expectation will be to compete within 7-AAA and play with relentless effort.
The cupboard is certainly not bare, but there are so many key players gone from last year’s Sweet 16 team, including the reigning Region POY in Joakeim Celestine and 3-point sniper Jake Craft. Jaden Gibson went to Rabun County, so the Tigers must plug in pretty much an entirely new group. It might be tough sledding for awhile, especially until the football/basketball players get back on the court.
#10 » LUMPKIN COUNTY
COACH: Michael Parker (2nd Season)
2020-21 RECORD & ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 10-13, Region 7-AAA 5th, No Playoffs
KEY DEPARTURES: Gus Faulkner, Chandler Pulley, Brian Cunane
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Jones Harris (19 PPG, All-Region)
TEAM STRENGTHS: “I am excited about the direction of our boys basketball program,” says Parker. “As far as strengths go, I believe there are a couple of things that stand out. First is our lone returning senior, Jones Harris. Jones had a breakout season last year, and I believe is one of the best players in 7-AAA and the North GA area. Jones leads our team by example with his work ethic and character. When you have a guy like that leading the way, it helps set the tone for the rest of the guys. The second strength of our team is the work ethic of our guys. There has been a shift in the standards and work ethic in our program. We have guys that have sold out to the weight room and offseason workouts. They have raised the bar, when it comes to their work, and I am excited to see their growth on the court this season.”
EXPECTATIONS: “Our guys have developed a mindset where they expect to win,” adds Parker. “They are not concerned with outside expectations, but more concerned with meeting the standard they’ve set for themselves. We will be a young team this season. We only have one senior in the entire program, and 17 of our 22 guys are either freshmen or sophomores. My expectation of them is that we compete every single day. With our youth and inexperience, there are obviously some question marks and I am sure we will have some growing pains early, but I believe we will continue to grow throughout the season and be a tough matchup by the time February/postseason arrives.”
Youth marks the Lumpkin County boys program. Jones Harris is a legit top-shelf player in the region, and he will undoubtedly be the heart and soul of the Indians. The young players around him will have to match his intensity and level of talent and expectation. There might be growing pains early, but look for Lumpkin to play a hard 4 quarters every night.
#11 » UNION COUNTY
COACH: Corey Garrett (3rd Season)
2020-21 RECORD & ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 0-14, Region 8-AA 4th, Class 2A State Rnd 1
KEY DEPARTURES: None
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Landon Kight, Caleb John, Lake Hughes, Eli Underwood
TEAM STRENGTHS: “Experience and youthful energy,” states Garrett.
EXPECTATIONS: “Stay focused on us and improve everyday,” adds Garrett.
Union County’s 2020-21 season is a thing of the past. No one graduated, which is good for what is still a young team. Landon Knight did well last season and emerged as a leader on the Panthers team. Look for Union to battle for a state playoff spot for sure, and prove to many teams that they’re ready to not carry the label of last year’s 0-14 team.
#12 » BANKS COUNTY
COACH: Ryan Griffin (2nd Season)
2020-21 RECORD & ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 19-9, Region 8-AA Champions, Class 2A State Sweet 16, #8 State Ranking
KEY DEPARTURES: Pierce Martin, Dakota Orr, Garrett Presley, Clay Gosnell
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Bradley Lewis, Mason Adams, Dakota Ivey, Sean Presley, Lane Hopper
TEAM STRENGTHS: Foundation and expectation for winning
EXPECTATIONS: You hate to use the word ‘rebuild’ but Banks County in full truth just lost 5 starters and every remnant from the Elite 8 team a couple of years ago. This group is unproven at the varsity level, with little starting experience. They will no doubt play hard and grow, but it might take some time to return to the top.