With the boys basketball season beginning in earnest this week, fans in Cherokee County will have plenty to watch as the season progresses.
The county features a three-time defending region champion (Etowah), a preseason top-five team (Sequoyah) and a preseason first-team all-state player (Cherokee’s Taihland Owens). There are experienced coaches who have been with their programs for more than a decade, and several who are in the first few years of their tenures.
Skilled players, young and old, are on rosters throughout the county, and with a talent-rich pool of players, several teams have aspirations beyond the regular season.
Perhaps the deepest roster is Sequoyah, which finished 22-8 last season after making an appearance in the second-round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs. Fourth-year coach Allen Carden brings back a number of upperclassmen with years of varsity experience.
Point guard Dovovan Shipp averaged 14 points and seven assists last season as a junior and began his senior season in impressive fashion this week by scoring a game-high 34 points while adding 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals in a 75-61 win over Woodstock on Nov. 18.
Sequoyah was the No. 5 team in the Class AAAAAA preseason rankings according to the Sandy’s Spiel website, and with notoriety comes expectations.
“To me, it’s just a number,” Shipp said. “We have to work hard and prove ourselves. It’s a good evaluation, but now we’ve got to prove it. We’ve definitely got a chip on our shoulders.”
Alongside Shipp will be several talented players, including recent Mercer commit Jacksen Greco, a preseason second-team all-state selection by Sandy’s Spiel. Greco led Sequoyah in scoring last season at 19 points per game and began his senior season with 12 points, six rebounds and four assists against Woodstock.
Senior Myles McGee and junior Ayden Watson will likely add a scoring punch as well, but expect to see contributions throughout the lineup as the Chiefs will play upwards of 10 players each game.
Sequoyah finished third behind Sprayberry and South Cobb in Region 6AAAAAA last season, but with plenty of experience returning, the Chiefs’ objective is clear.
“You get in these rivalry games here in Cherokee County and the records mean absolutely nothing,” Carden said. “And of course our region is tough. It’s high-level basketball. We’re trying to continue what we started four years ago with constantly building to get better. Now, we’re hoping, in the fourth year of this project, it all comes to fruition.”
Another team entering the season with high expectations is Etowah, which won its third straight Region 4AAAAAAA title last season and reached the second round of thestate playoffs.
The Eagles are 2-0 this season with wins over Kennesaw Mountain and River Ridge, and despite losing four starters from last year’s team, they look to be picking up right where they left off.
Nine players scored against River Ridge, led by Cole Ellis, who scored 17 and Will Garvey who scored 15 points while adding eight rebounds.
“I think everyone in our region is returning a lot except for possibly us,” third-year coach Jason Dasinger said. “Even though we lost a lot to graduation, we lost a lot the year before that, too. There’s a lot of talk about other teams, and no one really talks about us, which we’re fine with because our players take that as chip on their shoulders to push themselves every day.”
Cherokee is one of those teams in Region 4AAAAAAA returning several key pieces. Owens is a four-star recruit by both 247Sports and Rivals, and the junior guard was also named to the Class AAAAAAA preseason all-state team by Sandy’s Spiel.
Roger Kvam returns for his 17th season as Cherokee’s coach and, after a 13-17 finish last season, the team expects more wins this season, which began with a 66-53 win over River Ridge.
“Expectations are really high this year, and right now, we’re just trying to grind it out every day at practice,” Owens said. “I’ve been working on my communication and trying to become more of a leader on and off the court. So far, this year, I think our communication has been a lot better.”
Woodstock’s loss to Sequoyah was its first of the season as the Wolverines have begun the year 3-1. Josh Pierce returns for his second season as coach and looks to have a few pieces which could pose problems for the opposition.
Senior point guard Rakim Thompson, a transfer from Kell, recorded a triple-double of 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists in Woodstock’s season-opening win against Forsyth Central and is averaging 25 points per game. Junior forward Ezekiel Pettway, who looks to be one of the better shooters in the county, is averaging 19 points per game.
“Coming in here, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it because I was the new student, but the team has really took me in like a family,” Thompson said. “Coach wants me to be a leader on this team, and our goal is to win a region championship, but, right now, it’s one step at a time.”
Casey Gramling returns for his 15th season at Creekview and will look to replace seven seniors from last year’s team.
The Grizzlies began their season in exciting fashion with a 66-65 win over Forsyth CentralNov. 16. Jake Thacker hit a game-winning basket at the buzzer, while Spencer McDonald led the team with 21 points and seven rebounds. Jayden Cox-Young added 19 points.
“I think we play nine regular-season games against preseason top-10 teams,” Gramling said. “Our goal is to be battle-tested and be ready by January and February. It’s going to be a journey of finding my top seven or eight guys because we’ve a have a number of guys who are fighting for playing time.”
River Ridge finished 3-23 last season and Aaron Darling will take over in his first season as coach.
The Knights have lost their first four games to start the season and will likely be young at key positions, though seniors Will Apple and Harry Bentley both return to provide production and leadership. Freshmen Jackson Head and David Hansraj could step in immediately as key contributors.
“I like the atmosphere a lot better this year,” Apple said. “We’ve had a bigger focus on defense this year, which we didn’t have last year. Everyone is working harder this year. I feel like if we continue to work hard and trust each other, that will lead to more wins.”