Boys basketball in Cherokee County is back up and running and several teams are aiming to reload for state tournament runs.
Last season saw multiple firsts for county programs. Cherokee won its first region title while Sequoyah advanced to the state quarterfinals, which was its best finish in the state playoffs. Jacksen Greco set a new all-time scoring mark with the Chiefs while Warriors’ coach Roger Kvam earned his 500th career victory.
In the early season polls, Cherokee once again looks like the team to beat. The Warriors, who began the season ranked No. 7 in Sandy Speil’s AAAAAAA state rankings, return a dynamic senior pairing of Thailand Owens and Elijah Tucker. The duo should be complemented by returning starter Bennett Ulm and newcomers D.J. Potts-Heard and Tayden Owens.
Tucker is committed to Xavier while Thailand Owens is the highest-rated uncommitted player in the state of Georgia based on the 2021 rankings on 247sports.com. Owens is the leading returning scorer in Cherokee County at 19.1 points per game and earned Region 4AAAAAAA Player of the Year honors last season. Tucker averaged 18.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per game last season. Both are three-star recruits and are considered the two best players in Cherokee County this season.
Cherokee (2-2) finished last season 23-5, ending in a first-round playoff loss to Westlake. It will have stiff in-region competition this season, as nationally-ranked Milton is now in the new Region 5AAAAAAA. Kvam will be entering his 18th season coaching the Warriors.
“I’m very glad to have the opportunity to play this season,” Kvam said. “Our schedule is very challenging and we will face some very talented teams. We have a lot of potential and could be very good if we play together.”
Sequoyah will face Cherokee on Tuesday night in its first game of the season and the Chiefs will need to replace a majority of their production from a season ago. Along with Greco, Sequoyah will need to replace a four-year starting point guard and Sequoyah’s all-time assist leader, Donovan Shipp, and the program’s all-time block leader, D.J. Robinson.
Allen Carden will enter his fifth season coaching the Chiefs and will likely rely on senior forward Ayden Watson to lead the way. Fisher Mitchell returns and could provide production along the forward line while junior Dylan Wolle could step into the role of the team’s leading scorer. Kyle Keener and Nick Lee should also see plenty of minutes this season .
The Chiefs finished last season 24-6 and their newly aligned Region 7AAAAAA will now include Chattahoochee, the No. 3 ranked team in Class AAAAAA.
Etowah began the season ranked No. 10 but fell out following a 2-1 start. Jason Dasinger enters his fourth season as coach and will need to replace first-team All-County guard Will Garvey from last year’s team.
Returning will be senior Brock Rechsteiner, a second-team All-County selection last season, along with sophomore forward Mason Etter. Josh Hughes and Dajuan Devonish should step into more minutes this season for Etowah along with Brandon Rechsteiner and Jonah Hamilton. Etowah will face Trinity Christian on Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Tournament of Champions Showcase at Wheeler High School in Marietta.
“Our expectations will never change,” Dasinger said. “We expect to play as hard as we can in every single game no matter the competition.”
Woodstock finished last season 13-15 and will be led by third-year coach Josh Pierce. The Wolverines will need to replace last year’s first-team All-County selection Rakim Thompson but do return several productive players including senior forward Ezekiel Pettway, who will likely lead the Wolverines. Cole Foster, Leo Mesumbe and Landon Stubblefield all saw significant minutes last season.
River Ridge (1-1) finished last season 9-17 and could be in a position to make the biggest jump of any team the county. The Knights will return a pair of junior big men, Jared Russo and Braden Pierce, who should continue to improve and cause problems for opponents. Russo earned second-team All-County honors last season while fellow juniors Grant Portera and Mihir Patel are also experienced returners. Sophomore guard David Hansraj and forward Jackson Head should also step into larger roles.
Aaron Darling enters his second year coaching the Knights and should have plenty of options on a team returning nearly its entire roster.
“We return a lot of experience and depth, so we’re looking forward to showcasing our guys this season and continuing to change the culture at River Ridge,” Darling said. “We have our eyes set on competing for a region championship this year.”
Creekview (2-2) finished last season 9-18 and should be led this season by seniors Jayden Cox-Young and Umar Rashid. Cox-Young earned second-team All-County honors last season and is a three-year starter for the Grizzlies. Drew Vajda and Trent Jackson should also step into larger roles this season.
Casey Gramling enters his 16th season coaching the Grizzlies and will also need to replace last year’s second-team All-County selection Spencer McDonald.
“This may be the best shooting team I have coached in a long time,” Gramling said. “The team chemistry is really good and we have some really good and experienced leadership with our seniors.”