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David Purdum

Basketball: Milton knocks off Walton, aims to regain championship form

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Milton head coach Matt Kramer during pre-game warm ups against Walton High School January 10, 2014.

Milton head coach Matt Kramer during pre-game warm ups against Walton High School January 10, 2014. For more photos from Friday night’s game, click here.

Matt Kramer, Milton High School’s first-year boys basketball coach, still isn’t sure exactly where his team or program stands. A visit from undefeated region-rival Walton on Friday was the perfect test.

Chris Lewis scored nine of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Eagles pull away for a 72-58 win. Lewis one-handed dunk off a pretty pass from Zach Hodskins put the Eagles up 62-51 with 2:50 left. They cruised home from there, picking up a big Region 5-AAAAAA win that Kramer hopes is the beginning of bigger things.

“This is huge,” said Kramer. “This was the third undefeated team we’ve played this season, and our third win against those teams. This was also our best home environment of the season. I told our kids to soak it up.”

Milton's Chris Lewis reaches for a rebound against Walton High School on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014.

Milton’s Chris Lewis reaches for a rebound against Walton High School on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. For more photos from Friday night’s game, click here.

Kramer is the Eagles’ third coach in three seasons. He inherited a program stocked with talent and accustomed to the highest level of success. Milton won state championships in 2010 and 2012 and gained national prominence under coach David Boyd.

But an investigation by the Fulton County athletic department revealed signs of undue influence and recruiting, leading to the dismissal of Boyd in September 2012. Some players left the program, leaving questions about what was next for the perennial power. Would there be a fall off, and, if so, how big would it be?

Van Keys, a Milton veteran teacher and coach, stepped in for Boyd on an interim basis last season and guided the Eagles to an up-and-down campaign. To find a permanent replacement, principal Clifford Jones formed a search committee that included former Georgia coach Dennis Felton. The committee indentified Kramer, a relatively unknown coach out of Ohio.

“Coach Kramer’s teaching and coaching philosophy made him the best candidate for the job,” Jones said.

Kramer was hired over the summer and arrived with plans to stabilize the program, while also maintaining a championship level of success.

“I wanted to settle the program down, add some stability after all that had gone on the past two seasons,” said Kramer. “I also wanted to make sure we’re building the program from the ground up.”

Kramer has jumpstarted a “Little Dribblers” program at local elementary programs and says the support from the community has been fantastic. Jones concurred, saying that the community and parents had remained been “100 percent supportive over the last two seasons.”

A solid crowd filled the lower bleachers of the Eagles’ gym on Friday. Athletic Director Gary Sylvestri said attendance hasn’t dipped at all since Boyd’s championship years. The crowd was treated to an intense back-and-forth game in the Eagles’ first home game in a month.

“We’re close to getting this place filled back up again,” said Kramer. “Everyone that was here earlier in the year, came back and brought three friends. We’re close.”

Elijah Weems led Walton (12-1, 5-1) with 17 points.

Mo Lewis had 18 to lead Milton (10-5, 5-0).

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