This is the time of the year when basketball observers begin to take notice of the upstarts, teams that have made a move and look like their ready to stake their place in the state playoffs. Sometimes it’s a case of a team bouncing back from a bad year, while other times it’s a matter of a program finding its footing.
Here are four of the top surprises among Class AAA boys and girls this season:
Southeast Bulloch: The Yellow Jackets aren’t quite ready to challenge powers Johnson and Savannah in Region 1, but they could definitely make some noise in the playoffs. The Yellow Jackets are led by three double-figure scorers: Preston Smith (14.7 points, 6.3 rebounds), Sheldon Hendrix (14.5) and Lamont Ballard (12.6). Coach John Page’s team has a makeup game with Tattnall County that could determine third place in the league. Not bad for a team that went 9-16 last season.
B.E.S.T. Academy: The Atlanta public boys-only school that specializes in math and science has also won more games this year. Last year the Eagles won only two games; this year’ they’re 8-11 and in the middle of the hunt for one of the top seeds in Region 4. Demarius Howard leads the team in scoring and rebounding. The Eagles close the season with key region games against Callaway and Chapel Hill.
Swainsboro: The Tigers won only one game last year. This season they’re 10-9 and should finish third in Region 3 behind state powers Washington County and Thomson. Steven Howard leads the team in scoring (13.3) and Javarius Davis averages 9.6 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Coahulla Creek: A 8-12 record doesn’t look great, but it sounds pretty good to fans at this Dalton-area school that totaled only three wins over its first two seasons. The Colts have six seniors this year and rely heavily on the outside shot. Despite the improvement, they remain a longshot to advance in Region 5.
Southeast Bulloch: Coach Marty Holder’s team was among the bottom teams in Region 1 a year ago. The Yellow Jackets are 13-7 and have had trouble with league leaders Beach and Johnson, but came within a point of Tattnall County the first time around.
Johnson: The Atom Smashers are making their move in Region 1 against Beach, the tradition ruler of the realm. Coach Brandon Lindsey’s team does it by spreading the ball around and playing good defense. Junior Ijeoma Odimgbe leads the team in scoring (11.4) and rebounding (8.6)
Fannin County: The Rebels’ record is still under .500 at 9-11, but that’s a far cry better than last year’s 8-18 mark. Fannin County is among the crowd that could finish among the top four and reach the postseason. Senior Hope Cochran (12.9 points, 6.1 rebounds) and junior Molly Chandler (12.6 points, 4.6 rebounds) lead the Rebels
Morgan County: Last year’s poor season is a distant memory for the Bulldogs, who are 17-2 and ranked No. 6 in the state.