Region 5-AA play officially begins tonight for the Heard County High School boys' basketball team when it hosts Callaway at 7:30.
Claiming the region crown with a perfect 12-0 league record last year, things are different this time around for head coach Keith Simmons and his ballclub as they flip the calendar to 2018.
Coming out of the holidays sporting a 2-9 record, the first half of the regular season was a period of trial and error for the Braves. The second-year head coach chalks the rocky start up to a combination of youth and the team learning to jell.
"We've got a real young team with more turnover than we thought that we were going to have," Simmons said. "We have a lot young guys playing big minutes, so they're kind of learning on the fly."
Part of the growing process for this year's HC lineup has been new players filling gaps left behind by key contributors of last year's team. Gone are 2017 Times-Georgian All-Area MVP Jordarius Foster, as well as Emory Jones, who is enrolling at the University of Florida for football this month.
Simmons does, however, have a few returning upperclassmen who he feels have done a good job in bringing along their younger teammates.
"Alijah Huzzie coming back from an all-state season last year and Darius Matthews coming back from injury this summer has been huge for us," Simmons said. "I'm also seeing some good things from some of our younger guys. Ayden Cannon has been playing some big minutes and Komari Clark has been stepping up. Khalil Coefield and Ethan Lawson have also been playing minutes that they probably weren't expecting to play. I think that's good going forward and by the time the region tournament comes, we'll be able to make some noise."
The head coach also views Heard County's non-region schedule and participation in multiple holiday tournaments as a positive. While the results haven't been perfect, he's confident that his team will be ready for region play with the way they've been battle tested over the last month.
"We've played a pretty hefty schedule with a lot of higher-level teams with varying degrees of strengths," Simmons said. "It's going to help us when we get into region play."
Now that the dress rehearsal is over, the real season begins for the Braves where the team hopes that everything will start falling into place just in time for February.
"We're coming along. We're playing with a lot of energy and are just trying to find a way to fit everybody together," Simmons said. "The experience that we're getting from some of our ninth-graders, along with the leadership we're getting from guys like Matthews, Huzzie and Tray Dunson is going to be big for us in the long run."