Lithia Springs is the lone team that made the state playoffs last season, and the Lions look for a repeat.
The Lions must replace their leading scorer but have one of the best point guars in the county back.
Douglas County, Alexander and New Manchester must battle through a tough Region 5-AAAAAA, which boost reigning state-champion Langston Hughes.
Alexander and New Manchester will be young after losing their entire starting lineups. Douglas County return four starters and look for a couple freshmen to help out.
Chapel Hill struggled last season under first-year coach Ken Austin, but the Panthers are looking to build towards the future with some incoming freshmen.
Here is a look at the teams in the county:
Coach: Jason Slate
Last season record: 17-8
Returning starters: none
Others to watch: G Chris Lunsford, F Brady Spence, G Pat Love, F Aaron Casey.
Primary strengths: Chris Lunsford had a solid offseason and now must be the leader. Cougars have always emphasized defense.
Primary problems: Lack of experience in a tough region.
The Outlook: The Cougars don’t return any starters from a team that was four points away from a state playoff berth. Three potential starters, including the returning leading scorer, all transferred after last season. The Cougars only have to returning players that got significant varsity playing time. Senior reserve Chris Lunsford have a solid offseason on the AAU circuit and being counted on to provide a scoring threat. Also, Spence will have to give the Cougars some inside presence each game.
Coach Slate says: “I have to learn to be patience with some many young guys on the team. The biggest thing for us is that we slow things down some for the players. We have to focus on getting better everyday.”
Chapel Hill Panthers
Coach: Ken Austin
Last season record: 4-22
Returning starters (2): G Tomie Anderson, F Brandon Williams
Others to watch: G Alex Makosky, G Justice Devone, G Keith Williams.
Primary strengths: Team has had a full year to learn Austin’s system.
Potential problems: The lack of size and tough non-region schedule.
The Outlook: The Panthers are hopefully the second season under Austin will produce more wins. Chapel Hill will again be extremely young with only a few seniors. However, the future looks bright with several talented freshmen joining the varsity this season. The majority of the freshmen bring a winning attitude from success on the middle school level. Chapel Hill had a chance to compete this summer as a group.
Coach Austin says: “We are a family and the guys have really being pushing each other. We have a good group of players that have a great character and are very strong in the classroom.”
Douglas County Tigers
Coach: Hollis Bethea
Last season record: 10-15
Returning starters (4): G Rodney Lewis, G Ricky Clark, G Malik Battle, F Mataio Soli
Others to watch: F Braelen Oliver,
Primary strengths: The return of Rodney Lewis to the point guard position to lead team. Clark and Battle can be potential scoring leaders from the team. Soli and Oliver give the Tigers some inside muscle.
Potential problems: Might have to weight on Soli and Oliver as they are competing in football playoffs.
The Outlook: The Tigers seem to have enough candidates to replace Jahori Copeland as the scoring leader from last season. Battle averaged 11.8 points and Lewis averaged 10 points a contest last season. Clark has already committed to Lincoln Memorial University and should have a solid year. Both Soli and Oliver brings that toughness from the football team and give the Tigers some inside muscle. Each came on strong near the end of the season. Several young players, including freshman Jonathan Jefferson, should see some playing time. Jefferson, a defensive end on the playoff-bound football team, has received an offer from Georgia in football. Lewis expected to be the leader as the point guard on the team.
Coach Bethea says: “Defensively we got to get better. I think it is the area that we have improved on the most. Our guard play will definitely be our strength. They have the knowledge and ability to create their own shots.”
Coach: J.W. Cantrell
Last season record: 15-12 (lost in first round of Class AAAAA tournament)
Returning starters (2): F Terry Dew, Anthony Hardy
Others to watch: G Terrence Ashford, G Omarion Smith, F Marzavion Dix, G Karee Anderson, G Christian Horton.
Primary strengths: With nine seniors on the roster, experience shouldn’t be a problem. Hardy, a sophomore, has a year’s experience under his belt.
Potential problems: The Lions are not that big so size in the paint could hurt.
The Outlook: After watching his team give eventual state-champion Buford all it could handle in a state tournament first round loss, Cantrell is confident his team can be a region contender. The Lions return nine seniors, and two starters from last year’s team that reached the state playoffs. Replacing leading scorer and county player of the year Ceaunte Zachery will be the key. As a freshmen last season, Hardy averaged 8.9 points and 3.1 assists a game. Hardy’s role with the team will definitely increase with his experience. At 6-foot-5, Dew is the tallest player for the Lions, who will also look for Dix to be some muscle in the paint. The team is looking to challenge for its first region championship since the 2012 season.
Coach Cantrell says: “This is the most experienced group that I’ve had in a while. We are looking to get back to the state tournament. I don’t think that experience, and it shouldn’t be, a problem for us. After last season, I think everyone pretty much knows us. We should be one of the frontrunners for the region championship.”
New Manchester Jaguars
Coach: James Bailey
Last season record: 12-13
Returning starters (0): none
Others to watch: G Marquis Shelton, G Tyrique Hamm
Primary strengths: Close-knit group that plays well together. Team built around defense.
Potential problems: Settling on a starting lineup and potential reserves. Lack of a true scoring threat.
The Outlook: Bailey calls this a fun team to coach because of its closeness and desire to win. However, the Jaguars must replace their entire starting lineup, including leading scorer Clinton Bentley III, who averaged 16.6 points last season. Bailey will look for Hamm, who averaged four points and Shelton, who chipped in 2.7 points a game last season to help lead the team. The Jaguars will lack size in the paint but look to pressure teams with its defense to make up for that potential problem. Bailey looks to use the team’s quickness to apply pressure on the opposition. The team will use the first few non-region games to try and establish a starting rotation.
Coach Bailey says: “This group loves to play together and they are always in the gym. We are definitely going to play hard and look to pressure our opponents. Our main thing is to settle for a lineup and get a rotation down.”