The area boys’ basketball teams in Region 4-A are all looking to move up in the world.
Part of that is because of returning talent, but it’s also due in part to the realignment that took place before this season. A year ago, Region 4-A was a tough one and had nine teams, meaning less than half of the region would qualify for the playoffs.
Now, the region is down to seven teams, with both of the teams that left having made the postseason last year in Calhoun County and Denmark-Olar. That leaves at least two playoff spots up for grabs this year.
Head coach: Andre Baskett
Last year: The Predators went 3-17, 2-14 in region play last year
Season opener: Fox Creek lost to Cross Creek (Ga.) 69-59 on Tuesday and will play Westminster (Ga.) today at 4 p.m. in a tournament at Augusta Prep
Baskett is in a unique position as Predators’ head coach: One of his team’s returning stars is his son, Deondre.
The younger Baskett, a junior shooting guard, was tied with Marques Sumner, a sophomore point guard, for the team lead in points against Cross Creek on Tuesday with 13, but Andre said coaching his son has had its challlenges.
“I think I’m kind of hard on him because he is my son, but it’s good to have him on the team,” he said.
Another Predator starter returning from a year ago is senior point guard DJ Curry, and honorable mention selection for the All-Aiken Standard team during his junior campaign. Sophomore guard Brandon Quiller, who scored 12 points against the Razorbacks, and senior guard Brandon Gladney are also among the leaders for the Predators, and the guard-heavy rotation will definitely shape how the elder Baskett approaches the game.
“Pushing the ball; we’re pressing this year,” he said.
Freshman guard Corrin Cannon and senior forward Chris Harmon – the lone post presence expected to contribute for the Predators – round out the rotation. While Harmon will carry a heavy load on the boards, but the Fox Creek guards can also rebound.
Even though his team lost its opener, Baskett was impressed with how the Predators competed against the significantly larger program. After leading early, the Predators closed late and made the game competitive against Cross Creek, a Georgia Class AAAA school.
“I think we’re going to be a good team,” Baskett said. “That showed them that they can play with anybody.”
Head coach: Mark Wright
Last year: The Trojans missed the playoffs last year with a 14-11 record overall, 9-7 in region.
Season opener: RS-M lost to Strom Thurmond 60-38 and will host Saluda on Tuesday.
After being named to the All-Aiken Standard team as an honorable mention selection a year ago, Mike Jones led the Trojans in scoring with 11 points in their season-opening loss to Strom Thurmond.
He’ll be one of the key contributors on a team that also includes Travious Wigfall and OB Gilliam, who scored 10 against the Rebels. The trio will look to fill in the gaps in output that Bradshea Jeffery left when he graduated, but Wright and the Trojan faithful have reason to be excited.
Despite missing the playoffs after the 2011-12 campaign after losing a play-in game against Hunter-Kinard-Tyler, RS-M was the only team to beat Regon 4-A’s No. 2 team Wagener-Salley twice, and the Trojans also beat Class AA competitor Pelion twice last season.
Head coach: Earl Seeley
Last year: The War Eagles earned the region’s No. 2 seed with a 19-6 (13-3) record and lost 83-59 to McCormick in the second round of the Class A playoffs.
Season opener: Wagener-Salley hosts Pelion tonight at 6 p.m.
Wagener-Salley returns perhaps the most talented core of any of these squads, but the War Eagles are also left with one big hole to fill.
First, All-Aiken Standard second-team post player RJ Tyler and honorable mention point guard Malcolm Stroman, both juniors, return along with wingman Duane Davenport to a team that had a great run a year ago.
Seeley is excited about the potential inherent in a team returning such talent.
“Definitely, it gives us a core; it give us experience,” he said. “These guys have been through the trenches the last couple years.”
The giant question mark is related to All-Aiken Standard first-team center Rakeem Hicks, now at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas. Seeley said replacing that production will be a team effort, starting with Tyler down low.
“It’s hard to replace 6-9, 225 (pounds),” Seeley said of Hicks, now the tallest player listed on Coffeyville’s roster.
Across from Davenport will be freshman Gerald Landy. Standing at about 6-foot-1 now, Landy could be a future post presence if he reaches the 6-5 height Seeley said he’s hoping for.
“I always have a knack for throwing a freshman in there,” Seeley said.
Senior guard Gregg Hicks, who like Tyler and Stroman was a key component to the War Eagles’ football team this season, will also play a major role because of his “tremendous defense and hustle.”
“Sometimes I have to pull him up because he’s going to hustle all the way,” Seeley said.
In addition to Hicks, Seeley will be attempting to replace 3-point shooter Andre Lilly, but he said Davenport, Tyler and Stroman are all capable of contributing from beyond the arc. And the team as a whole will be more than willing to score in transition.
“We’re going to get the ball out on the rebound, and we’re off,” Seeley said.
The War Eagles’ coach said that, even though defending region champion Calhoun County has moved up to Class AA, his team can’t get comfortable. A year ago, Ridge Spring-Monetta missed the playoffs but was the only team to beat Wagener-Salley twice.
Still, Seeley likes his team’s odds, highlighting the War Eagles’ “No. 1 goal” of winning the region title.
“I think our chances are pretty good, very good,” he said. “It’s always tough in our region, no matter who we play.”
Williston-Elko Blue Devils
Head Coach: Kenneth Lipsey
Last year: The Blue Devils missed the playoffs with a 7-10 record overall, 6-10 in region.
Season opener: Williston-Elko hosts Barnwell on Tuesday at 6 p.m.
While the Blue Devils return a relatively experienced team as far as the age of the players, their on-the-court time is limited. The team returns no starters, but three seniors will anchor the Williston-Elko attack.
Center Jerry James and wing Alex Young are among the starters for the Blue Devils, and wing Shaquille O’Neal rounds out the seniors and will come off the bench. Sophomore Antonio Coleman will be a primary starter and guard, and juniors Kalief Freeman and Trimayne Whetstone are expected to start at forward.
With the size available to him, Lipsey said the foul trouble that often plagues post players is his main concern.
“With the big men we have, we’re going to have to stay out of foul trouble and just stay together as a team,” he said.
Since none of his players have a great deal of playing time logged, Lipsey’s squad will rely on hustle and athleticism. The Blue Devils will also attempt to create transition points with suffocating defense in the back court.
“We’re going to try to go uptempo,” Lipsey said. “Without giving too much away, we’re going to try to press, try to force turnovers.”
Before making a push for a Region 4-A playoff spot, Lipsey has made plans to challenge his squad with a little tournament play. In a Christmas tournament at Chapin, Williston-Elko will compete against the host Eagles, Eau Claire and Gilbert. Eau Claire is a Class AA school, and the other two play in Class AAA.
Lipsey said he hopes playing bigger schools, including the opener against county rival and Class AA program Barnwell, will have his team ready to go when Region 4-A play rolls around.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.