It’s the nominal midway point of the boys’ high school basketball season. It’s a good time to look back on what has happened since the season tipped off around Thanksgiving and a chance to look ahead to what the future might hold as region play is about to get completely underway.
There have been lots of success stories around the Aiken area four boys’ teams boasting nine-win totals already. But the early leader for player of the year honors has to be Aiken High’s Shawn Moore.
A strong complimentary player for the Hornets last season when they advanced to the Lower State title game, Moore has taken his game to the next level. A dead-eye shooter who’s even more dangerous to opponents when putting the ball on the floor and slashing to the basket, Moore’s averaging a shade less than 28 points per game this season. He’s scored in double figures every game as the Hornets have gotten off to a 9-4 start and has scored 30 or more five times.
“He’s a very good ball player,” Aiken coach Tony Harrell said of Moore, who isn’t a one-man show.
The Hornets have a versatile, if somewhat undersized, roster that includes major contributors in Ryan McKie and Dramel Coleman – who joined the team after missing the first few games because of an off-the-court issue. Aiken also has Deon Hicks on the team this year, and he’s been a factor in the solid start after missing all of last season when he was diagnosed with leukemia.
The Hornets were the hottest team in the area before struggling in a couple of holiday tournaments but have sweeps over area programs like Silver Bluff and Strom Thurmond to their credit.
The Rebels are also off to a nine-win start, with a 9-5 mark. They’re led by the ultra athletic Daquarius Johnson who has helped to steady the ship while a roster composed of several football players has found their footing on the hardwood after a long season on the gridiron. Moving up to Region 5-AAA should be a challenge for head coach Bo Rouse and his squad, but it’s very likely the Rebels will only get better as the season wears on and could be a real contender for a deep run in the state playoffs, just like Aiken.
Silver Bluff has been a regular in the Class AA postseason for several years, and while the Bulldogs are only off to a 6-5 start, they figure to be a threat again in 2013. Head coach Robbie McKenzie guides a team that he says lives and dies by the 3-pointer, and when players like Donte Wright, Jaylen Lawrence and Jalen Jackson are connecting from long distance the Bulldogs are tough to stop. Like Aiken, they’re something of an undersized team, but if the Bulldogs can maximize the contributions of Gyasi Yeldell and Nick Cummings, they should be the team to beat in Region 5-AA and a threat beyond.
The squad with the best winning percentage so far (.750) is North Augusta. Like all of the previously mentioned teams, the Yellow Jackets (9-3) are no strangers to significant games, and head coach Al Young has gleaned great success from a versatile roster that includes veteran players Steve Copeland, Tavarez Hall, T.J. Sheppard and Kenny Finley among others. But North Augusta is a deep team and could have a different leading scorer on any given night and still come away with a win. A strong showing in the Lake Marion Invitational Tournament illustrated the point as the Yellow Jackets went 3-1 and had four different players take team-high honors in scoring.
“We got the chance to play all of our kids, and I got the chance to look at some things and look at some people, so it was good for us,” Young said of the tournament.
The other nine-win team in the area is Midland Valley. The Mustangs are an interesting squad, in that they are mismatch for most of their opponents but use their differences to their advantage. They are small but fast and a nightmare on defense, with diminutive guards Jaquan Hall and Latrell Lee wreaking havoc and head coach Mark Snelgrove always pushing for more. They also have some blossoming stars in Daniel Carr, Kameron Brown, Djuan Green and Javoddis Coach. They should have some intriguing battles with Strom Thurmond in Region 5-AAA and already had a compelling 50-44 loss to the Rebels in the championship game of the Aiken County Christmas Challenge.
Another team that is young but could be formidable is the Williston-Elko squad. The Blue Devils have opened the year with a 6-5 mark but are playing primarily with underclassmen. Sophomore Kalief Freeman is bursting with ability, and when he’s heeding the advice of head coach Kenny Lipsey looks like the player the coach called, “the future of Williston basketball.” Along with double-double man Justice Wallace, the Blue Devils could be a surprise contender for the Region 4-A crown.
Coming into the season, that was a title that Wagener-Salley could challenge for, with superlative players RJ Tyler and Malcolm Stroman returning from a team that went deep into the postseason a year ago. While the War Eagles (6-7) haven’t fulfilled their potential, they have shown flashes of dominant play, especially when Stroman, Tyler and Duane Davenport are all clicking as a team. The problem for head coach Earl Seeley’s club is one that has plagued many squads early on, inconsistency.
That’s been an issue for a very talented Fox Creek squad. The Predators (5-6) have been hampered by a knee injury to top shooter Deondre Baskett, which has had him sidelined for a number of games. But head coach Andre Baskett has been able to lean on Chris Harmon, D.J. Curry and Brandon Quiller for strong defense and timely scoring. Marquis Sumner has stepped up as a go-to guy with the ball in his hands and if the Predators are healthy, they can lay as much claim to a region title as either Williston-Elko or Wagener-Salley.
Ridge Spring-Monetta was another team that came into the season with expectations for big things. It hasn’t worked out that way for most of the season to date as the Trojans have stumbled out of the gate with a 4-8 mark. But the good news for Mark Wright’s team is a good showing in the recently played Blackville-Hilda Holiday Tournament, which they won. They have a great talent in Mike Jones, if they can find enough players to support his skills the Trojans could make some noise.
One team that hasn’t had a lot of good news this season is South Aiken. The Thoroughbreds (4-7) have been competitive in most games, but have struggled to finish – something that plagued them last season. Head coach Drew Jernigan has a successful track record and there’s good talent on the roster, led by Jordan Dingle who’s as talented and versatile as almost any player in the area. But the T-Breds haven’t found a winning formula they can repeat game in and game out, something that could cause them big trouble when Region 5-AAAA play starts. South Aiken will face a tall task right away, traveling to the Lexington area to face region newcomer Dutch Fork in the conference opener. The cast of Jordan Scott, Latrell Brown and Austin Kyles among others needs to find a way to win close games, otherwise this will be another long season for the T-Breds with no weak sisters in region.
“We’ve got to do better,” Jernigan said earlier this season.
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.
Midland Valley vs. Gilbert
Williston-Elko vs. Blackville-Hilda
Aiken at Westside
Strom Thurmond at Brookland-Cayce
Fox Creek at Hunter-Kinard-Tyler
Silver Bluff at Aquinas
North Augusta vs. Greenbrier
Fox Creek at Westminster