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North Fulton boys basketball preview

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Class 7A

Roswell

Roswell compiled its best record in two decades last season, but head coach Ty Phillips said following last year’s first-round exit from the playoffs, “there is a feeling of unfinished business” for his team.

Roswell went 21-5 overall and 9-1 in the regular season, entering the Region 4-AAAAAAA tournament as the No. 1 seed. However, a 52-39 loss to Etowah to open the tournament pitted Roswell against the defending state champions on the road in the first round of the state playoffs. After such a successful year, the Hornets took an early exit from the playoffs with a loss to Westlake.

“The bottom line is we didn’t achieve what we set out to achieve last year,” Phillips said. However, he said he is confident that this year’s squad can exceed last year’s success.

Roswell returns a core of guards from last season, including senior Ryan Brennan and junior Miles Herron.

Herron said though Roswell’s team is heavy at the guard position, everyone is settling into their roles and the team has already begun to “gel.”

Though the Hornets lost multiple seniors from last year’s team to graduation, Phillips said he is excited about Roswell’s returning players.

“This is as good of a group as I’ve had the privilege to coach,” he said. “We have size and a great veteran presence. I feel like if we gel like we did last year, we can not only build off last year but exceed that mark.”

Milton

The 2016-17 season was a year of ups and downs for Milton. The Eagles dropped eight of their first 12 games. Just two months later, they were in search of a new head coach after Matt Kramer stepped down.

But toward the latter half of the regular season, things started coming together. Riding that momentum, the Eagles beat Lambert, which had swept Milton in the regular season, to capture the Region 5-AAAAAAA championship.

Then the run stopped. Milton was upset by Brookwood in the first round of the state playoffs to bring their roller coaster year to an end.

This season, the Eagles have turned to former Etowah head coach Allan Whitehart to lead a program missing its biggest standout to graduation, but returning loads of playmakers.

The Eagles lost Alex O’Connell, now at Duke, but guards Christian Wright, Jordan Yates and Donavan Hairston all return.

Wright was named All-Region as a freshman last season and Whitehart said he is a phenomenal player who “can do a little bit of everything.” He said undersized but talented Hairston is great with positioning himself well. Yates, who contributed much production last year, will return to the team once the football season ends.

The Eagles will rely on 6-foot-3 forward JP McGhee for rebounding.

“He lays it on the line every play,” Whitehart said. “He’s probably one of the best rebounders I’ve coached.”

Whitehart is also expecting production form Brady O’Connell, Alex’s brother, Ulyric Linton and Matthew Bennett.

The focus of that production will be on the defense. Whitehart said the Eagles will “hang their hat” on defensive play.

Wright said the transition to a defensive mindset has gone well in the offseason. Wright, McGee and Hairston have all enjoyed their new leadership in Whitehart.

The focus for the Eagles will be on continual improvement throughout the season.

“I know if we can continue to improve each day, we will be playing for something pretty special at the end of the season,” Whitehart said.

Class 6A

Cambridge

Cambridge is coming off its best season in program history and will look to improve on last year’s mark with a core of its talent returning.

Kyler Ingram, a 6-foot-3 center, provides size and rebounding ability, while junior guard Kamar Robertson looks to build off a standout 2016-17 season. Noah Lucus adds to the Bears’ talent at guard and Caleb Lucas, Caleb Snyder and David Banks return at forward.

Though four seniors were lost to graduation, Bears head coach Chip Flemmer said his core’s three years of varsity experience together should pay off this season.

“There’s a lot to be said about that continuity,” he said. In previous years, his team’s youth led to dropping games late, he said. Last season, the team found a way to win.

The Bears went 19-10 overall and finished the regular season with a 12-4 mark in region play, dropping two games each to Alpharetta and eventual region champions Pope.

The Bears earned a playoff berth by securing the No. 4 seed in the region tournament, but fell to Region 5 champions South Paulding in the first round.

Flemmer said with the loss of four seniors, he doesn’t know how his team will compare to last year, but he has seen continual improvement over the summer.

That, combined with the talent returning, could allow the Bears to once again be in the running for a region title.

“In this region there are no off-nights,” Flemmer said. “We know that we are a really good team and when we play our game we can hang with anybody. We want to keep that movement in the right direction. This is going to be another step forward.”

Chattahoochee

Chattahoochee is under new leadership this season with Chris Short, a former Roswell assistant coach, guiding the Cougars’ program.

Short has implemented a fast-paced style of play. He said the team will play a full-court offense and defense, push the ball forward to get easy looks under the basket and stretch the floor.

“It’s a player’s system,” he said.

Returning senior center Hunter Patterson said the transition has been successful over the summer.

“Everyone has responded well, and I think we’re going to do well with it,” Patterson said.

Also returning is 6-foot-2 senior guard Will Bracknell, 6-foot-6 forward Grant van Beveran and sophomore guard Cam Sheffield who missed most of last season due to injury. Short said Sheffield should have a solid year in points and rebounding.

In addition to their returning players, Short said some transfers have been a “welcome surprise.”

Hooch will look to improve its fortunes after their 15-9 season came to an end in the first round of the region tournament.

“We haven’t talked about our goals as a team yet, but something I want to establish is learning how to win on a consistent level,” Short said. “And winning the region championship is something we’ll have as a yearly expectation.”

Centennial

The 2016-17 season was a “tough” year for Centennial said assistant coach Thomas Moede. With an extremely young team, the Knights finished 6-21 overall.

But that was a team that was reinventing itself. This year, Centennial is setting out to form its identity.

As the Knights create that distinctiveness, they will continue to do so with a young squad, but one that is much more experienced.

“We’re young and athletic, and that’s the upside,” Moede said. He also said that’s a downside, so it is crucial that the Knights find their best style of play if they are to have success this season.

They will do so with a team holding plenty of size and talent throughout its ranks, Moede said.

“What I’m excited to see about this season is we are talented at every position,” he said.

Returning for the Knights is 6-foot-4 forward Jonathon Cannon whom Moede calls the team’s shooter. Jahlen Jack, a 6-foot-3 forward, is a highly talented sleeper, and 6-foot-8 junior center Rodney Howard “is getting looks from everyone,” Moede said.

While looking to find their brand of play this season, the Knights will also focus on improving aspects of the game that hurt them last year, such as turnovers.

“Our decision making was really poor last season,” Cannon said. “We gave a lot of games away with turnovers. This year we are focusing on sharing the ball and taking care of it.”

A busy offseason has shown its benefits, Moede said.

“Compared to where they were at this time last year, it’s been a big improvement,” Moede said. “We could be as good as we decide we want to be,” he said.

Alpharetta

The Raiders will sport a new look this season after coming off an impressive 2016-17 campaign.

Alpharetta is under new leadership in former Kennesaw Mountain assistant Eric Blair who brings two new assistants with him. Eight seniors from last year’s squad also graduated.

Though there will be plenty of new faces on Alpharetta’s sideline, the Raiders do return some of last year’s playmakers, especially at guard.

As a somewhat undersized squad, the Raiders will focus on solid guard play and “small-ball” attacking.

“We’ll have all five guys able to shoot and handle the ball,” Blair said. “We’re going to get up and down defensively and play with a fast pace.”

Ryan Jenei, a 6-foot-3 senior, will provide solid three-point shooting with Rashaun Pass also playing the perimeter.

Junior Brandon Barron also returns. Blair said Barron is still working to get his legs underneath him after suffering a torn labrum, but knows he brings an “electric” style of play.

Blair said he also has high expectations for junior Kalik Brooks who makes the jump to the varsity squad this season.

The Raiders will be able to compete with any backcourt in the state, Blair said, but due to a lack of bigs, the team will have to focus on gang rebounding.

There are no concerns on offense with a talented group of shooters, he added.

After such a successful run last season, the Raiders fell short of their goals — winning the region title and hosting a state playoff game.

The Raiders were upset by No. 5 seed Dunwoody in the second round of the playoffs and had to go on the road in the opening round of the state playoffs where they were beaten by Tri-Cities.

“Even at 25-4, our guys still didn’t really accomplish what they had set out to do,” Blair said.

Alpharetta’s goals will be no different this year, and he is confident last year’s experience will pay dividends for the Raiders this season.

Northview

Of Northview’s 20 losses last season, nine came by seven points or less. Five came by just three points or less.

The talk in the offseason for head coach Steven Bombard and his team has been on winning those tight contests.

“Last year we didn’t have the experience of winning the close games,” Bombard said. “We’re learning how to finish a game and what it takes to win a game in the final two minutes. We can use the knowledge we gained from last year to help us finish some of those games out.”

Bombard said last year’s youthful team led to late mistakes, but in the second year he’s hoping his team takes “the next step.”

And that continual progress includes shaking last year’s 6-20 record.

“We plan to be competitive this year,” Bombard said.

For that success, Northview will rely on senior leadership from Ian Ricks who has been with the varsity program for four years.

Joseph Jones returns at point guard after an impressive junior campaign. Bombard said Jones has unmatched energy.

“It’s something you can’t teach players, they either have it or they don’t,” he said. “We will count on [Jones] for energy.

Matt Davis, a 6-foot-4 junior guard, also returns and will be relied on for rebounding and scoring.

“There is no ceiling for Matt,” Bombard said. “He is not afraid to get up there and mix it up. He is a grinder and a fighter.”

However, gone from the fray is standout Justin Brown, who transferred to Georgia Prep Academy.

The Titans are well aware of the gauntlet that is Region 7-AAAAAA, but Bombard said his team will still work to earn a playoff berth.

“It’s a really competitive region top to bottom,” he said. “We are hoping to be a part of that mix.”

Johns Creek

The Gladiators enter year two under head coach Keenan Temple this season and are confident of more success after the transition year.

“The nice thing about this year is they know what to expect,” Temple said.

Another reason for their confidence is the effort they put forth.

“This is one of the hardest working group of kids I’ve coached,” Temple said. “And we practice hard because we expect to play hard.”

Senior Nathan Gauthreaux said the experience gained from last year will also be vital.

“We got a late start with a new coach a new system [last year],” Gauthreaux said. “This year we have that experience and are looking at taking it a step further.”

Temple said Gauthreaux, a leading scorer on last year’s squad as a junior, is a potent shooter who proved difficult to defend.

“I think this year he is going to be a part of why we are going to be more successful,” Temple said.

Joining him will be fellow leading scorer Neil Ilenrey.

“Neil grew up a lot last season,” Temple said. Ilenrey led the team in assists, but also in turnovers. Temple said as the year progressed, Ilenrey showed continual progress and limited his mistakes.

The Gladiators also return guard Will Penland and forwards Austin Hillam and Jack Greenslit.

Gauthreaux said the goal for this year’s team is progress.

“Every week we just want to get better,” he said. “We know that we’re not just going to go out and win 25 games, but I think we have a chance to win a lot more than last year. That’s going to come week to week.”


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