Faced with five elimination games late last winter, the Tigers (20-15) won four of those battles on their way to another Class 1A state runner-up.
If a state runner-up three-peat or more is in the cards for the Tigers this season, they’ll have to do it with several new faces on the court.
The Tigers have lost six of their top starters over the past two years, but they return their two main scoring and rebounding threats in reigning Class 1A Player of the Year DeAngelo Hardy and senior guard Terrence Scales.
Hardy averaged 19.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists last season. Scales tallied 11.2 points, 4.3 boards and 3.6 assists per contest.
Beyond those two seniors, head coach Joe Carpenter will be looking for others to step up to become major contributors.
Guard appears to be the position the Tigers have the most experience. In addition to Hardy and Scales, seniors Rickey Pendley and Robert Henderson give the Tigers a veteran presence. The Tigers also have a pair of young and talented guards in sophomores Devante Dixon and D’Shawn Fife.
Senior Levi Mintz leads the Tiger forwards, which also include juniors Greg Leach, Dalton Cosby, Gary Farist and Nick Combs.
Several faces may be new and others may be getting adjusted to new roles, but Carpenter isn’t breaking ties with the formula that’s gotten them back-to-back state runners-up, which includes a tough schedule.
The Tigers once again play several premier teams across the state, including regional teams from last season in Class 3A Piedmont and Class 2A Gaston, in addition to county rivals in Class 4A Cherokee County and Class 2A Sand Rock.
Teams competing with the Tigers in Class 1A, Area 10 are defending area champion Collinsville, an up-and-coming Spring Garden squad, longtime rival Gaylesville and newcomer Coosa Christian.
The Tigers also participate in the always-competitive WQSB Christmas Tournament, which features Albertville, Arab, Ashville, Boaz, Fort Payne, Geraldine, Guntersville, Holly Pond, John Carroll, Pinson Valley, Pleasant Grove, Randolph, Section, Sylvania and UMS-Wright.
“We are looking forward to the huge challenges ahead,” Carpenter said. “We don’t have the word satisfied in our vocabulary at all in order for us to be able to achieve the success that we desire for our season goals.”
The following is a preview of the rest of the Cherokee County Herald’s coverage area.
Cherokee County Warriors
Travis Barnes begins his second season coaching the Warrior boys, who are coming off a 16-11 campaign.
“After graduating nine seniors from last year’s team, we will be totally revamping our team,” Barnes said. “Only three varsity players return from last year (junior forward Tony Pruitt, junior guard Darius Covington and senior guard JoJo Diamond), and they will be expected to have breakout years for us to have a successful season.”
In addition to Diamond at guard, the Warriors also feature another pair of seniors in Josh Higgins and Alex Moon. Sophomores Trenton Edwards and J.T. Hill will provide the Warriors depth at the guard positions.
Junior Wade Griffith and sophomore Preston Grimes are also expected to help Pruitt out at the forward spots.
“If we have some of our other players step up and play certain role positions, we should be competitive in our area,” Barnes said.
Cherokee County competes in Class 4A, Area 11 along with Alexandria, Hokes Bluff and Jacksonville.
Lone senior Will Callan leads a young, but talented group of Trojans this season.
Juniors consist of Cole Murphy, Dylan Cavin, Gable Lawson, Christopher Broom, Brody Blankenship and Dylan Mitchell. Christian Williamson, a sophomore, rounds out the Trojan roster.
Gaylesville competes in Class 1A, Area 10 along with Cedar Bluff, Collinsville, Spring Garden and Coosa Christian.
Sand Rock Wildcats
Sand Rock coach Brian Mackey seeks to replace four starters from last season’s 20-10 team, including top scorers Matt Graham and Chad Thompson.
The Wildcats do return junior guard Dylan Mackey, who averaged 9.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists last season.
Seniors Dakota Mabry and Skylar Williams, juniors Lance Littlejohn and Isaac Arnold, sophomore Chase Garrett, and freshman Caylon Simpson provide the Wildcats depth at the guard spots.
Senior Devon Howard, junior Sean Stansell, sophomore Ryan Gibson and freshman Joel Brock are the Wildcat forwards.
“If we work hard and play good defense, we could be ready by area,” Brian Mackey said.
The Wildcats compete in Class 2A, Area 11 with Gaston, Westbrook Christian and West End.
Spring Garden Panthers
Head coach Ricky Austin is hoping the success from the football field carries over to the basketball court, and there’s no reason to think it won’t.
Austin returns all five starters from last season, including 6-foot-4 junior center Will Westbrook, senior guards Logan Whorton and Josh Hale, junior point guard Will Ivey, and senior forward Jake Grogan.
“After going 14-14 last year, we think this group should be ready to make a run at something bigger than just getting better,” Austin said. “I like this group a lot. I hope they take their success from football and move forward with it.”
Austin notes he’s looking for a breakout season from junior guard Jay Prater. Senior Trent Dickeson should see playing time at point guard along with Ivey. Sophomore Kyle Reece should provide the Panthers’ guards with depth, and junior Jacob Black should provide depth at forward.
Juniors Jacob Black and Dillon Goss can play at either the guard or forward positions in the Panther lineup.
Spring Garden competes in Class 1A, Area 10 with Cedar Bluff, Collinsville, Gaylesville and Coosa Christian.
Coach Jon Tidmore’s Panthers return a lot of experience from last season’s 22-7 Class 1A Northeast Regional team, beginning with senior guard Deshawn Moore and senior forward Davey Posey.
Moore led the Panthers with 15 points and six boards per game last season. Posey posted 13 points and five rebounds per contest.
Tidmore notes senior guard Daniel Bradford had a good off-season, and along with fellow senior guard Edgar Padilla, should be a solid defender. Tidmore also said another senior guard, David Hernandez, has “improved in every phase of his game.”
Other Panther guards include seniors C.J. Jones and Justin Little, along with sophomore Tanner Nelson.
Juniors Kevin McElrath and Malik Mathis, along with sophomore Brady Osborn, will compete for the Panthers’ center position. Tidmore said all three players could provide the Panthers with a presence in the middle they haven’t had in a few years.
Senior Clay Coker should see playing time at forward. Senior Dylan Sells will provide the Panthers with depth.
“With nine seniors, leadership and experience should be a strength,” Tidmore said. “Our players are excited about the upcoming season. Playing hard will be a priority for us.”
Collinsville competes in Class 1A, Area 10 along with Cedar Bluff, Spring Garden, Gaylesville and Coosa Christian.
After losing all five starters from last season’s Class 3A Northeast Regional team that went 20-12 – including leading scorer and rebounder Sloan Garner – some folks might feel Piedmont is in a rebuilding mode.
But the Bulldogs still have one of the state’s top coaches in 25-year veteran Tommy Lewis, who’s known for getting the most out of his players by season’s end.
Lewis expects strong seasons from his two seniors: forward/center Jaylan Johnson and guard/forward Cass McCord. He also expects junior point guard Denard Spears to be the Bulldogs’ court leader, and intensity on both offense and defense from sophomore guard Dreek Thompson, freshman guard Darnell Jackson, junior guard/forward Caleb Adams, and junior forward/center Exavyer Jackson.
Providing Piedmont with depth at the guard spots are sophomore Tyler Lusk and freshman Bayley Blanchard. Freshman Neonta Alexander and eighth grader Taylor Hayes are combo guards/forwards for the Bulldogs.
“This is a talented group, but they will have to build a team chemistry on-the-go since a successful football season means we usually are behind others,” Lewis said. “The underclassmen all have enough skills to be factors in any game. If everyone will buy into putting fundamentals first, by season’s end this team could be special.”
Piedmont competes in Class 3A, Area 10 with Saks, Weaver and White Plains.