Consider this: through seven games and two weeks of the 2014 season, North Forsyth boys basketball has won more games—three—than it did in 26 tries in 2013.
Granted, the Raiders could only go up from there, but early signs, including wins over Loganville, Chattahoochee and Northview, have been promising.
"I think we can be a pretty good little team," North head coach Brian Moon said.
Flowery Branch exposed the Raiders’ flaws, Moon said, in a win this week at the Causey Orthodontics Raider Classic. The Falcons hit 15 3-pointers.
"We’ve got to defend better," Moon said. "We can’t let people get in to the lane so easily. Part of that is just going out there and being competitive."
North rebounded one day later with a 59-49 win over Northview. The Raiders fell behind, 17-3, in the first quarter, but Chad Bureau’s 33-point effort brought North back against the athletic Titans. Moon said it was a confidence-booster for a team that’s still learning how to win.
Dakota Holtzclaw’s transfer from Horizon Christian for his senior season was perhaps the biggest storyline in Forsyth County boys basketball this summer, and for good reason.
The 6-foot-5, 210-pound guard/forward wanted to prove to doubtful college coaches that he could be the same player in Georgia’s highest classification as he was in the Georgia Independent Christian School Association (GICAA). Nothing against the GICAA, but it was a major step up.
"Lot of colleges were skeptical," Holtzclaw said. "They thought that maybe I wasn’t the player I seemed to be. When I told some of them I was transferring, they agreed. They thought that was what I needed to do."
Moon echoed that sentiment. Holtzclaw will see bigger, more physical defenders, he said, and teams will pay plenty of attention to him. Then, it’s a matter of who else can score, rebound and defend.
Holtzclaw and his new North teammates only played together in two fall league games before the regular season started, and he only knew two players—Bureau and Nick Cunningham—in passing. Still, Holtzclaw said he had gone to school with the same small group for seven years, and it was time to branch out.
"He adds a dynamic that we haven’t really had," Moon said. "He’s bigger than anyone we’ve got and he can score it so many ways. It’s been good for him."
Bureau, a 5-foot-9 guard and North’s primary ball-handler, was a key contributor for the Raiders last season. He’s upped his play and scored more than 20 points in almost every game, including that 33-point outburst on Tuesday.
"I wish our whole team would play with as much intensity as him," Moon said.
Holtzclaw said the Raiders’ next task is to create a culture where winning is expected on a consistent basis. Horizon went 22-2 and won the GICAA Div. II state championship last season. North finished 1-25.
"People really doubted this team, and nobody was really expecting us to win," Holtzclaw said. "I think the first few games have shown that we can do it and gotten us some confidence."
Outside of Bureau and Holtzclaw, North guard Nick Cunningham and forward Coleton Holzer were the only other major returnees for the Raiders. Holzer will be smaller than almost every post player in Region 6-AAAAAA, but Moon said the 6-foot-2 senior can be a tough player on the interior.
Will the Raiders’ early wins translate in region play? December games against Lambert and Alpharetta will paint a better picture.
"We’re playing much better [than last year]," Moon said. "Our kids haven’t quit. They’re confident that they can score and confident that we’re never out of games."