In his offseason playing with the North Georgia Heat ACHIEVE White 11 team, Chad Bureau was confronted with several of the culprits of North Forsyth boys basketball’s frustrations in the 2013-14 season.
The Heat is one of the predominant AAU organizations for Forsyth County boys players, so Bureau becomes teammates after the high school season with Lambert’s Tanner Hall, Grant Lancaster and Patrick Noble; South Forsyth’s Chandler Cotter and Thomas McClellan; and West Forsyth’s Courtland Fuller and John Peterson. Their talent combined makes for a pretty nice team.
The Heat team also gives Bureau a cruel reminder of where he and his North Forsyth team stand in the county.
Bureau and the Raiders went 1-6 against his Heat teammates last season, and they don’t mind joggling his memory with a healthy joke.
"I’m constantly getting heckled and getting a hard time for those 20-point blowouts," Bureau said.
That’s where Bureau, a junior point guard for North, found much of his motivation going into this season, and it’s worked early on. His scoring has skyrocketed from last season, up from 9.5 points a game to now 17.7 to go along with four rebounds and three assists a game. North, meanwhile, has already eclipsed last season’s win total (one) and is 3-8 overall and 2-4 in Region 6-AAAAAA going into Friday’s game against Centennial.
Part of Bureau’s emergence has been out of necessity. North graduated a large senior class, so Bureau expected his role on offense to increase.
He’d always been one of the few basketball-focused players at North anyways. The Bureaus play basketball. His older sister played four years on varsity for North Gwinnett. His brother played three years for North Forsyth. His father played at Milton and coached Chad in AAU for a time.
Bureau grew up in the North Gwinnett area, reared in one of the most fervent basketball areas in metro Atlanta. He played in the Gwinnett Basketball League where kids as young as 8 years old learn how to play full-court pressure defense. The first AAU team he joined was the Georgia Stars, an organization with alumni that features a who’s who of the state’s most recognizable talent (Jeremy Lamb, Al-Farouq Aminu, Gani Lawal, etc.)
Bureau’s family moved into Forsyth when he was in sixth grade. They wanted to be near the lake where Bureau can be found wakeboarding often. But he also found a different kind of basketball scene.
"It was a completely different situation," Bureau said. "Coming from a really aggressive, competitive area like Suwanee and North Gwinnett, you can just tell people coming out of elementary and middle school are very developed and ready to play. Here, I think the times are drawn back a little. I think slowly Forsyth, and North Forsyth, will get to that level."
The other part of Bureau’s emergence has been good fortune. When Dakota Holtzclaw transferred from Horizon Christian to North, it gave the Raiders the added dimension of a 6-foot-5 scorer to prevent opponents from focusing on Bureau and sharp-shooter Nick Cunningham.
"I think they’ve opened it up for me," Bureau said. "It’s made [scoring] easier."
Even so, Bureau said North is still a work in progress 11 games into the season. The team is still acclimating to Holtzclaw’s skills and developing chemistry with only one other senior besides Holtzclaw. The Raiders have come off the adrenaline they felt from the start of the season, Bureau said. By now, the weeks of games and practices have piled up. It gets harder to focus, Bureau said.
Take Monday’s practice for example. The Raiders ran a drill that ended with a layup while absorbing a padded blow.
Slowly, North started missing layups, and so Raiders head coach Brian Moon stopped the drill.
"We’re not getting any better," he yelled. "Finish a layup!"
When Moon restarted the drill, Bureau was first up. He ran it perfectly, leaning his body just right to handle the pad and make the layup.
"Atta boy, Chad!" the Raiders shouted as players started finishing their layups again.
"That’s one thing coach has really talked about," Bureau said, "You should be in a spot where you don’t have to think about it, that you do it naturally how you want to do it. When you come out [to practice], don’t think about it. Just go out and play and have some passion for the game."
And get a little revenge on your AAU teammates while you’re at it.
"That’s what I’m really looking forward to this season is playing those guys I play AAU with and looking to beat them," Bureau said.