Coach: Greg Dirst (fifth year)
Last season: 12-15
Key returners: G Ethan Hester (Sr.), G C.J. Smith (Sr.)
Key newcomers: N/A
Outlook: The Bulldogs have a lot of rebuilding to do, which means competing in the new region with the other county schools could be tough. Still, head coach Greg Dirst is excited for the challenge. “We have a bunch of kids who play hard and a joy to coach. It’s fun coming to practice every day,” Dirst said.
Central loses Braden Ragsdale, Parker Biederer, Cale Jackson and Jon Richards from last year’s squad. That’s a big blow, but returning senior Ethan Hester gained big time experience as a junior, averaging 10 points, nine rebounds and shooting 33-percent from deep last year. He’ll be the go-to scorer for the Bulldogs.
Horizon Christian Academy
Coach: Damon Taylor (second year)
Last season: 22-0, GICAA (Div. 1) state champions
Key returners: G Andrew Leonard (Sr.), G Daniel Durnwald (Sr.)
Key newcomers: G Pablo Marrero (Jr.)
Outlook: Head coach Damon Taylor took the Warriors to a state championship last season—better than that, they never lost a game. It may be hard to expect the same this time around after losing the core of that squad that included Ty Logan, Liam Dahlberg, Dillon Taylor and Josiah Laws. “This team will have to quickly develop the same demeanor to be successful,” Taylor said. “This year we have potential to be a really good team, but it will be about how Leonard and Durnwald play with the new supporting cast.”
Leonard, a 6-foot-4 wing, averaged 11 points last season, while newcomer Pablo Marrero is a versatile weapon who will continue to get better. He’s already shown flashes as a shooter and a player who can take the ball to the rim.
Coach: Scott Bracco (fifth season)
Last season: 27-4
Key returners: PG Andrew Melms (Sr.), G Austin Deckard (Jr.), G Matt Ganote (Sr.), G Damon Stoudamire (Jr.), G Jordan McIlwain (Jr.), G Musa Thompson (Sr.)
Key newcomers: F Colin Granger (Fr.),
Outlook: The Longhorns want to get to the state semifinals. If they’re going to do so, they’ll need to bounce back from the losses of some truly talented stars like Connor Mannion (Navy) and Ross Morkem (North Georgia). David Viti, who was a major factor in last year’s dominant team, transfers to Buford.
With the keys still is point guard Andrew Melms, though he’ll look to gel with freshman Colin Granger in the early going. Lambert still has plenty of experience at guard, especially with the shooting talent of Austin Deckard. Musa Thompson also showed glimpses of becoming a star winger player last season but will need to be more consistent from game-to-game.
“We have scheduled a number of the top teams in the state to prepare for a championship run,” Bracco said.
Coach: Terrance Vinson (first year)
Last season: 11-16
Key returners: G Daniel Duke (Sr.), F Kent Tagge (Jr.), G Addison Ehle (Sr.), G John Crone (Sr.)
Key newcomers: N/A
Outlook: The Paladins enter their first season under Terrance Vinson, who served as an assistant with the program last season. There’s plenty of room for growth for Pinecrest, but the concern will be the loss of some key pieces to graduate including Santi Villar, Adam Rocko and Zayne Rice.
A big group of guards return to the program, yet the core of the team should be Crone in the backcourt and Tagge in the front court. Pinecrest won just two league games a a season ago.
Coach: Brian Moon
Last season: 9-16
Key returners: G Girard Amoyo (Sr.), G/F Connor Stephenson (Sr.), F Jon Aiken (Sr.)
Key newcomers: N/A
Outlook: The Raiders will have a lot of growing to do this winter. Despite finishing 8-10 last season in league play, North showcased some formidable talent—especially record-setting point guard Chad Bureau and streaky shooter Nick Cunningham. Those two, along with Tyler Koch and Jacob Bailey, depart and leave North looking for size and athleticism.
Jon Aiken and Connor Stephenson will bring in plenty of experience, while Girard Amoyo got considerable playing time last season and could become a go-to guard. The key will be for one of the three returning players to establish themselves as a scoring threat. Stephenson could become the center of the team on both sides of the ball.
Coach: Scott Givens (second year)
Last season: 14-15
Key returners: G/F Evan Cole (Sr.), G/F Sebastian Mallory (Jr.), G Santhosh Saravanan (Jr.)
Key newcomers: G Isaiah Magee (Jr.)
Outlook: South should be the team with the best shot of keeping up with Lambert in the county and Milton in the region as a whole. Evan Cole, a UNC-Wilmington signee, returns bigger and stronger after averaging 21 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks as a junior. Cole will contend easily for the FCN’s Player of the Year accolade, while Sebastian Mallory and Santhosh Saravanan both have all-county potential. Mallory was a pesky bench player last season in key moments and, if he can become more physical, has a bright future. Saravanan is a solid shooting threat. “We can get better defensively as a unit and we can shoot the ball with more consistency,” Givens said.
Isaiah Magee is a nice added piece to the puzzle. He played with his brother at West last season but transferred over after the older of the two graduated. Magee is a guard with good size but still needs to develop his game and fit in on a new team.
Coach: Fred Hurt (first season)
Last season: 7-20
Key returners: G/F Kyle Draffin (Sr.), G/F Isaac May (Sr.), G/F Joe Freitas (Jr.)
Key newcomers: PG Michael Zabetakis (Jr.), F Andrew Stanton (Jr.)
Outlook: West enters a new era under tenured head coach Fred Hurt. Hurt, who comes to the program after eight years at Alpharetta, takes over a team that is looking to rebrand itself after struggling last season.
Joe Freitas gives the Wolverines their best scoring threat, while Kyle Draffin and Isaac May add experience but will need to continue to improve. Michael Zabetakis was a standout at the junior varsity level last season and fills the void left by Isaiah Magee, who departed for South Forsyth. Andrew Stanton will be a new face in the post as well.
“The main focus over the summer was to play harder, work harder, compete for things more and fight and never give up,” Hurt said. “We have tried not to base the season on hope. We want guys to buy in and improve so we don’t have to hope things go well. We have nice pieces, a good point guard and an inside scoring threat, as well as some very solid shooters.”