2017-18 BOYS BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Team-by-team capsules
Lambert guard Jordan McIlwain attempts a lay-up against McEachern on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. - photo by File photo

Forsyth Central

Head coach: Greg Dirst, 15th season.

Last season: 12-14.

Key returners: SF Gray Bowline (Sr.).

Key newcomers: SF Will Griffin (Sr.), SF Dominic Patterson (Sr.), PG Anthony Roveto (Soph.).

Outlook: For much of last season, the Bulldogs looked like the quality of team that could make the state playoffs for the first time since 2001. But three straight losses to end the season, including to West Forsyth in the region tournament, spoiled those prospects. Now, Central has to replace virtually its entire starting lineup, particularly CJ Smith’s 19.1 points per game.

The Bulldogs will be a veteran group again; senior Gray Bowline (4.2 PPG) is the team’s top returning scorer. Junior forward Jackson Leak can give the Bulldogs a presence inside. But Central could also have sophomore Anthony Roveto orchestrate the offense at point guard.

Horizon Christian

Head coach: Damon Taylor, third season.

Last season: 17-6, won the GICAA Division I state championship.

Key returners: F Mason Bierster (Sr.), G Alex Dahlberg (Sr.), F Michael Gul (Jr.), G Leon He (Jr.), G Pablo Marerro (Sr.), G Ryan Stevens (Jr.).

Key newcomers: F Wesley Harris (Soph.), F Evan Reece (Jr.), G Shawn Woods (Sr.)

Outlook: The Warriors are coming off their second-straight GICAA Division I state championship, one that was bumpier than their undefeated 2015 season but no less rewarding. Their prospects for a third straight state title are good, too.

Horizon returns six key contributors from last season, led by point guard Alex Dahlberg, who had a breakout state playoffs. Pablo Marrerro and Ryan Stevens were two of the team’s top three outside shooters last season. Mason Bierster and Michael Gul are versatile forwards. Evan Reece and Shawn Woods should provide much-needed depth.

Lambert

Head coach: Scott Bracco, sixth season.

Last season: 24-5, lost in the second round of the Class 7A state playoffs.

Key returners: SG Austin Deckard (Sr.), PG Mitch Ganote (Jr.), PG Jordan McIlwain (Sr.), SG Damon Stoudamire (Sr.).

Key newcomers: SG Ryan Barthel (Sr.), F Colin Granger (Soph.), F Andrew Hama (Sr.)

Outlook: No Forsyth County GHSA-member boys basketball team has advanced past the state quarterfinals since South Forsyth in 1998. Lambert has looked like the best candidate in the county to end that streak for some time, but the Longhorns haven’t been able to break through the second round, where they’ve lost in each of the past three seasons.

But Lambert is once again the county’s most talented bunch. It returns three players who averaged double-digit scoring last season in Jordan McIlwain (14.3), Damon Stoudamire (11.3) and Austin Deckard (10.1), and junior Mitch Ganote (7.0) wasn’t far behind. The continued development of 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Colin Granger should also add a unique dimension in the paint this season.

North Forsyth

Head coach: Brian Moon, seventh season.

Last season: 5-21

Key returners: G Kellson Gravitt (Sr.); G/F Michael Ray Hyams (Sr.), G Jonathan Pefanis (Jr.); F Preston Wiggins (Sr.).

Key newcomers: G Braden Collins (Jr.), F Trevor Elliot (Jr.).

Outlook: The Raiders haven’t made the state playoffs since 2006, but ending that streak coming off a frustrating season isn’t so far-fetched considering state playoff contenders in the region like Central and South have to either replace big-time talent or numerous contributors.

North has to do some of the latter, for sure, but the Raiders also welcome the return of leading scorer Preston Wiggins, crafty guard Jonathan Pefanis (once he heals up from a pre-season injury) and forward Trevor Elliot (who missed all of last season with an injury).

Pinecrest Academy

Head coach: Terrance Vinson, second season.

Last season: 1-20.

Key returners: G Josh Boeye (Soph.), G Nick Boeye (Sr.), G Caleb Bohn (Soph.), F Hank Lynch (Soph.)

Key newcomers: F Joe Garcia (Jr.)

Outlook: Former Virginia Tech player Terrance Vinson inherited a young team last season – by the end, the Paladins were starting three freshmen – that took its lumps and suffered through its worst season since joining the GHSA.

Those freshmen – guards Josh Boeye and Caleb Bohn and forward Hank Lynch – are now sophomores with a little more experience, though they have only one senior (Nick Boeye) to lean on for leadership. Vinson likes his team’s ball movement and shooting touch, and newcomer Joe Garcia could make an impact inside for Pinecrest.

South Forsyth

Head coach: Scott Givens, third season.

Last season: 11-18, lost in the first round of the Class 7A state playoffs.

Key returners: G Joel Brown (Sr.), F Ze’Vian Capers (Soph.), G Taylor Drury (Sr.), G Josh Hammond (Sr.), G Isaiah Magee (Sr.), G Andrew Roth (Sr.), G Santhosh Saravanan (Sr.), F Frederick Scott (Sr.), F Nick Wallace (Sr.)

Key newcomers: G Jared Riley (Sr.)

Outlook: So far, head coach Scott Givens is 2-for-2 in leading the War Eagles to the state playoffs. That’s a fine accomplishment considering South hadn’t made the state playoffs in seven years before Givens took over as head coach.

One thing that helped was forward Evan Cole, the 2016-17 FCN Boys Basketball Player of the Year. The 6-foot-8 forward now plays for Georgia Tech, leaving South with less of an impact presence on both ends of the floor. But with nine seniors, the War Eagles won’t lack experience. Or sharp-shooting guards, like Santhosh Saravanan, Taylor Drury and Andrew Roth.

West Forsyth

Head coach: Frederick Hurt, second season

Last season: 5-21, lost in the first round of the Class 7A state playoffs.

Key returners: SF/F Payton Aiken (Jr.), F Mikhari Sibblis (Jr.), F Andrew Stanton (Sr.), SF Joseph Staiti (Soph.), SF Terrence Taylor (Sr.), PG/SF Michael Zabetakis (Sr.).

Key newcomers: PG Broc Bidwell (Fr.), SF Jack Bock (Soph.), SF Jackson Butler (Jr.), PG Nick Zabetakis (Soph.).

Outlook: First-year head coach Frederick Hurt came to West last season with a strong résumé of success in eight seasons at Alpharetta, but that didn’t translate immediately. But after winning just four games during the regular season, West upset Forsyth Central in the region tournament to qualify for the state playoffs for the first time since 2011.

With that experience and so many contributors returning, it’s tempting to elevate West’s expectations this season. Hurt foresees better depth and a variety of lineups on the floor, led by all-region guard Michael Zabetakis.