Coach: Greg Dirst, fourth season
Last season: 8-20, 3-9 Region 7-AAAAA, Div. B
Key returners: SG Cale Jackson, Sr.; SG Braden Ragsdale, Sr.; C Jon Richards, Sr.; PG Parker Biederer, Sr.; SG Hunter McDonald, Jr.
Key newcomers: SF Ethan Hester, Jr.; SG C.J. Smith
Outlook: Central returns four seniors, all with considerable experience from last season, but if the Bulldogs want to improve they’ll have to find a way to toughen up on defense, according to head coach Greg Dirst.
“We need to play defense at a higher level this year,” Dirst said.
Dirst says the “we” instead of “me” mentality will pay the biggest dividends, and defense and rebounding will be the key to pulling the Bulldogs out of the bottom of the region standings. However, Central also was the lowest scoring team in the region last season.
The offense will feature a four-around-one attack with Jon Richards anchoring the center of the paint, and guards flying around the perimeter. Cale Jackson led the team last season with 13.1 points per game.
Coach: Damon Taylor, first season
Last season: 15-7, 4-4 GICAA II North
Key returners: PF Josiah Laws, Sr.; SG Ty Logan, Sr.; SG Daniel Durnwald, Jr.
Key newcomers: PF Michael Gul, Fr.; PG Leon He, Fr.; SF Dillon Taylor, Sr.
Outlook: Two years removed from winning a state title, Horizon is looking to reload under first-year coach Damon Taylor.
Even though the team finished with a winning record last season, Taylor is approaching the season with a strict focus on fundamentals. “Our short-term goal is to take one game at a time and focus on getting better every day,” Taylor said.
With Michael Walker gone, senior Josiah Laws will take over as the team’s top scoring threat. He scored 13.6 points per game last season. Ty Logan, who scored 11.2, combines with Daniel Durnwald to give Horizon a dangerous backcourt.
“Our biggest goal is for our starters to play consistently and have bench players that can come in and give us quality minutes on a weekly basis,” Taylor said. “Our long term team expectation is to bring another state championship to Horizon.”
Coach: Scott Bracco, fourth season
Last season: 24-6, 15-3 Region 6-AAAAAA
Key returners: SG Tanner Hall, Sr.; PF Ross Morkem, Sr.; SF Connor Mannion, Sr.; PG Andrew Melms, Jr.
Key newcomers: SG Austin Deckard, So.; F David Viti, So.; G Musa Thompson, Jr.
Outlook: Two years in a row the Longhorns have been eliminated in the second round of the state playoffs, but this season they’ll hope a third time is a charm.
Two cases of mono slowed the team at the end of last year, so health will be a priority. If the team that entered preseason practice is healthy come the state playoffs, head coach Scott Bracco thinks a state title isn’t out of the question.
“Our goal is to win the AAAAAA state championship,” Bracco said. “We expect our players to improve as a person and a player each day.”
Senior leadership will play a key role with Tanner Hall, Ross Morkem and Connor Mannion, a recent Navy commit, all commanding attention from defenses. The influx of newcomers, especially David Viti and Musa Thompson, will give the Longhorns more depth and ensure talent is always on the floor.
Coach: Brian Moon, fifth season
Last season: 11-15, 8-10 Region 6-AAAAAA
Key returners: PG Chad Bureau, Sr.; SF Nick Cunningham, Sr.; G Tyler Koch, Sr.; G Corey Rogers, Sr.; PF Jacob Bailey, Sr.; SF Connor Stephenson. Jr.; PG Girard Amoyo, Jr.
Key newcomers: N/A
Outlook: Since Brian Moon took over at North Forsyth, he’s never had a more experienced team. Two seasons ago the Raiders won just one game. Last season their win total jumped to 11. Moon thinks the success can become even more common this year.
“I feel like getting some wins early on would go a long way in setting the tone for the season,” Moon said. “We started slow last year but redeemed ourselves later in the year with wins over several teams that beat us the first time around.”
North will need to redefine its offense without Dakota Holtzclaw, who helped the Raiders tremendously last season and is now hitting the books at North Alabama. Because Moon says his team lacks size and pure athleticism, he hopes limiting turnovers and understanding individual roles will push the team forward.
Coach: Jay Lynch, fourth season
Last season: 10-15, 4-8 Region 6-A
Key returners: F Zayne Rice, Sr.; G Matt Howell, Sr.; F Adam Rocko, Sr.; G Santi Villar, Sr.; F John Crone, Jr.
Key newcomers: G Daniel Duke, Jr.; F Corey Downes, Jr.; G Addy Ehle, Jr.; G Ben Gobbel, So.; G Nick Boeye, So.; F Stone Brown, Fr.; F Kent Tagge, Jr.
Outlook: With nine returning upperclassmen, head coach Jay Lynch thinks his team will be up to snuff as long as they can improve on team defense. In the offseason, Lynch hired Terrance Vinson as an associate head coach. Vinson, who played at Virginia Tech, has coached strength at Virginia Tech, Mercer and Georgia Southern.
“We have a goal of being one of the toughest defensive teams in Class A basketball,” Lynch said.
With leading scorer Nick Palmer graduated and Ryan McCarthy not playing after scoring 11.2 points per game last year, Pinecrest will turn to John Crone as the highest returning scorer (9.4 points per game), and others, to increase production.
Coach: Scott Givens, first year
Last season: 8-17, 7-11 Region 6-AAAAAA
Key returners: F Evan Cole, Jr.; F Bryan Cuellar, Sr.; G Austin Childress, Sr.
Key newcomers: G Santhosh Saravanan, So.; G Joe Brandon, Sr.; G Tyler Collier, Sr.; G Taylor Drury, So.; F Daniel Bateman, So.
Outlook: Givens enters his first season as South’s head coach after rejoining his predecessor, Manson Hill, in 2013—the duo coached Gainesville’s girls basketball team to state titles in 2003 and 2004.
Givens’ goal will be to get South into the top of the Region 6 standings, but it could be more than a one year process. “I am excited about our team and I am excited to see the growth our team makes from November to February this season,” Givens said. “I am confident those gains will be significant.”
With seniors Thomas McClellan and Zach Swing gone, South will rely on all-region performer Evan Cole and seniors Bryan Cuellar and Austin Childress. Overall, Givens says “we’ll be throwing a lot of kids to the fire this year.”
“I feel like we have a good inside game and we have some kids that can knock down shots,” Givens said. “We will compete and play hard together.”
Coach: Jake Dickey, first season
Last season: 11-15, 7-12 Region 6-AAAAAA
Key returners: SF Jay Magee, Sr.; F John Peterson, Jr.; F Leo Sykucki, Sr.
Key newcomers: PG Isaiah Magee, So.; SF Joe Freitas, So.; SF Kyle Draffin, Jr.
Outlook: Jake Dickey will shed the interim label he inherited in April of last year when Jim Cook resigned. After finishing below .500 last year, Dickey hopes his team can come together and compete for one of the four playoff spots in the region.
“We have a long way to go but our effort and positive energy will help carry us to our goal,” Dickey said.
From positions three through five, the Wolverines have stability with senior Jay Magee on the wing, and John Peterson and Leo Sykucki in the post. Peterson and Sykucki will have to make up for the loss of last year’s senior leader, Jimmy Staiti, who was a double-double machine during his time with West.
The Wolverines will look to newcomer Isaiah Magee to facilitate the offense at the point guard position.
“We will have good depth. We will be able to keep defensive pressure,” Dickey said. “But we have to gain varsity experience. We are only returning two players that have played major varsity minutes.”