Despite having lost some key pieces from last year’s state playoff team, Evans High School’s boys basketball head coach Kevin Kennny doesn’t mince words when asked about this year’s team’s chances.
“We’re the defending sub-region champions, made the (Georgia High School Association Class AAAAA) state playoffs, got a lot of kids back, we have a good opportunity to win it again,” said Kenny. “Everybody else is going to have a lot coming back, but I think we’re still the favorite.”
Greenbrier opens play today against Harlem, Lakeside takes on Harlem Saturday before the county opens with a full slate of games on Tuesday.
The Knights were a perfect 9-0 against other Columbia County schools in Region 2A-AAAAA and posted a 23-6 record; the lone winning mark among the sub-region teams.
Gone however, are first team all-region players Jacob Buchanan and Damian Foreman and second teamer Matt Epps. Graduated frontcourt players Epps and Buchanan combined for over 14 rebounds-per-game and Foreman was the team’s leading scorer at 14.5 ppg.
Kenny is confident they can overcome what they lost with the players coming back, starting with their depth at the guard position, where he expects to go six or seven deep. He noted returning seniors K’lon Lovett (8.0 ppg) and Patrick Lawrence (7.5 ppg), are his top two 3-point shooters from a year ago.
“They’ve been through the battles, they’ve been through some of the tough games,” said Kenny, also mentioning Matlin Marshall (2.2 steals-per-game), Kameron Mason and Dylan Montgomery. “I think those two definitely are going to have to play well for us to do well.”
Lawrence thinks the key to their success will come on the defensive side of the ball and through hard work and determination.
“We know everyone’s gunning for us, so we have to play our best game every night,” said Lawrence.
The Knights will have a challenging nonregion schedule leading up to the region opener with Greenbrier on Tuesday, Jan.7.
They compete in three tournaments, beginning with the ABR Tip Off Tournament they play host to on Nov. 22 and 23.
Chasing after the Knights will be Grovetown (8-18), with Daniel Jordan stepping in and taking the reins from Bill Madigan, Lakeside (8-17) and Greenbrier (6-19), with the teams finishing second-through-fourth with identical 3-6 sub-region records a year ago.
In Region 3-AA, the Harlem Bulldogs return a year after going 15-15 with a trip to the GHSA Class AA Boys State basketball tournament. The state tournament apppearance was their first since 2002. Getting back was made even tougher in the offseason as they lost guard Reggie Reid, who averaged 27.0 ppg in his sophomore season while topping the 1,000-point mark for his career, who transferred to ELEV|8 Sports Institute in Delray Beach, Fla.
Augusta Christian (20-6) made it to the semifinals of the South Carolina Independent School Association tournament, lost just a few pieces and 2003 Evans grad John Harris takes over head coaching duties from Marty Griffin after being his assistant the past two years.
“We’ve got a good group of returners coming back that have been here a few years. Nick (Fortenberry) and Ashton (Grant) have been on the varsity since their freshman year,” said Harris of two of his seniors. “Jacob Greenway’s a junior, Madison (Williams) is a sophomore but he played varsity last year. We added some pieces like Jordan Dingle (transfer from South Aiken). We have quite a bit of seniors and juniors. We’re still a very experienced team. I believe we’ll make a smooth transition.”
After finishing 13-10, Augusta Prep returns the majority of its team from a year ago. They’ll have to wait for some of their players, including senior Michael Downing, who will be with the football team until after Saturday’s Glory for Christ state championship football game. In 2013, Downing led the team in scoring at 14.0 ppg and was voted Georgia Independent School Association all-state and will highlight an experienced team.