The story of the 2016-17 basketball season was the outstanding season turned in by Lakeside. The Panthers, under first-year head coach Jeff Williams, set numerous school records. They won 21 games, finished a perfect 10-0 in region play, and captured the Region 3-AAAAAA Title.
Unfortunately, they were upset by Valdosta in the opening round of the state tournament, 56-55, but it was still an exciting year for Lakeside fans.
We also got to see arguably the best group of underclassmen in county history in juniors Eric Graham (Grovetown and Ryan Jolley (Augusta Prep), along with sophomores Kalen Williams (Lakeside), Richard Crawford (Greenbrier) and Nate Dunlop (Augusta Christian). It will be a lot of fun to watch this group over the next couple of seasons.
As for this season, here is a look at the top performers with the 2016-17 All-Columbia County Boys Basketball Team:
Eric Marshall Player of the Year Award: Deon Berrien, Kre'Sean Hall, Kalen Williams (Lakeside) - This was tough. Nate Dunlop led the county in scoring with more than 27 points per game. Augusta Prep's Ryan Jolly was equally effective this season, but in the end I looked back to Lakeside. How do you pick between their top three players Kre'Sean Hall, Deon Berrien, and Kalen Williams? Lakeside does not have 20 wins without any of them. Hall and Berrien got a lot of attention this season, which they deserved, but I felt some people forgot just how important Williams is for Lakeside. In the end it was just too difficult to put one over the other when it came to the Panthers' talented trio. They combined for 44 points and 25 rebounds per game. Berrien provided scoring, rebounding, was great on the break, and could swat shots when needed. Hall seemed to rise to the occasion in big spots and gave Lakeside a great additional rebounder. Williams ran the show for LHS and was a super-efficient scorer. The bottom line: this trio of players was each deserving of the top spot, so they will share the honor this season.
Coach of the Year: Jeff Williams (Lakeside) - Granted, he was left a pretty good squad by previous coach Jody Hilley, but it is hard to argue with the results Williams posted with the Panthers this season. LHS finished 21-5 and went 10-0 in region play. They also captured the Region 3-AAAAAA Tournament title. And, for those who felt they had an easy region schedule, keep in mind, they also beat Laney, Josey, Glenn Hills, Midland Valley and Effingham County. The Panthers beat a very good Heritage team three times and won 19 of their final 21 games.
First Team: Richard Crawford (Soph., Guard/Greenbrier) - Averaged 14.1 points, 4.2 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game. Also emerged as an elite defender, averaging 2.1 steals and shutting down some of the area's top opposing guards. Earned First Team All-Region Honors. This gym rat will continue to get better.
Nate Dunlop (Soph., Forward/Augusta Christian) - Dunlop is 6′5,″ and while he is comfortable playing guard, coach Charles Welch moved him inside much more this season, and the move was perfect for the young scoring machine. He averaged a county-best 27.6 points per contest to go with 7.2 rebounds per game. He has already eclipsed 1,000 points in just two seasons for the Lions. He was a First Team, All-Region choice and finished third in SCISA 3-AAA Player of the Year voting.
Ryan Jolly (Junior, Guard/Augusta Prep) - Really fun to watch play. Has a high basketball IQ and is a solid all-around player. Averaged 23 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks per game. Was named All-Region and All-State this season. He is being recruited by numerous college programs and that list will only continue to grow.
Eric Graham (Junior, Guard/Grovetown) - Graham is a big-time scorer with virtually unlimited range as a shooter. He averaged more than 22 points per game during region play, including a 34-point effort versus Heritage. Was named First Team, All-Region.
Deon Berrien (Senior, Forward/Lakeside) - Terrific athlete with an excellent motor. Averaged 14.2 points per contest and led the county in rebounding at 11.3 a clip. Was voted First Team, All-Region. Piled up 14 double-doubles on the season, including 27 points and 14 rebounds in a win over Laney and 24 points and 16 boards in a victory over Grovetown.
Kre'Sean Hall (Senior. G-F/Lakeside) - After struggling to find his role a little last season, Hall had no such trouble this year. He averaged 12.8 points and more than 9 rebounds per game. He was the Region 3-AAAAAA Player of the Year and was Lakeside's most consistent performer in the postseason.
Kalen Williams (Soph, Guard/Lakeside) - Already a two-year starter for the Panthers, Williams is one of the CSRA's finest guards. He led the Panthers in scoring at 16.4 points per game, despite taking fewer than 10 shots per game. He also chipped in with 4.2 rebounds and 3 assists per outing. He shot 56 percent from 2-point range, 41 percent from 3-point range, and 78 percent from the free-throw line. He scored 29 points on two occasions while attempting only 8 and 10 shots, respectively, in those two games.
Second Team: Kyle Driscoll (Junior, Forward/Evans) - One of the best low-post players in the county. Named First Team, All-Region. Great rebounder and a solid free-throw shooter. Averaged 12.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.
Austin Canady (Junior, Guard/Greenbrier) - Emerged as an excellent scoring threat averaging 14.2 points per game, including a season high of 31 versus Alcovy. Made 55 three pointers.
David Harris (Senior, Forward/Greenbrier) - Solid all-around performer. Three-year captain and starter for the Pack. Drew more than 3 charges per contest.
Jalen Nealious (Senior, Guard/Lakeside) - Tremendous athlete who was all over the floor for the Panthers. Averaged 9.4 points per game and was outstanding on defense as well.
Miles Downing (Senior, Forward/Augusta Prep) - Two-time All-Region selection. Averaged more than 12 points and 9 rebounds per game. Also averaged 3 assists and 2 steals per contest.
Manny Bryson (Junior, Guard/Grovetown) - Excellent defender who led the Warriors in steals and deflections. Averaged 9 points and more than 5 rebounds per game in region games, including a career-high 27 versus Evans.
Cameron Cabbarus (Soph, Guard/Evans) - Go-to scorer for the Knights. Had several big games this season. Has an excellent future for the Black and Gold. Led Knights in scoring at 13.5 points per game.
Honorable Mention: Evans: Serron Spann (Jr./Guard)
Grovetown: Nick Tolbert (Jr./Guard), Kalei Watson (Jr./Forward), D'Angelo Durham (Jr./Forward)
Harlem: Fernando Wicker (Sr./ Guard), Robert Jones (Jr./Guard), Jerrod Harris (Jr./Forward), Matt Barrs (Sr./Center)
Lakeside: Brad Hilley (Jr./Guard), Tucker Gilbert (Jr./Center)
Augusta Prep: Tej Patel (Jr./Forward), Will Dorn (Jr./Guard)