The Thanksgiving holiday held special meaning for some Columbia County high school basketball coaches. This season the turkeys were on their plates, not on their teams.
Of the five Georgia area players to watch in 2002-03, as spotlighted in the recent Augusta Chronicle high school basketball preview section, three were Columbia County standouts - John Harris (Evans), Eric Marshall (Greenbrier) and Matt Scott (Lakeside).
"Nobody is going to take Columbia County basketball for granted this year," Evans coach Kevin Kenny said. "We have some quality players. We play good basketball out here."
Among private schools, Augusta Christian has a reputation as a basketball powerhouse, but this season Augusta Prep may make a move - before the Thanksgiving break, the Cavaliers won the Oak Mountain Tournament in Atlanta to improve to 3-1 under first-year head coach Kevin Furtado.
" We won on the road, and played two good teams. It was a confidence builder for our program," Furtado said. "We've been using a lot of players, and everyone has a particular role."
Along with the solid play of returning starters Patrick Welch and Kyle Arrington, the Cavs have been bolstered by the addition of former home-school players Mark Grayson and Glenn Miller. Freshman Mike Smith also has come on strong for Prep.
All in all, it's shaping up to be a merry Christmas and a happy new year for the local squads.
"In past years, Columbia County has had some good players, but this season we have a supporting cast to go with the stars," Greenbrier coach Garrett Black said.
Black is in his first season as the Wolfpack's head coach, and his squad opened the season with four straight wins.
"I think the most important thing for our program was after we lost to Butler in the region tournament last year," Black said of the narrow defeat that denied the Pack a first-ever trip to the state tournament.
"The kids were crying. You could look at them and tell they believed we were good enough to go to state. We have just about all of them back this year, and I know they believe we're in the top four in our region, and that's a big difference."
The Thanksgiving break turned out to be a bit different than Coach Kenny expected - Evans received a late invitation to the Thanksgiving Basketball Classic, held last Friday and Saturday at Richmond Academy.
"They had a team from Florida drop out, and we were asked to play," Kenny said. "It was great exposure for us. Things worked out great, and I think we played pretty well."
The Knights dropped their opener to Richmond Academy, then picked up a victory over Laney to finish 1-1 in the 10-team tournament.
"We've been one of the better teams in the area the past few years, but nobody knows about us because we play in Atlanta," Kenny said. "I think we earned some respect from the teams in the tournament. They've already invited us back to play next year."
Making an initial appearance in the Thanksgiving Classic was a bonus for Kenny, who earned his 100th career win earlier in the week against Harlem.
This week's prep basketball action on Friday includes Lakeside at Evans, Westside at Harlem, and Aquinas at Greenbrier; Saturday's schedule is Lithonia at Evans, Lakeside at South Aiken, Harlem at Greenbrier and Hilton Head Academy at Augusta Prep.
Augusta Christian and Augusta Prep will compete in the Garden City Classic, which will be Thursday through Saturday at AC and Curtis Baptist.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.