Columbia County has never been mistaken for a basketball hotbed, and that likely will not change anytime soon.
However, they are gaining a measure of respectability thanks in large part to the recent play of Kevin Kenny's Evans Knights. Last season, Evans was a solid 17-9, after a school record 24-6 showing in 2005-06.
That gives them a record of 54-17 during the past two and a half seasons, a mark just about any team in the area would love.
This season the Knights started 2-2. However, the Knights were shorthanded with several key players still playing football. Also, the two teams they lost to have a combined record of 26-1. Savannah (12-0) is ranked No. 2 in AAAAA, while Josey is 14-1 and ranked No. 10 in AA.
Since the football season came to an end the Knights have been sensational. They reeled off 11 straight wins before losing 75-64 to ARC this past weekend.
Perhaps more impressive is how dominant they have been against their county rivals. Evans is 6-0 this season versus other Columbia County schools, and during the past three seasons that mark has ballooned to 22-1.
So there is no doubt who is King of the Hill in Columbia County boys basketball.
What are the reasons for the Knights' hardwood success? Well, they are not doing it with smoke and mirrors. They do two key things that all good teams do. They play great defense and they are extremely unselfish.
As a matter of fact, the team does not really have any bona fide superstars during their incredible three-year run. Past players like Jerome Manual, Glen Miller, Brandon Durr and Hank McCladdie were all solid players, but they were not superstars.
Even this year's top player, 6-5 forward Jonathan Nicely, is not a superstar. He might be the closest thing they have had, though. So far this season the athletic Nicely has averaged 16 points and more than 8 rebounds per contest, and is a leading candidate for county player of the year honors.
However, on any given night, Deronte Williams, Tony Davis, Brandon McCladdie, or Trey Henderson could be the Knights' go-to guy.
Williams is a streaky, long-range bomber who poured in 29 points in a game earlier this season. Davis is a well put-together athlete who is among the top rebounders in the area. McCladdie is the team's top defender, but he is capable of popping in 16 or 18 points as well. And Henderson is the floor general. He is averaging more assists per game and helps to spearhead the team's defensive effort.
Then there's Direz McCleod, Derek Rodriguez, Ruben Faloughi and Troy Griffith, along with Troy Belton, Terrance Holland and Jaleel Roberts -- all of whom play key roles for Coach Kenny.
Oh, and that reminds me of Coach Kenny. He has done a remarkable job of getting his kids to get after it night in and night out.
"The kids have really bought into our system," said Kenny. "The guys just play hard and they are unselfish."
The schedule will only get tougher from here on out, but the Evans Knights have the makings of a special team.
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