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Chee hoops end summer spectacularly

POSTED: June 21, 2014 12:00 p.m.
Adam Wynn/Barrow County News

Apalachee Wildcat Shane Burnett goes up for a shot during Tuesday's win over Oconee County.

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The Wildcats are coming off an exceptionally successful season, having finished second in the Region 8-AAAAA men’s basketball tournament and grabbing a spot in the playoffs, and they show no signs of slowing down during the summer.

“We’re pretty pleased with the way everything’s gone,” head coach for Apalachee’s men’s basketball team Kevin Morris said. 

With the completion of Thursday night’s summer series, the Apalachee men’s basketball team finished up the air-conditioned ball season with a 21-2 record.

Apalachee defeated North Oconee on Monday afternoon in a rematch from the 2013 East Jackson Christmas tournament’s title game before facing Mill Creek that night. On the second day of the four-day session, hosted partially by Apalachee, the Wildcats jumped all over East Hall and Oconee County. 

The Cats then took down Jefferson and Hebron Christian Academy on Wednesday to finish day three undefeated in the first six games. They would capture the seventh game Thursday afternoon with a win over Newton.

They nearly escaped the summer with just one loss and the eight-game marathon week undefeated, but Apalachee’s final opponent of the summer would not let go without a fight as the Cats dropped their Thursday night game to Athens Christian Academy.

“They always bring in really good talent,” Morris alluded.

Bringing in really good talent is simpler for some schools than others, of course, as Athens Christian Academy can pull from more than just their immediate geographic district. It is this simple fact that forced GHSA to split Class-A into private and public factions starting with the 2012-13 academic year.

The debate about recruiting in private schools and what kind of advantage that creates has been raging for almost as long as high school sports have been around, though, and the accusations are nothing new. While public schools can receive sanctions and penalties for bringing in players from outside the district, private schools are built on the idea that anyone from anywhere can enroll and, therefore, play ball.

“You’re playing the best team money can buy. You’re playing against a team that recruits all their players, so they have a little bit of an advantage over us,” Morris stated, while also acknowledging Athens Christian’s recent accomplishments in basketball.

“They’ve got a really good team,” Morris conceded.

Athens Christian Academy has played in the Class-A Private semifinals for the last two years, ever since the classification was divided as such, and made an appearance in the final state title game as a unified class to finish the 2011-12 season where they lost to Whitefield Academy 73-50. Whitefield, another private school, has been in the Class-A state finals for two of the last three years. In 2010-11, Whitefield put Athens Christian out in the second round before themselves losing in the state semifinals. 

Although Apalachee would have rather won their final game of the summer workouts, Morris knows that the summer is not lost just because of one game. He also knows that the upcoming season is not won in the summer, but Morris recognizes that the 2014-15 Wildcats will have a few advantages.

“The biggest positive is coming in with an experienced basketball team,” Morris pointed out. “You return four starters, and if somebody does something to us, I can kind of yell out things and we can make adjustments, and they understand what we’re trying to do.”

One of the best experiences of the summer in Morris’ mind was when a few of his varsity starters had the opportunity to coach JV games. 

“We went so far as having Kamar and Alantae and Shane Burnett and some other kids, they even coached the JV teams. We allowed them to coach a few games for the JV this summer because they did understand things,” Morris explained.

While some would look at a JV game coached by varsity players as a conceded game, Morris looked at it as a valuable teaching tool, while also giving his players a chance to feel winning from that side of the bench.

“We had one game that came down to the last seven seconds and we got the ball under our net,” Morris narrated. “Kamar or Alantae one, somebody drew up a play that got us a wide open shot. We missed the shot, but their understanding of where the shots need to come from and who needs to take them and that kind of thing, it shows that their understanding of the game is getting a lot better. That’s probably the most positive.”

While Apalachee just lost one starter from the stellar 2013-14 team as three-point master Joey German graduated, the bench is not fully stocked in a different regard.

“We return four starters and everybody looks at that, but the thing we really lost was Jody Mathis, who was the first player off the bench, and Peter Mitrik who was the next guy off the bench and Kintavious Merritt who was the next player off the bench,” Morris listed. 

“People say, ‘You’re returning four starters,’ but we also lost four out of the top eight, and so the way that we want to play and the speed that we want to play, we need to find some people who are going to step up and fill those spots that are obviously important to the way we want to play.”

While the starting line will be mostly the same as last year, without any semblance of reliable depth, Apalachee will have a hard time running the full-court press and aggressive play in the lanes that made them so successful last season.

“We can’t play five people and press the whole game and do what we like to do. We really have to find a few people who are going to be able to fill those roles of Jody and Peter and Kintavious that they left,” Morris noted.

For Apalachee, the offseason will be a matter of reloading in a different capacity. The starters are mostly set, except for that crucial fifth spot, but the most important battle in Morris’ eyes is the one for sixth, seventh and eighth. If anyone can prove themselves to be a reliable bench player, they have a spot on Morris’ roster.

 

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