However, looking beyond only state berths would reveal an improvement by just about every team in the county.
The Colonels (21-9), who were bolstered by a starting lineup with four seniors and a relentless fast-break game, improved by only one win, but what a difference that one win made as Cass finished third in Region 7-AAAA and was able to advance into the second round of state, where it lost to eventual Class AAAA runner-up Rockdale County.
Much like the Colonels, Woodland (16-9) earned themselves a first-round bye in the Region 7-AAAA tournament and needed one win to move on to state, but suffered a mild upset to Creekview, which hosted the tournament. Even with that loss, the Wildcats exceeded the previous year’s win total by six games and have enough talent returning to find themselves in a similar position next year.
Another team that improved considerably was Adairsville, which went from five wins last season to a 13-12 mark in 2010-11. The Tigers were one and done in the Region 7-AA tournament, but they were a tough unit all season, rarely surrendering a game without a fight.
Excel Christian (9-16) also took steps forward following a year where it finished with five wins. The Eagles got good leadership from their older players and came within a game of qualifying for state, beating Mount Zion-Carroll before losing to North Cobb Christian, the eventual Region 6-A champion which was in the midst of a season-long 20-game win streak that did not end until a loss to Whitefield Academy in the Elite Eight.
The only county team that struggled much more than it did in its 2009-10 season was the Purple Hurricanes (4-17). Cartersville won nine fewer games this season, although a number of close losses contributed further to its overall record. The Canes can look on the bright side for next year: a number of players got extended playing time throughout the season. On the not so bright side, though, the heart and soul of this year’s team will no longer be on the court.
Below is The Daily Tribune News’ All-County Boys Basketball Team for 2010-11.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR — Jay Stephens, Cass, Sr., G: As deep and talented as the Colonels basketball team was, it seemed to be at its best when the 6-foot Stephens was slashing to the basket and creating opportunities for a Cass team that had four players average 9 or more points per game. Stephens, a two-year starter, was the Colonels’ primary ball handler and had the ability to blow by defenders and finish at the rim. He averaged a team-high 11.5 points per game. Stephens also was the leading rebounder amongst Cass guards.
Talique Cochran, Cartersville, Sr., G: No coach may have been more forthcoming than the Purple Hurricanes’ Dennis Godfrey who let it be known prior to the season that Cartersville would go as its senior point guard went. Cochran carried the mantle throughout for a relatively inexperienced team, registering team-highs in points (11.2), rebounds (8), steals (5) and assists (3.2). After making it to the state playoffs in 2009-10, the Canes missed out this season, but Cochran lent his leadership despite a difficult season. Although Cartersville managed just four wins, it lost seven games by 7 points or less, and Cochran had plenty to do with that as he supplied constant toughness. In his final prep game against LaFayette in the first round of the Region 7-AAA tournament, Cochran turned in his own personal “flu game” — like a famous No. 23 once did — as the 5-foot-10-inch guard scored 18 points even after dropping close to 15 pounds the week before due to the flu.
Tarris Batiste, Cass, Sr., G: A four-year member of the Colonels, Batiste could be counted on to come up with the right play at the right moment as was the case when he drained a 3-pointer to help finish off Cartersville during the second half of the season. Batiste, a team captain and three-year starter, flourished in leading Cass’ fast breaks — which the Colonels thrived on — usually because of his play on the defensive end. In a must-win region tournament game, the 6-foot-1 guard came up with a key defensive steal, coming around to knock away an entry pass to the much bigger Taylor Shropshire (6 foot 4) of Rome. Batiste averaged 9.8 points and shot 60 percent from the free-throw line. He was named to the 7-AAAA All-Region Second Team.
Joe West, Excel, Sr., F: Aside from perhaps Cochran, no other player in the county had to shoulder as much of their team’s scoring burden as the Eagles’ 6-foot-2 forward. West handled that responsibility quite well, leading his team in points with 17.6 as Excel almost doubled its win total from a year ago. Toward the end of the basketball season, particularly in the Region 6-A playoffs, Eagles coach Gary Boulier Jr. said West carried the team as he averaged 26 points in his final three prep games and 28.5 during the playoffs, which included a 30-point effort in a 63-51 victory over Mount Zion-Carroll. West also averaged 9.2 rebounds, another team-high.
Trey Walker, Cass, Sr., F: Walker gave 110 percent in the hustle department, which is a lot of hustle for a player that started all 30 games. A four-year member of the Colonels team, he was the leading post defender and ran the floor well on the break, not to mention Walker contained a nice mid-range jumper in his arsenal. The 6-foot forward averaged 9.4 points per game.
Corey Fuleki, Adairsville, Sr., C: At 6-foot-4, Fuleki seemed rather nimble for a man his size. The all-county offensive lineman led the Tigers in points (19) and rebounds (6). The two-year starter’s points-per-game average also led the county. “His ability to shoot outside as well as play inside made him one of the tougher players to defend, night in and night out, in the area,” Adairsville coach Jacob Travis said.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR — R.J. Williams, Woodland, So., G: Unflappable with the ball, the 5-foot-8 Williams provided what is needed from a point guard as he led the Wildcats in assist-to-turnover ratio. He also led the team in steals with 51 and field goals made with 83. On six occasions, Williams was tops in scoring for Woodland, including a big offensive game against Rome in the Rome News-Tribune Holiday Festival, where he scored 15 points in the finals and made the all-tournament team. Williams was the Northwest Georgia Tip-Off Club Player of the Month for Woodland in December and was a scholar athlete (90 average or above during the season).
SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR — Greg Murphy, Woodland, So., F: Hard to imagine that Murphy impacted the game as much as he did as an underclassmen who came off the bench, but the 6-foot-4 forward easily ranked among the top players in the Wildcats’ lengthy rotation. Murphy led the team in scoring (218 points), rebounds (111), blocked shots (26) and made free throws (40). He also had the team’s highest free-throw percentage and led Woodland in scoring five times.
Sam Taylor, Cass, Sr., G: The 5-foot-10 Taylor was the leading 3-point shooter for the Colonels, which included some lights-out shooting in the season’s most important month — February. He helped his team qualify for the state tournament with a third-place finish in the Region 7-AAAA tournament and then gave his team the winning basket — a 3-pointer, of course — in its 59-58 road win vs. Chapel Hill in the first round of the state tournament. Taylor, a great perimeter defender, had a 9.1 points-per-game average and shot 63 percent from the free-throw line. He started all 30 of Cass’ games.
Seth Curlee, Excel, Sr., G: Curlee gave the Eagles another big-time scorer to go along with West. The 6-foot, knock-down shooter put up 15.6 points per game and provided good defense as well, averaging 2.3 steals. In a February win over Tallulah Falls, Curlee finished with 22 points, tossing in six 3-pointers. In addition to his outside shooting, Curlee played some point guard and showed no fear in attacking the basket when looking to give his team a scoring boost.
Daryel Morris, Woodland, Sr., G: Probably the county’s most electrifying dunker — he won the Meet the Wildcats slam dunk contest and had three great dunks on Senior Night vs. South Forsyth — the 6-foot-1 Morris was selected Woodland’s Most Valuable Player for the 2010-11 season. He made the 7-AAAA All-Region Second Team and was Woodland’s player of the month in January for the Northwest Georgia Tip-Off Club. In the Wildcats’ win over Rome in the championship game of the Rome News-Tribune Holiday Festival Tournament, Morris poured in 13 points on his way to tournament MVP honors.
Zach Coker, Adairsville, Jr., C: Not easily lost on the court, with his 6-foot-9 frame and red hair, Coker was recognizable for more than just his height or auburn-colored mane. The Tigers junior put up averages of 9 points, 5.6 rebounds and a whopping 4 blocks per game. Coker emerged as a force around the basket in several games, most noticeably in a 17-point performance against rival Calhoun, a 50-49 overtime win for Adairsville.
Honorable mention: Adairsville — Thomas Belk, Desmond Chester; Cartersville — Devin O’Connor; Cass — Tony Mitchell, Jozelle Payne; Excel — Zach daCamara, D.J. Garnigan, Greg Gore; Woodland — Cameron Mayweather, Isaiah Niblet, Xavier Niblet, Chandler Royal, Adam Tobin, Corey Tobin.