Woodland (26-3), which narrowly missed out on the state playoffs last season, made its first trip to the Georgia High School Association boys basketball tournament since the 2005-06 season. The Wildcats opened the season with an 18-game winning streak and were ranked No. 4 by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. They finally lost a week before their heavily anticipated matchup with Chattahoochee but still managed to beat the Cougars on Jan. 28. Woodland, which closed the regular season on a seven-game winning streak, took the regular-season crown in Region 7-AAAA, but fell in a rematch with Chattahoochee in the region tournament championship. With the No. 2 seed in the state playoffs, the Wildcats were pitted against a difficult first-round opponent in the third-seeded Rockdale County Bulldogs, who went on to win the game 77-73. Even a hard-to-swallow exit couldn’t damper what Woodland accomplished this season — the most regular season home victories (13), most wins in a season, fewest losses in a season and an undefeated regular-season road record (11-0).
Like the Wildcats, Cartersville (15-8) also made a return to the state playoffs — for the first time since 2009-10 — where they suffered a 62-52 loss at North Hall. The Purple Hurricanes had last year’s win total matched by their fifth game, during a 4-1 start, but then endured a three-game losing streak — which began with a tournament loss in Rome to Woodland. Cartersville eventually pulled itself together and was playing some of the hottest basketball in the area — nine wins in 11 games — heading into the Region 7-AAA tournament. The Canes finished in third place at the region tournament, setting up their first-round matchup.
Cartersville — as well as the Wildcats — may have been able to close the deal to make the state playoffs, but two other local teams finished one game shy of the all-important tournament. Cass (14-13) and Excel Christian Academy (14-12) lost in the quarterfinals of the Region 7-AAAA and Region 6-A tournaments, respectively — just missing out on a top-four region spot.
The Colonels had plenty of firepower to replace with four starters gone from last year’s second-round state playoff team. Cass, however, remained a credible possibility to make the state playoffs, even after ending the regular season on a three-game losing streak. The Colonels rebounded to win 71-55 against Johns Creek in the first round of the region tournament, but lost 67-54 to Chattahoochee to bring their season to an end.
The Eagles received a bye in their region tournament and lost in their lone tournament outing, a 67-42 defeat to region rival Mount Paran Christian. The loss ended one of the more remarkable seasons in Excel history. The Eagles won their second-most games in a season and also enjoyed their longest winning streak — seven games — under their first-year coach. They also beat Gordon Lee for the first time.
If the aforementioned four local teams were examples of teams putting it together and making their best bids for the state playoffs, then Adairsville (8-16) represented a team clearly capable of great things that just never seemed to manifest. The Tigers had good wins during the season — over Model and River Ridge, for example — but could never properly peak for a state playoff run. In two and a half months, Adairsville managed consecutive wins twice — a pair of wins both times. The Tigers season concluded in the 7A-AA sub-region tournament with a loss to Pepperell.
These were the stories of the local teams during the 2011-12 season. Now, here are the stories of some of the players who made up those teams. Below are members of The Daily Tribune News All-County Boys Basketball Team.
PF Mason Butt, Excel — Butt, a senior, was an unbelievable vocal leader during practice and in games, coach Jon-Michael Nickerson said. He led by example with hustle and intensity every day of practice. The 6-foot-4 forward showed tenacity on defense in the post, even with him being undersized in every game — which was really impressive to watch, Nickerson added. Butt was the most valuable guy on a team that compiled the second-most wins in Eagles basketball history. Butt averaged 10 points, seven rebounds and three steals per game.
C Zach Coker, Adairsville — The 6-9 senior center averaged 9.5 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks per game this season. Coach Jacob Travis said Coker’s height allowed the Tigers to stay competitive in a tough sub-region, 7A-AA, without much experience in the frontcourt. An improved offensive threat, Coker was a continual game changer with his length around the basket; for every block he had, his length probably forced several more bad shots from opponents.
G/F J.R. Davis, Cartersville — A prime reason for the Canes’ 11-win improvement, Davis returned to his team’s lineup after missing the second half of last season — to the dread of Cartersville’s foes. Many a defender was rocked back and forth by Davis’s crossover this year, only to see the 5-8 senior wingman rise up for a hard-to-contest jump shot. He led a four-guard Canes offense that had the ability to put up points in a hurry. Davis scored a team- and county-high 20 points per game and hauled in eight rebounds per game thanks to his incredible leaping ability. Toss in his five steals per game and it’s easy to see why Davis was the motor on a high-octane team that made its return to the state playoffs after a two-year hiatus.
PG Ryan Davis, Cartersville — The Canes had more than one key Davis on their team as demonstrated by their sophomore point guard, who was injured during the Rome News-Tribune Holiday Festival — a setback that promptly sent Cartersville on its only losing streak of the season, a three-game skid. When the 6-0 Davis returned, everything aligned perfectly for the Canes who watched as J.R. Davis relinquished the bulk of the ballhandling duties, allowing Ryan Davis to run the offense and find ways to get the ball to the explosive scorer. On the season, Ryan Davis averaged 13 points, six rebounds and two steals per game and often made the right decision at the right time.
G/F Tony Mitchell, Cass — The Colonels managed to stay afloat during Mitchell’s absence — he missed seven games at the beginning of the season — but they were a much better team with the senior guard in the lineup. Mitchell, a superb sixth man, gave Cass an extra perimeter defender as well as an additional ballhandler and shooter — not to mention a veteran presence. Mitchell was one of the few players on the team with state playoff experience, and he nearly helped them make a return. In the first round of the Region 7-AAAA tournament, the 5-10 player sparked his team to a win over Johns Creek before it lost to state-ranked Chattahoochee in the quarterfinals. Mitchell averaged 12.3 points in 20 games and scored a season-high 24 points against Sequoyah.
F Greg Murphy, Woodland — The ceiling for Murphy remains high, and if this past season is any indication, the 6-4 forward — introduced during Wildcat games as Greg “Cleared For Takeoff” Murphy — will scale future heights with little trouble. Murphy led the team in points (465), rebounds (242) and blocked shots (32) — averages of 16, 8.3 and 1.1, respectively — and solidified himself as one of the players to watch in the area. An All-Region 7-AAAA first-team member, Murphy also was the MVP of the Rome News-Tribune Holiday Festival in December and was selected to the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association Junior All-Star Game. He finished second on the team in efficiency (452) and free throw percentage (66.7). Coach Mike Tobin said that Murphy, a skywalker, had several plays designed for him to finish at the rim with an alley-oop dunk. He completed one such in play in the first round of the state playoffs. “[He is an] excellent player who improved greatly over the past three seasons,” Tobin said. “[He] has interest from several Division I schools.”
G/F Zeke Reed, Cass — A joy to watch shoot for local fans, Reed had one of the more textbook releases. The 6-0 senior knocked down a bevy of shots for the Colonels throughout the season, often with players draped all over him. Even with the increased attention, Reed had to produce for Cass to be successful, and he came through more often than not. He was the leading 3-point shooter for the team and also led in points with 14.3 per game. Reed, who often had to defend against a quicker guard, scored a season-high 30 points against Southeast Whitfield in November.
F Kadeem Sutton, Cass — Early on Sutton delivered one of the more indelible images from the past basketball season as his turnaround jumper at the buzzer knocked off crosstown rival Cartersville in December. Sutton didn’t have another more dramatic finish, but his play continued to stoke the Colonels’ fire as the team came within one game of returning to the state playoffs — despite losing the majority of its starting five from a year ago. Sutton — who had a season-high 34 points against Rutland on Dec. 28 — was a key reason for that. The 6-1 senior averaged 13.8 points per game in 25 contests. Sutton also was Cass’s leading rebounder.
G Brandon Thompson, Woodland — If the other team had a great perimeter scoring threat, chances are he would see plenty of the 6-1 Thompson — and chances are he wouldn’t like it very much. Thompson, a senior, was the Wildcats’ defensive specialist and helped spearhead a defense that allowed the fewest points per game in the region. He had 58 steals during the season and provided enough offense to nearly average double figures — 9.6 points per game. “Brandon had energy and enthusiasm that helped [us] have an outstanding season,” Mike Tobin said. “He almost always was assigned to guard the opponent’s best offensive player.”
G Corey Tobin, Woodland — A dead-eye shooter from deep in his debut high school season, Tobin added layers to his game in Year 2, easily avoiding a sophomore slump by averaging 13.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.9 blocks and 2.7 steals per game. Tobin, an All-Region 7-AAAA second-team selection, led the team in steals (77), efficiency (467), free throw percentage (70.8, 92 out of 130), and 3-pointers made (64). He was second on the team in rebounds (164), assists (75) and blocked shots (26). The 6-4 Tobin averaged 17.6 points per game in his last 10 games, and one of his best games of the season came against Cass when he notched a double-double with 28 points and 11 rebounds. Mike Tobin described his son as an “outstanding player who has a strong work ethic and commitment to improve, a well-rounded player who is an excellent perimeter shooter and passer as well as having a knack to be around the ball defensively.”
PG R.J. Williams, Woodland — No guard around quite ran the show like this junior floor leader. “[Having] R.J. is like having another coach on the floor,” Mike Tobin said, noting that Williams is a true point guard. “He did an exceptional job as the Wildcat point guard the past two seasons.” The 5-10 Williams, who had a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, led the team in assists with 116 — four per game — and averaged 8.2 points per game. He was second on the team in steals (69) and third on the team in efficiency (349). Even with all that to boot, Williams isn’t devoid of scoring ability as he demonstrated in a narrow defeat in the state playoffs. In that game he scored 24 points — half in the final quarter — and added four steals, three assists and 4-of-5 shooting from the 3-point line.
SG Elijah Windom, Cartersville — Windom, a transfer from Cass, was one of those players who could be quite scary when he got it going. Though J.R. Davis may have been the Canes’ go-to scorer, Windom could ignite offensively nearly as easily. Against Armuchee, the 6-0 senior scored 12 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter of an 81-76 Cartersville victory. Toward the latter part of the season, Windom spent some time near the post area to help create more space in the Canes’ guard-heavy attack. It paid dividends as Cartersville won 10 of its last 12 regular-season games, eventually making it to the state playoffs as the third seed out of Region 7-AAA. Windom, a good defender, had a hand in that. He averaged 12 points, seven rebounds and two steals per game.
HONORABLE MENTION — Adairsville: Austin Harrell, Roderic King; Cartersville: LaTerry Hardy, Devin O’Connor, Dalven Penn; Cass: Najae Jackson, Drew McKaig, Jozelle Payne; Excel: Zach daCamara, D.J. Garnigan; Woodland: Deo Adams, Xavier Niblet, Chandler Royal.