This is a hoops town

The Covington News - - SPORTS -

As much as I en­joyed foot­ball sea­son for the last four months, it took me just two weeks to de­cide New­ton is a bas­ket­ball town.

As a sports re­porter in Ge­or­gia over the last seven years, I’ve learned to em­brace and en­joy foot­ball, even at the prep level. But I’ve al­ways loved bas­ket­ball so I’m glad that New­ton County’s tal­ents are so preva­lent on the hard­wood.

While all three area high schools made the play­offs this year, it was short runs for all three with New­ton, Al­covy and East­side suf­fer­ing first- round ex­its — qual­ity per­for­mances, but not ex­actly state- shat­ter­ing cam­paigns.

And to my knowl­edge, other than East­side’s re­cent success, none of the pro­grams have been re­peat foot­ball state pow­er­houses.

How­ever, on the bas­ket­ball court, New­ton has had leg­endary teams un­der a leg­endary coach and Al­covy im­pressed on both the girls’ and boys’ sides last year.

Now add in the 2012- 13 sea­son and the emer­gence of East­side and New­ton jumps onto the map

of Ge­or­gia bas­ket­ball coun­ties. Be­ing this close to At­lanta, it’s easy to over­look the area as a bas­ket­ball strong­hold. Af­ter all, look at who East­side and Al­covy faced as the play­offs stretched on last sea­son.

The Rams beat For­est Park, while Al­covy beat the For­est Park girls and fell to DeKalb County’s Miller Grove and East­side had trou­ble from westerly neigh­bors West­side, Au­gusta.

With the At­lanta and DeKalb ar­eas pro­vid­ing some of the state’s best teams and na­tion­wide top re­cruits, look just a lit­tle fur­ther and you’ll find the same in New­ton.

On the girls’ side, Al­covy, which is 5- 2 this sea­son has four straight wins, af­ter fall­ing in back- to- back games in its own Thanks­giv­ing Clas­sic.

The Lady Tigers started the sea­son ranked in the state by Score At­lanta and has two play­ers who will play in the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence next sea­son.

Mea­gan Tucker ( go­ing to Auburn) and Ash­ley Wil­liams ( Alabama) helped lead Al­covy to a 27- 5 sea­son last year, fin­ish­ing with a loss to the state cham­pi­ons in the fi­nal four, and are look­ing to do so again this sea­son.

On the boys’ side, Al­covy reached the elite eight in 2011- 12 and have had plenty of tal­ent coming through the pro­gram over the last cou­ple of years.

This year, the Tigers are 1- 4 with a bulk of their sea­son still coming.

New­ton and East­side have both had strong starts to their sea­sons with each team open­ing with four straight wins. Since then, East­side has lost two out of three games to past play­off teams and East­side beat Mon­roe Area 66- 59 Satur­day.

The Rams and Ea­gles have plenty of tal­ent on both sides with fu­ture col­lege play­ers Rashard Ca­bane, Ro­dar­ius Mitchel, Jalen Glover, Quin­dar­rious Rus­sell, Treyvon Fran­cis, An­thony Hen­der­son and oth­ers show­ing their skills this year.

Not only that, but sup­port has been strong for both pro­grams, which will meet in one gym Satur­day in a game which is shap­ing up to be the best of the early sea­son for both clubs. Sure, both East­side and New­ton play in dif­fer­ent re­gions, but have both showed a high­level of bas­ket­ball.

New­ton has al­ways done things the right way since the days of coach Bradley, who has passed on his win­ning tra­di­tion to Rick Ras­mussen.

Ras­mussen has his guys tak­ing charges, work­ing hard, hit­ting free throws and play­ing de­fense, giv­ing up 42 points per game.

Since tak­ing over be­fore the 2011- 12 sea­son, East­side coach Greg Free­man has the Ea­gles work­ing harder than they ever had in prac­tice, and it has shown so far this year. East­side is scor­ing 64.8 points a game, and mov­ing the ball around enough to re­mind its coach of an NBA team.

The Ea­gles are also boast­ing pos­si­bly the state’s top scorer in Rus­sell, who seem­ingly is mak­ing ev­ery shot.

The hard work dis­played by both of th­ese teams is what is mak­ing this a suc­cess­ful sea­son. Sure the wins are coming faster than Rus­sell’s next points, but it’s the way the Rams and Ea­gles are do­ing it that leads me to be­lieve that New­ton County knows how to play.

Ev­ery area has tal­ented ath­letes but it’s the fact that those ath­letes know that hard work makes them bet­ter which makes the area stronger in a sport.

While I was in Val­dosta, which is known as one of the coun­try’s top foot­ball ar­eas, I no­ticed it wasn’t just that the ath­letes thought they should play foot­ball, it was the fact that they thought they should play win­ning foot­ball.

The same seems to be hap­pen­ing here on the bas­ket­ball court.

Look at East­side as the prime ex­am­ple. The Ea­gles haven’t had a win­ning sea­son since 2004- 05 and the year be­fore Free­man took over, won just eight games.

But the new coach ex­plained that the area is about win­ning bas­ket­ball, and with a lit­tle hard work, it could be a three- team town, as far as boys’ bas­ket­ball goes. That’s ex­actly what things ap­pear to be as the re­gion por­tions of each team’s sched­ules be­gin to heat up.

And as if Christ­mas comes a lit­tle early this sea­son, New­ton County should be in for a treat as East­side and New­ton puts the area’s best bas­ket­ball on dis­play Satur­day. And for this county, its best bas­ket­ball is among the state’s best bas­ket­ball.


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