CULLMAN COUNTY – This is the time area high school basketball programs have been waiting for. The start of the 2016-17 Alabama High School Athletic Association season.
Prep teams have been on the practice floor since Oct. 17. Three weeks later, they are eager to get out there where it officially counts with eight of the nine teams in the county to tip off the season this week.
There will be a lot of different looks in county varsity basketball. Some outstanding players such as Seth Swalve and Gage Goodwin of Cullman, Xavier Malcom of Hanceville and Triston Chambers and Josh Freeman of Cold Springs graduated and are now in collegiate programs.
Rosters will be very different as the coaches were given a good month during the summer to play in as many team camps (or also known as play days) during June.
Vinemont is the first to play in area hoops. The Eagles host a Tip-Off Tournament Monday and welcome West Point to campus on Thursday.
Coach Todd Johnson’s squad will be led by seniors Garrett Boland, Jaython Blanton, Seth Campbell and Andrew Rutherford. The Eagles have four sophomores on the opening night roster and freshman Carter Johnson.
Cullman will have a different look when the Bearcats open the season Tuesday at Decatur. Coach Bobby Meyer has limited experience returning, with Reese Harbison, Fletcher Jennings, Drew Morton and Dylan Finch. Sophomore Cooper Beck and freshmen Noah Bussman and Jayden Sullins are on the varsity roster and eager to show what they can bring to the hardwood.
The Bearcats are scheduled to play Hartselle Friday at Cullman, but it is probable the game will be rescheduled, with Hartselle in the second round of the AHSAA football playoffs.
Fairview's second year under the direction of Eddie Groves sends the Aggies to Arab Tuesday for the opener. The Aggies lost leading scorer Austin Fletcher to graduation. They do have personnel that played last year back in junior center Truman Boyd, senior guard Tyler Ball and senior guard Sam Elrod.
St. Bernard had an incredible 2015-16 season, but will be a younger team after four seniors including point guard Dean Smith and forward Evan Aldredge graduated.
The Saints meet Athens Bible School Tuesday at the Fazi-Richard Athletic Center and get Southeastern at home Thursday night.
Junior guard Christian Peterson is the lone starter back for Greg Boatright, now in his third season at the prep school. The Saints have six juniors, two sophomores, two freshmen and one senior to go with Peterson's experience.
Hanceville visits Fairview Thursday for its opener. Coach Daniel Wakefield will have to count on the play of Luke Duffie in the post with Kaine Yates to be counted on in the forward position as well.
For West Point, the Warriors visit Vinemont Thursday for their first assignment of the new season. Coach Randy Jones has to find a weapon to make up for Tanner Rusk, who led the squad in points per game and directed the team from the point guard position.
Sharpshooter Cameron Moore presents a strong weapon from 3-point range while guard Brandon Farley will look to handle the offense and use his ability to create opportunities through transition.
The majority of the roster is filled with players who were on the junior varsity season a year ago. But they spent the summer going through camps around the area and are hungry to maintain winning basketball for the Warriors.
Holly Pond goes to New Hope Thursday. The Broncos have experience back in Matt Cahoon, Caleb Jones, Michael Lambert and Tanner Duke. Coach Mitch Morris will face West Point in the opener at Felton Easterwood Gym Nov. 15 and will host the 60th annual Thanksgiving Tournament Nov. 23-25.
Good Hope is the only varsity team in the county with a new coach. Former Holly Pond standout Drew Adams was hired in the summer by new principal John Hood and will have the Raiders at Danville for the opener Friday evening.
Adams did have his new team together at summer camp, including several days playing at Ole Miss University. The Raiders will count on senior leadership by forward Matt Cofer plus personnel such as Blake Lyle, Mason Moniz, Isaiah Lemus, Garrett Bagwell and Josh Cofer who were on the varsity squad last season.
Cold Springs is the only team that doesn't open the season this week. Tim Willoughby's Eagles will take on Vinemont next Tuesday at Jesse George Gymnasium for the opener.
The Eagles do have experience returning in Blake Wood, Eli Hamby, Jesse Lee and Fisher Willoughby. Their offense will rely on a team structure without Chambers, the county's all-time leading scorer and Freeman, a solid shooter from the wing and baseline. Chambers is at Samford University and Freeman is playing at Snead State Community College.
The Holly Pond Thanksgiving Tournament will take place for the 60th year on Thanksgiving Eve. Cullman, Fairview and Holly Pond are among the locals to battle it out with opponents outside of Cullman County.
Hanceville's Thanksgiving Tournament is 34 years in the books when it begins on Nov. 22. The Bulldogs, Good Hope and Cold Springs will be representing the area.
The Cullman Tribune is ready to bring you plenty of coverage during the upcoming season, from invitational tournaments at Thanksgiving and Christmas, regular season games, the Cullman County Tournament and the postseason that will begin in early February.
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