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No. 7 Cherokee dunks Alexander in season opener

No. 7 Cherokee 83, Alexander 47

Heading into the season with a Top 10 ranking to their name, No. 7 Cherokee will no longer be sneaking up on anybody. After finishing 23-5 with their first-ever region title, the Warriors entered 2020-21 with a target on their back and something to prove, especially after failing to advance past the first round of the state tournament. Cherokee’s season debut went without a hitch as the Warriors outscored Alexander 65-30 over the final three quarters to race away with a highlight filled 83-47 victory.

Up against an inexperienced Alexander team, it was a back and forth first quarter as both squads traded punches. Senior guard Bennett Ulm set the tempo early for Cherokee. The unsung hero shined with his energy and defensive presence on the perimeter. He scored five of his 11 points in the first quarter and picked up steals and deflections along the way, but Alexander was game early on.

Junior Zion Fruster scored four points in the quarter including a smooth finish in transition to cut the Cherokee lead to 12-11 with just a tick under 3 minutes remaining.

Alexander would go on a 6-0 run to go ahead 15-12 after a Tayshaun Bolton transition layup.

Instead of carrying momentum into the break however, Cherokee would answer and take an 18-17 lead into the second quarter on a late Tayden Owens layup.

Turnovers became an issue in the second quarter and for the rest of the game for the visiting Cougars. Cherokee got out in transition and were energized by Richmond Hill transfer Ethan Pickett and Xavier-signee Elijah Tucker. Pickett finished with 15 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals, relentlessly attacking the basket and finishing with thunder and finesse on the break.

Tucker, who started out slow with his outside shot, started to get more comfortable as he got closer and closer to the basket. The future Musketeer helped spark a 13-3 run that pushed Cherokee ahead for good, taking a 29-20 lead on a tip-in that showcased Tucker’s freakish length and athleticism.

Tucker scored 10 of his game-high 21 points in the stanza and finished with 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals on the night.

At the half, Cherokee held a 44-33 lead with Alexander barely hanging on receiving solid first halves from Sean Ivory and Jah’Kim Payne, who both scored all 7 of their points in the first 16 minutes before going scoreless the rest of the way. The screeching halt of the offense led to a 24-6 third quarter in favor of the Warriors, a run that ballooned the Cherokee lead to 68-39 after three.

Tucker continued to be effective inside with his activity, while Cherokee’s 2-2-1 press led to multiple steals and a pair of Ulm layups to pushed the lead to 20.

Taihland Owens helped salt the game away in the fourth quarter with seven of his 14 points.

Top Performers

Elijah Tucker – 21 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals
Ethan Pickett – 15 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals
Taihland Owens – 14 points, 1 rebound, 4 assists, 3 steals
Bennett Ulm – 11 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 2 blocks
Tayden Owens – 8 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal

Sean Ivory – 7 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist
Tayshaun Bolton – 7 points, 1 assist, 3 steals
Zion Fruster – 7 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist
Jah’Kim Payne – 7 points, 1 steal


My Take

Continue reading No. 7 Cherokee dunks Alexander in season opener

Hounds Holiday Hoop Classic notes

No. 9 Cherokee 52, No. 4 Mt. Pisgah 49

Cherokee vs. Mt. Pisgah

Class 7A No. 9 Cherokee (13-1) led Class A-Private No. 4 Mt. Pisgah (10-2) 38-29 at the end of three before the Patriots press began to rattle the Warriors.

Continue reading Hounds Holiday Hoop Classic notes

Cherokee Summer Shootout notes

Chattahoochee 52, Roswell 43

2021 5-9 PG AJ White came out guns a blazin’, drilling three threes in the first half to give the Cougars an early lead that they would never relinquish. White’s shot was on point, finishing with 16 points going 5-of-9 from the field and 3-of-3 from deep. It’s easy to see why White is regarded as one of the smoothest guards in the 2021 class.

2019 6-6 PF Grant Van Beveren posted 12 points (5-10 FG) and 9 rebounds. Outside of his standard productive play in the paint, never trying to do too much, Van Beveren shined as a vocal leader for his young team, encouraging and coaching on the floor and on the bench. With schools like Brown already showing interest, Van Beveren should see his recruitment steadily heat up over the course of his senior season.

First Team All-Region 4-AAAAAAA selection 2019 5-foot-10 PG Miles Herron really struggled for Roswell. He went 0-of-5 from the field and scored all 6 of his points from the line in a two-for-one setting. While his offense was off, Herron brought with him an aggressive on-ball defense. Herron moved his feet very well and used his physical frame to funnel ball handlers. He fought over top of screens and did a good job of not giving up on plays.

Class 7A Freshman of the Year Update

2021 6-4 CG Taihland Owens (Cherokee) put up 14 points in a lopsided loss against Mt. Bethel. Owens looks the part of a blossoming D-I guard. He has the height and physical frame, he can shoot the ball fairly well (hit two threes) and he can get to the basket. As Owens continues to refine his game and mature, don’t be surprised to hear his name as Cherokee County’s next D-I product.

Mt. Bethel Christian

The Eagles, two-time defending GICAA state champs, will have something to say about the GHSA Class A-Private state title next year. With a solid foundation of a three-man core, the Eagles should immediately become a contender in A-Private.

Mt. Bethel is anchored inside by 2020 6-8 PF Jordan Meka, who has the wingspan and bounce to end up being Georgia’s best rim protector in the state. Meka had a slow start in Game 1 against Walton, turning the ball over four times in the first half and failing to score, but in the second half and in Game 2, Meka showed why he is a High Major recruit. In a 52-46 win over Walton, Meka scored all 10 of his points in the second half (5-8 FG). He collected 12 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 3 blocks. In a Game 2 blowout of Cherokee, Meka impacted the game from the opening tip, finishing with 17 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 3 blocks.

Meka runs the floor with grace and can put the ball on the deck in spurts when attacking the basket. He had great energy on defense and contested every shot in the paint. On offense, he showed a smooth lefty hook on the baseline to score over a smaller defender. Meka has all the tools to become bona fide star in the GHSA.

The second-head of the non-stop front court is 2019 6-5 SF Stanley Eze. Eze oozes potential. He completely dominated in both games thanks to has constant attack of the offensive glass. Eze plays extremely hard and has a motor that doesn’t quit. He gets off the ground quick with his second leap. Against Walton he had 21 points (9-12 FG; 1-1 3PT), 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and 2 blocks. In the nightcap, Eze went for 16 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 block. The relentless forward is always looking to get to the rim where he can finish with either hand. His athleticism and activity along with Meka can make the Mt. Bethel interior one of the most exciting offensive/defensive tandems in the state.

The point man of the attack is 2019 6-3 PG Coleman Boyd. Boyd and the Eagles like to get out and run, which is where Boyd is most dangerous. With his big frame, Boyd chooses either to take it all the way to the basket or float lobs to Meka or Eze. Offensively, Boyd didn’t have his best night shooting the ball. Against Walton he had 13 points (2-6 FG; 1-5 3PT), 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. He scored 7 points and had 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 blocks against Cherokee. A few times on the night Boyd attacked the basket hard but ended up forcing the issue and taking a tough shot. When in control, Boyd can distribute the ball well and create open looks for his teammates.

Mt. Bethel’s big three should be able to compete with anybody in Class A-Private. They have some quality role players who will have to hit shots in big games. Their Region 6-A battles with St. Francis could end up becoming one of the state’s best new rivalries.

Cherokee County Media Day

Etowah High School hosted Cherokee County Media Day on Tuesday morning. The boys went first for an hour followed by the girls. Much to my chagrin, I was only able to stick around for the boys portion of the event before having to hustle over to the office. Here’s some news and notes from my homeland.



Head Coach: Kingston Clark
Region 4-AAAAAAA
2015-16: 14-15 

How to become a perennial state playoff team in their new region: “We’ve been working out and conditioning. It’s going to be a tough task. We don’t have Wheeler to worry about any more, thank God for that. Milton’s gone, but it’s wide open. One through six, anybody can come up and win the region.”

What the Class of 2017 means to the program: “We have a great group of seniors. Tyreke [Johnson] was First Team All-Region last year, so he actually has something to prove. Brant [Hurter] signed with Georgia Tech already with a baseball scholarship. Cam [Crowe] has had several people looking at him so he has several offers on the table. They have a lot to prove. First and foremost, the very first thing I talked to them about when I walked into Woodstock’s gymnasium, there were no banners on the wall for boys basketball. So that is the number one goal, that those guys want to leave that legacy so they can come back and have something hanging on that wall they can say they played a part of.”



Head Coach: Roger Kvam
Region 4-AAAAAAA
2015-16: 12-14 

On the importance of Phil Cirillo and the senior class: “Phil’s been on the varsity for three years so has Eli [Mayberry] and Jack Carroll, who’s been on for four years, so we have a lot of experience. Jack was on the team as a freshman and actually started. I count on all three of those guys for leadership. Phil is very talented, he can do a lot of different things and play a lot of different positions. We kind of use him like a Queen in chess to do a lot of different things. I feel like we underachieved last year. We were not good on defense and we were kind of selfish on offense and I think we addressed that this summer a little bit.”



Head Coach: Allen Whitehart
Region 4-AAAAAAA
2015-16: 14-14 

How to shape a new winning culture at Etowah: “First and foremost we came in with hard work immediately in the weight room. Most of the kids haven’t really lifted before. I feel like if you can go in there and push through barriers and kind of get a little strain going you can find out about yourself and that translates right over to the floor. We talked about everything being first class. You’ve got to look the part as well as be the part. I was fortunate enough while I was at Buford High School to be around phenomenal coaches: Gene Durden, Jess Simpson, Tony Wolfe and took a little bit from them. I was smart enough to steal a little bit and take some of that with me.”

On Kam Hickey: “He is going to be playing a 3/4 position for us. He’s going to be really counted on to be a mismatch for us for what we do offensively.”

On Lewis Simonson: “He did not play last year but he is going to be counted on as one of our leaders and someone who can knock down shots.”

On Julian Baldwin & Adrian Cohen: “Julian has a chance to have a great year. We really worked hard with his consistency, getting him stronger. His understanding of the game has really come around a lot. I feel like if he continues to improve at the rate he’s improving he will have a chance to have a phenomenal year. Another kid with a chance for a breakout year is Adrian Cohen. Adrian had a phenomenal fall and phenomenal summer on the [AAU] circuit. Again, consistency is something we are preaching with him as well. He has games when he looks like a really high level player. If those four can have consistency, they can really help us go.”



Head Coach: Allen Carden
Region 6-AAAAAA
2015-16: 20-9 

How to build an identity with a young and inexperienced group: “We’ve talked about that from Day 1 in the weight room – our culture is going to be hard work. We are going to identify with being a strong defensive team. We are going to play smart fundamental basketball. We are going to act the right way and do the right things. As much as I talk about defensive rebounding, everybody knows you still have to put the ball in the hole so you’ve got to be strong skill-wise. But identity, we are always going to hang our hat on playing defense.”



Head Coach: Casey Gramling
Region 6-AAAAAA
2015-16: 16-10 

How to become a state playoff team year-in and year-out: “That’s the million dollar question. Of course we want to be there and we do have some good pieces this year and we are trying to make a couple culture changes. One of the things we did was my team didn’t participate in a fall league this year. Now the kids are playing 100 games a year and those 25 games they play for their school just represented other games. We are trying to bring it back to where when they put on a Creekview uniform it means something to them.”

On the continuing emergence of KJ Jenkins: “KJ is a junior point guard, incredibly talented. He will be a third-year varsity player and he’s always had that mentality since he was a younger kid on the team. We are working on with him building that leadership role because this is his team and he’s the point guard. It’s a work in progress and he is doing really well in his new role. The kid can score, he’s smooth. He’s got a great shot, he can defend. We’ve had more college coaches in my gym in the last two months than we’ve had in my last two years I’ve been here. They are coming to watch KJ, they are coming to watch Chandler [Wright] and Weber [Sandlin].”


River Ridge

Head Coach: Ben Farist
Region 6-AAAAAA
2015-16: 8-18 

How to be patient with a young program and find a way to establish itself in a tough region: “I think a lot of it is not only now what we are doing, but investing in our junior program and realizing that they are the future of what we have but coaching who we have now. We aren’t getting any transfers in or anything crazy like that. So control what we can control. Working hard in the weight room to build athletes that we have currently in our program and making the offense more conducive to what we are good at.”

No. 3 Wheeler Shakes Off Sluggish Start Against Cherokee

6ANo. 3 Wheeler 50, Cherokee 36

Head Coach Roger Kvam, who has directed the Cherokee Warriors for now 13 years, has always given Wheeler fits. After narrow losses to the superior Wildcats last season 51-48, 71-55 and 51-49, this year’s edition of the Warriors looked to get over the hump and thwart powerful No. 3 Wheeler. Cherokee took a 12-5 lead into the second quarter as Wheeler was ice cold. The home standing Warriors took advantage of three three-pointers in the frame to gain the advantage. But as the game wore on, Cherokee’s lack of balance showed and Wheeler’s talent won out. Guard Makhai Eastmond hit Darius Perry on a beautiful backdoor cut early in the second quarter to shake off a lethargic start. The bucket ignited a 17-3 period which gave Wheeler a 22-15 lead at the half.

Kash Jackson and Phillip Cirillo were the only sources of offense for Coach Kvam. The two combined to score all of the team’s points at the half and didn’t receive a third contributor until four minutes left in the third quarter when Jack Carroll sank a three. Cirillo, who led the Warriors with 14 points and nine rebounds, stroked a three and Elisha Mayberry drove for his only points of the game to close out the third quarter and keep the Warriors within striking distance down 33-26.

Coach Kvam readies his Warriors. Phillip Cirillo (3) played well.
Coach Kvam readies his Warriors. Phillip Cirillo (3) played well.

In the second half and four quarter, Wheeler finally started chipping away at the overmatched Warriors. Al-Wajid Aminu was held scoreless in the first half but provided the Wildcats with an energetic spark. The North Florida signee finished with six points, seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks and helped the Cats collect nine steals on the night off their trapping press. Aminu’s second chance rebounds and emphatic blocks helped wake up the rest of the Wildcats. After a slow start, Romello White began to eat away at the smaller Cherokee front line. The Georgia Tech signee ended his night with 14 points and 10 rebounds coupled by a few big dunks. Defensively, he swatted away four of Wheeler’s nine blocks as they cruised to the finish line using a 17-to-10 fourth quarter to pull away.

My Take: Wheeler did not impress early on and still didn’t play up to the level that they are capable of. Sometimes, and especially when playing a fundamentally sound team like Cherokee who doesn’t kill themselves with too many mistakes, the Cats play to the level of their competition. A 76-70 loss to the nation’s No. 1 ranked team, Montverde (FL) according to MaxPreps, doesn’t make sense when they struggled to beat Cherokee. Romello White showed some flashes inside, but it was Al-Wajid Aminu’s energy and Darius Perry’s quiet, yet steady play, that finally woke the team up. Perry went on a personal 5-0 run in the second quarter to get the Wildcats back into the game after an early deficit. The second half belonged to Aminu. His length and motor wore down Cherokee. The Warriors remain led by the best boys coach Cherokee County has seen in a long time. Coach Kvam doesn’t always have the talent, but he makes the most out of it, constantly beating good teams (3A No. 3 Morgan County, 57-52) or at least playing them heads-up (SWD 64-56). It’s scary to think what he could do with a couple horses like he had back in the day with Chris Singleton. It’s a shame he transferred to Dunwoody his final season. Cherokee will go as far as Phillip Cirillo and Kash Jackson take them this season.  Jackson is the only senior on the team which breeds optimism for the future. Cirillo has exploded onto the scene as a junior and is receiving some D-1 looks after a strong offseason. Playing such a big role as a junior will only help his progression towards his senior season. He looks to have a similar success like Michael Kvam did circa 2009-10 as a big guard who could score, facilitate, rebound and lead.

Top Performers:

Romello White – 14 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks
Cam Jordan – 9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks
Darius Perry – 8 points, 3 assists, 2 steals
Al-Wajid Aminu – 6 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks

Phillip Cirillo – 14 points, 9 rebounds
Kash Jackson – 11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists
Jack Carroll – 7 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals