For high school basketball teams all across the country, when Christmas is near tournaments are too.
This is no exception for the local teams in Bulloch County, as six teams will be involved in six different tournaments coming up within the next two and a half weeks. First and foremost of those tournaments is the U-Save-It Classic in Albany.
U-Save-It is a staple in the world of Georgia High School basketball, drawing top boy’s teams from all across the state to compete in a three-day grinder. While no longer a traditional “tournament”, teams who participate are guaranteed three games against quality opponents to tune up for region play.
Statesboro (1-5) and Southeast Bulloch (2-6) are sending their respective teams to compete starting Friday. Both sides are dealing with rough starts to 2016, although for different reasons.
For Statesboro, injuries have stymied what was supposed to be a promising season while Southeast Bulloch hasn’t been able to catch a break in a brutal early season schedule. However both have an opportunity to right the ship and get things back on track this weekend if the cards fall right.
Still injured, but not out
In 35 years as head coach, Statesboro’s Lee Hill has never had this kind of injury luck on any team. At one point he was down six players on a 13 man roster, but at least he’ll be back to just three injured bodies coming into tonight’s match up with Manchester High School (5-2).
“At least having Cameron (Harvey) back is big for us,” Hill said. “You see what he brings going back to the Effingham game. He’s a leader and he’s got more experience than anyone else on the floor.”
Not only will Harvey now have a full week of practice under his belt, but Statesboto is expected to get Chris Hill back for tonight’s game. Hill has been sidelined since he injured his knee against Ware County during football season, but his 230 pound frame will be key in the post against the 2016 class 2A state runners up tonight.
Statesboro is still without three of their better players — specifically leading scorer Daniel Cooper and starting point guard Trayveon Burns. While Cooper is expected back by the Gentleman's Classic on Dec. 26, Burns’s exact return date is still unknown.
“Not playing with Trayveon is like not playing with a quarterback,” Hill said. “He’s got a very high basketball IQ and he’s got experience. The offense just runs smoother when he’s in.”
Hill knows what the situation is. As bad as the record looks right now, he’s well aware in the grand scheme of things these December games mean a hill of beans compared to the region
contests in January and February. He’s thankful these injuries are getting out of the way now compared to when it could hurt their shot at the playoffs.
“There’s always a plan,” Hill said. “I see all of these as practice games. We’re out of sync now, but once we get everyone back we’ll be clicking by region play.”
Without Cooper, Burns or Jarquez Cone, teams like Manchester are going to be a handful for Statesboro. After the Blue Devils face Manchester on Friday, they’ll come home for the weekend before heading back out to Albany to conclude their play on Monday and Tuesday.
Monday Statesboro will face Worth County (3-3) from region 1-3A, a 20-8 playoff team from last season. Then on Tuesday they’ll close out with Lee County (3-5) of region 1-6A, who’ll present the challenge of being a higher classification for 5A Statesboro.
Trying to catch a break
The scheduling Gods simply didn’t have it in for SEB this season. As if it wasn’t already hard enough playing in region 3-3A — regarded as one of the best for basketball in the state — playing five region games in your first eight contests it a tough ask.
Especially when four of those — Jenkins (4-4, 2016 3A state runners up), Johnson (5-3), Islands (6-2) and Beach (4-6) — have all been on the road. Despite saying all of that, SEB head coach John Page believes outside of one game this year his team has been competitive in every match up.
“The Johnson game was really the only bad game we’ve played this year,” Page said. “Our first two games we could have won had we had our football guys, Jenkins we led at halftime and a technical foul messed us up at Islands. So I really feel like we’ve played well with all these good teams.”
The point differential backs up Page’s claim. While a -45 point differential sounds bad on its face, by Pythagorean win expectation SEB should at least be 3-5 right now as opposed to 2-6. Meaning SEB has caught a bad break or two during their early season run.
Perhaps the law of averages will start falling in favor of SEB this weekend, but the competition isn’t going to help. The Yellow Jackets will arrive in Albany on Saturday to face Monroe High School (5-1), a 2016 Elite Eight squad from region 1-3A.
Then after taking a break on Sunday, SEB will return to face region 1-4A’s Westover (4-2) — another Elite Eight team from 2016 — before finishing with Worth County on Tuesday. In short, the schedule hasn’t gotten any easier.
“Monroe will be huge,” Page said. “They’ll give us a good game.”
With Page’s roster at full strength with football players like Jontrell Wells and Caleb Carter, SEB has a chance to be more competitive in Albany than they were at their first tournament of the season.