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SHS, SEB invade Albany
120214 BKB SEB HOOPS 3
Southeast Bulloch's NiJil Smith, left, drives past Islands defender Justin Cave during the third quarter in this Dec. 2, file photo in Brooklet. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Albany U-Save-It Classic
Friday's Games
4 p.m.
    Colquitt County vs. Manchester
5:30 p.m.
    Lee County vs. Statesboro
7 p.m.
    Monroe vs. Cedar Grove
8:30 p.m.
    Westover vs. Southeast Bulloch
10 p.m.
    Dougherty vs. North Clayton
Saturday's Games
1 p.m.
    Dougherty vs. Terrell County
2:30 p.m.
    Colquitt County vs. Cedar Grove
4 p.m.
    Lee County vs. Southeast Bulloch
5:30 p.m.
    Albany vs. Manchester
7 p.m.
    Westover vs. North Clayton
8:30 p.m.
    Monroe vs. Statesboro
Monday's Games
1 p.m.
    Monroe vs. Southeast Bulloch
2:30 p.m.
    Albany vs. Statesboro
4 p.m.
    Terrell County vs. Cedar Grove
5:30 p.m.
    Dougherty vs. Manchester
7 p.m.
    Lee County vs. North Clayton
8:30 p.m.
    Colquitt County vs. Westover

    Region championships and state playoff berths will be determined in the coming months, but both Statesboro and Southeast Bulloch’s boys squads will get some tough non-region competition to help close out 2014 as they travel to Albany for the annual U-Save-It Classic beginning today.
    The Blue Devils (6-3) and Yellow Jackets (3-5) will make up part of the talented 12-team field and will both play a trio of games over the weekend and into Monday.
    While region tournaments are still a ways off, the next few days will give coaches a good idea of how their teams will handle the pressure.
    “You’ve got good teams, a lot of fans, and a small gym,” Statesboro coach Lee Hill said. “That makes for a great atmosphere. We’re ahead of our expectations so far this season, but it will be good to have to compete in that kind of environment.”
    A great showing by the Devils in this same tournament two years ago sparked a second-half surge that included a 16-game winning streak and a run to the state semifinals.
    More importantly for this year’s Devils, the next few days will prepare them for the upcoming grind of region play — in their first season as a Class AAAAA school — and the demands of a region tournament that could qualify them for state playoff contention.
    “We’ve won some games, but we’re still a young team,” Hill said. “This is going to be a test. It takes a lot to beat good teams, and then you throw in the challenge of having to bounce back right away and play another real good team. That’s what it takes to win in the postseason and a lot of our guys will get their first taste of that kind of situation.”
    While the trip to Albany has become a Christmastime tradition for the Devils, Southeast Bulloch is headed west for the first time since 2011. Back then, the Jackets were at a low point and were struggling just to win the occasional regular season game.
    SEB took a short break from the hyper-competitive U-Save-It tournament to get its shop in order. The Jackets have built up plenty of momentum over the past two seasons —while enduring a leap up into Class AAA — and are trying to repeat last season’s return to the state playoffs after a lengthy absence.
Taking on bigger and more traditional powers in Albany is an ambitious step for the Jackets, but one that they’re eager to take.
    “We always want to give ourselves a schedule that helps us grow and improve,” SEB coach John Page said. “There were some years where we weren’t able to compete like we wanted to in Albany. We took a step back, but now we felt like it was time to go back there and play the great teams that are always in the field.”
    The Jackets are doing some rebuilding this season after losing a talented senior class that helped bring back a winning team, but SEB has shown plenty of fight early on, notching a pair of Region 1-AAA wins and giving fits to state powers Johnson and Savannah High in close contests.
    This weekend, all three schools on SEB’s schedule come from higher classifications, including two Class AAAA teams (Monroe and Westover), and a Lee County squad that competes in Class AAAAAA —the largest in the state.
    “It’s going to be a little different this week,” Page said. “We know we’ve got great competition just within our region, but it can help to go out and play other teams. It’s good for the kids to get a test from some different teams. It lets us see new challenges and gives us a chance to try a few more things before we play all of our region games.”

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.