Statesboro’s football team isn’t the only storied program the high school can boast about, because come winter time the fascination moves from the gridiron to the hardcourt.
While one state title pales in comparison to five, Statesboro’s basketball program success shouldn’t be measured by the one state title. In Lee Hill’s remarkable run since he took over the program in 1979, they’ve won 12 region titles, made the state tournament 27 times and have advanced to the Elite Eight in 11 of those runs.
Perhaps the best stat of Hill’s consistency is his performance in the playoffs. In 27 trips to the state tournament, Hill’s teams have lost in the first round only eight times.
No matter the classification or region, whether it was 3A or 4A for the majority of Lee’s run, the success remained steady. Even now in 5A , Hill is 59-26 in three seasons with two playoff appearances and back-to-back trips to the second round.
But a region title had eluded Hill at 5A, and this year could be the year to finally grab another notch on the banner. Gone are Effingham County, Camden County, Richmond Hill and the cast of playoff contenders from region 3-5A and in steps region 2-5A — a big step down the ladder for Statesboro’s normal region slate.
New Hampstead and Ware County return 17 win squads from a year ago, but South Effingham and Wayne County couldn’t even combine for 17 wins last season. With that schedule ahead of them, a region title looks to be a foregone conclusion for the Blue Devils in 2016.
“New Hampstead has a starting five of all seniors coming back,” Hill said. “They’ll be a tough out whoever they play. And Ware County will be okay too.”
Statesboro did lose four seniors off last years 22-9 team, three of them currently playing in college (Myles White and Jaylan Patrick at NAIA Brewton-Parker, Michael Salomon at D2 King University) but bring back seven seniors and an immense amount of depth.
And the 22-9 record could have been better. Four of those losses came by less than three points, including the 48-47 loss in the second round of the playoffs to Riverwood.
“I don’t think those were necessarily anyone's faults” said senior Cameron Harvey. “The other teams just found ways to pull it out. I thought we had a good season anyway.”
While there are no seven-foot post players on the roster or immense size, Statesboro boasts a number a solid-sized guards and backcourt players who can score in bunches. Harvey, Trayveon Burns and DeJuan Newton are all over six-foot-three and can shoot the three at a great rate.
“These juniors coming up from last season have all had great summers and have developed a great repertoire with each other,” Hill said. “Cameron Harvey especially, he’ll be a leader this year.”
Hill said he wants to run a more half court style offense and a half court man defense, as he doesn’t think he has the bodies to run his normal fast-paced, full court press style. But that doesn’t waver his confidence that this is a team that could go further than the second round of the playoffs this season.
“I saw it with the summer leagues we played in that we could be great,” Hill said. “Knowing what we’ve got back and the region we’re in, we can be very good this year.”
Statesboro starts play tomorrow at the Cleveland Stroud Classic, when they take on Stephenson High School at 2:30 p.m.
Statesboro girls look to end playoff drought
While sights are aimed high beyond the playoffs for the Statesboro boys, the ladies have a different challenge ahead of them — just making the postseason.
Following head coach Jeff Sier’s takeover of the program in 2007, Statesboro went to the playoffs five seasons in a row — including back-back Elite Eight appearances in 2010 and 2011.
However since then the Lady Devils are 54-47 and have not been back to the playoffs. While some of that regression can be attributed to losing stud players like Alisia Jenkins and Sierra Kirkland — both whom went on to be successful D1 players — the tough region is as much to blame.
Much like the Statesboro boys, the Lady Devils have had to deal with a gauntlet of a region schedule the post couple of years. Teams like Brunswick, who were a final four team last season and the state champions two years ago, and other perennial playoff teams like Camden County and Glynn Academy always proved to be a hindrance.
“We were a 4A school playing 6A schools the past couple of years,” Seier said. “Teams like Camden, Brunswick and Glynn had nowhere else to play. It is what it is, we had a decent record last year but the other teams were just better than us.”
But now in a new region, those teams won’t be there to keep Statesboro out of the postseason. And even though teams like Wayne County (25-6, final four at 4A in 2015-16) and South Effingham (23-5, playoffs in 5A) will pose a threat, four teams out of five will make it through to the playoffs.
“Being less competitive in region isn’t going to help us,” said senior guard Japage Jacobs. “But if it means getting to the playoffs will be easier I guess we can live with it.”
Statesboro did lose a good chunk of production off last year’s 14-11 team. The trio of Staysha and Daysha Everette plus Lakeeba Redfield accounted for 54.6 percent of the team’s scoring last season, but no one on the this year’s team seems to be worried about being able to replace those 440 points.
“Those girls were starters in a program for a long time, but we have some big contributors coming back in the post,” Seier said.
The biggest contributor from last season coming back is Victoria Harris, and “biggest” is meant in both meanings of the word. Harris, a six-foot center, returns as the leading scorer and rebounder and will be an emphasis on offense in the post this year.
But Seir was also quick to mention his guard play will play a big part in Statesboro’s success this season. Even with projected starter Molly Mikel at point guard out until January, Statesboro picked up Lacy Robins from Bulloch Academy via a family move to help out with depth.
Her sister Amber also returns to help out in the backcourt, with Jacobs and De’Yonna Henry also coming back to help fill out a starting five. Henry’s teammates were especially complimentary of her, saying a big season by the five-foot-seven senior could help them go a long way.
“(De’Yonna) has worked really hard this season and has taken over as a leader,” Jacobs said. “She’s improved a lot. If she had a good season we’ll come out very good.”
The Lady Devils will get a chance to showcase their new team tomorrow at the Ladies Night Out, a tournament hosted at Statesboro High School. Statesboro will take on Long County (1-0) in their opening game at 6:00.