Coming into the Gentleman’s Classic, Statesboro has had one storyline lurking behind them: injuries.
However, starting Monday it may officially be a thing of the past.
Daniel Cooper and Traveyon Burns — the starting backcourt that’s been injured for well over two weeks now — may finally be back to boost Statesboro back to full strength.
“It all depends on what the trainers say,” Cooper said. “But right now I’m looking to be back by Christmas.”
Cooper and Burns have been rehabbing their thigh and hip respectively for the past two weeks. Cooper has been hitting the bike and Burns has been running to stay in shape, and they’ll need to be for the competition Statesboro will face at the Gentleman’s Classic this week.
The Sack Gentleman’s Classic has been held in Statesboro for “so many years he’s lost count” in the words of Statesboro head coach Lee Hill and it’s become a point of pride for the school and program.
“You know we don’t get a lot of home games before region play, so we use this as a showcase for us and some of the better teams in the state,” Hill said. “I’ve always have teams booking in advance so they can fill their slots here.”
This year’s tournament will see six teams, all of them playing on the evenings of Monday through Wednesday this week. Statesboro will play in the 8 p.m. games every night, Monday against First Presbyterian Christian Academy (5-0), Tuesday against Glynn Academy (7-4) and Wednesday against Glenn Hills (6-4).
Record wise it’s the toughest stretch of teams Statesboro has faced this season. FPCA is a GISA power whose closest margin of victory has been by 32 points to Johnson County while holding a point differential of +165.
Glynn Academy is a familiar foe, who were paired in the old region 3-5A with Statesboro from 2014 to 2015. They were 1-2 against Statesboro in those seasons and have come out to a hot start in 2016, looking to even up the old series.
Finally Glenn Hills comes in from the always powerful Augusta area — also another former region foe of Statesboro — are lead by six-foot-eight power forward Timmy Sellers whose averaging 11.0 points and 7.4 rebounds per game this season. All three teams will give Statesboro a different look that will benfit them come playoff time according to Hill.
“These teams will show us different sizes and looks with very athletic players,” Hill said. “It’s good to see this before we start focusing on region play and start seeing the same stuff game after game.”
Statesboro’s 3-6 record can be misleading due to the massive injury bad luck they’ve faced this season. After beating Stephenson the Blue Devil’s last their three best players in Cooper, Burns and small forward Cameron Harvey. With all three out Statesboro was 0-4, then Harvey came back for their home game against Effingham to drop 21 points and grab 13 boards.
Had it not been for a 27-foot, buzzer-beating heave Statesboro would be 4-5 right now -- but the Blue Devils made up for it the past week by going 2-1 at the U-Save-It Albany Tournament and Harvey rolling his way to an All-Tournament team selection.
“He’s picked up his play very nicely for us since he’s been back,” Hill said. “He’ll need to stay that way while we work Coop and Burns back in.”
While Harvey has been carrying the team averaging 20.0 points a game since he returned on Dec. 2, a number of bench players have stepped in for Statesboro to fill the gaps. It’s a point Hill has been quick to make when trying to find a silver lining to his injury-decimated lineup.
“This good part about all of this is that this has let me build up a bench,” Hill said. “Getting these kids in the fire has been good, so come state tournament time they’ll be ready to go to war.”
Duke Baldwin, a JV player who hadn’t played a varsity minute prior to the U-Save-It tournament, scored ten points against Worth County and pitched in the other two games with key minutes.
Add in Jaylen Hicks, Julian Harrison and Tyler Goodman — who scored ten points against Manchester — as more bench players who’ve given good minutes to Statesboro during this run. However with Cooper and Burns probable to return, Statesboro can expect a big leap in offensive production come this week.
Chris Stanley may be reached at (912) 489-9408.