It's been an unusual year so far for high school sports, and the start of the 2021 boy's basketball season has been anything but normal for first-year head coach Robbie Bailey.
Bailey and the Warriors have not only had to contend with the issues and protocols associatied with Covid-19, but a large chunk of the Warriors' roster wasn't available at the beginning of the season thanks to the football team advancing to the Class AAA playoffs.
But with the Warrriors' loss to Rockmart last Friday in the the opeing round of the playoffs, Bailey will finally have a full complement of players at his disposal as they prepare for opening of Region 7-AAA play next week.
Fortunatley for Bailey, he's pretty familiar with the roster as spend last season as assistant on Wade Mawdesley's staff, before stepping up to the top job after Mawdesley resigned last spring.
“As a new coach, you usually get to work with the guys in June, but that didn't happen due to Covid,” Bailey said. “We'd normally play some games in June and July, but we're all in the same boat. Everybody has had to adjust to it. We have 11 returning players so that helps since I was an assistant here last year.”
After spending the last few years in Class AAAA, battling the likes of Denmark, Blessed Trinity, and Marist for a region playoff spot, Bailey and the Warriors find themselves in a new region in Class AAA, with Cherokee Bluff, Dawson County, West Hall, North Hall, Lumpkin County and Gilmer County.
“Coming from that region, our kids know how to battle good teams,” Bailey said. “It was a different level of basketball and our kids never backed down. This region is better for us, but nothing in this region is going to be easy. Dawson County has a great program and a great coach (former WCHS head coach Todd Cottrell). Cherokee Bluff has a great coach (Benji Wood), and some really good players. North Hall has been good, Lumpkin and West Hall should be better. Really the only unknown is Gilmer County. There won't be any easy games in this region. It's going to be grind. We've got to bring our best effort every night.”
Bailey has a deep and talented roster to work with in his first year, led by a group of six seniors.
Cooper Turner, Reece Dockery, Jimmy King, and Rylee Higgins have all been in the program for four years, while Riley Egerton and Caleb Reddy are back in the program after not playing last year.
Turner, Dockery and King all have extensive varsity experience. Turner stepped in the starting lineup late in his freshman year and has been a mainstay in the lineup since. He was the team's third leading scorer last fall. Dockery and King also played extensive minutes the past three years, and both battled injures at times during the past two years. Both Dockery and King are healthy heading into the season, and figure heavily into Bailey's plans.
“When I got the job, the first three guys I called were Cooper, Reece and Jimmy,” Bailey said. “They have all been in the varsity program for four years, and I'm their third head coach, so I'm going to lean on them a lot. They've played a ton of games for White County High School and they are the leaders of this team. They have so much experience. Tbey are great leaders, great players, and they have been through it all. We talk all the time. We text. I even let them design the new uniforms. It's their senior year and I want them to have great year because there have been some tough times the first three years.”
Bailey also had high expectations for the rest of the senior group.
“Rylee, Caleb and Riley don't have the experience of the other seniors, but they have been apart of it too,” Bailey said. “Rylee has been in the program for four years; he just doesn't have the varsity playing experience. I'm going to lean on him as well. Caleb and Riley didn't play last year, but I'm glad to have them back. Caleb was one of the first kids to reach out to me when I got the job. He's a good kid, a good leader, and he can shoot the ball. It's the same deal with Riley, he told me he wanted to come back. He's Mister Energy. He's high energy. He's goes 100-miles and hour all the time. They've both been leaders early in the season before the football guys got here.”
The Warriors have a solid junior class in Silas Mulligan, Kenny Simpson, Dylan Sargent, Alex Thornton, Tavi Simmons, and Josh Brooks.
Mulligan was the Warriors' leading scorer last year and was a 7-AAAA All-Region pick.
“Silas had a great year last year,” Bailey said. “He's talented, he's a really good player. He's a tough kid, and he had a great year in football, and I think that will help him in basketball. He's going to be a big part of what we do.”
Simpson came into the season with little varsity experience, but he has played well during the Warriors' first five games, both as a scorer and rebounder. Simpson has been a big cog in the offensive attack over the first two weeks of the season, scoring 20 or more points in three of the five games.
“Of the guys that we've had out here the whole time, Kenny is the most improved player,” Bailey said. “He's really worked at it and just gotten better He has shown us he can shoot the ball and we're excited about him. He's made the most of the opportunity to get play a lot when the football kids weren't here.”
Thornton earned some varsity playing time last year, especially late in the year when Turner went down with knee injury, and Sargent saw some varsity action as well.
“Alex plays hard and is willing to do a lot of the dirty work,” Bailey said. “He's another high-energy guy like Cooper and Egerton. Dylan's a shooter and he works hard at it, and he handles the ball pretty well.”
Simmons racked up a lot of minutes on the JV squad last year, while Brooks joined the program for the first time.
“Tavi is one of our best defenders,” Bailey said. “He aggressivley gets after people and he's a pretty good distributor of the ball. He's come a long way too. Josh is a long athletic kid that can really jump. He's been working hard.”
The sophomore class includes Jadon Yeh, Chad West, Darius Cannon, Dawson Bailey, and Kanaan Cleveland,
Yeh had a sensational freshman campaign, finishing as the team's second leading scorer and earning a spot on the All-Region honorable mention list. Cannon also played significant minutes as a freshman, and gives the class a pair of talented guards.
“Jadon was solid from the get-go,” Bailey said. “The good news is that he's gotten a ton better since last year. He works at it and he's very talented, and he loves the game. He's been out leading scorer so far along with Kenny. He makes smart decisions with the ball, and we'll put it in his hands lot. Darius is talented too, and he's so quick with the basketball. He has speed and quicknees that a lot of people just don't have. He's going to be a good player.”
West, Cleveland and Dawson Bailey will dress with the varsity, but will key parts of the Warriors' junior varsity team.
“We've got a chance to be a good team,” Bailey said. “We have to get the football kids gelled with the other guys; got to get them in basketball condition, and they maybe the hardest part. Region starts next week, so have to get that done as soon as possible.”
The Warriors JV has started the season with a pair of losses to Banks County and Habersham Central, but things should improve for the team and first-year head coach Stephen Stuart now that all of the players are available.
Members of the team are Dawson Bailey, Chad West, Kanaan Cleveland, Reid Tanner, Joey Brown, Justin Wren, Connor Costabile, Logan Schindler, Cole Gearing, Eric Mahaffey, Zach McCoy, Noah Futch and Jaxon Jarvis.