ALBANY -- It's that time of the year again.
The annual U-Save-It Classic Christmas Tournament kicks off this weekend at Albany High School as The Herald's No. 1 team, Monroe (6-0), and No. 2 squad, Westover (7-0), will participate, as well as local schools Albany, Dougherty and Miller County.
Organized by AHS boys head coach Archie Chatmon, the tournament will once again draw a powerful, 14-team field, including Southeast Bulloch, Riverdale, Statesboro, Colquitt County, McIntosh, Quitman County, Statesboro, Keith (Ala.) High School and Mt. Zion, which Chatmon confirmed late Monday was a late addition after ML King dropped out.
"It should be another great field of teams," Chatmon said Monday. "That's the goal every year."
The action opens Saturday at 1 p.m. with the Indians taking the court in the first game against Quitman -- a contest that wasn't supposed to happen originally because Chatmon usually sacrifices his own team in the first round to make sure visiting schools get their three games that are promised each tournament.
But when Keith (Ala.) and Mt. Zion both could only commit to two games -- during the tournament's second two days, Monday and Tuesday -- that left the door open for the Indians to participate in the first-round of the shootout event.
After two games in between at 2:30 and 4 p.m., which Chatmon said could still be switched around before Saturday, Southwest Georgia's local schools close out the night with back-to-back-to-back contests, beginning with Monroe vs. Miller County at 5:30 p.m., Westover vs. Southeast Bulloch at 7 p.m. and capping the first day of action with Dougherty vs. Statesboro at 8:30 p.m.
Chatmon said he promises each team they will play a new and different opponent not on their regular-season schedule in the first round -- but after that is anyone's guess.
"Teams don't go to tournaments to play teams they already play," he said. "We try to at least keep that from happening in the first round. But if two teams happen to get matched up later, then that's just (the luck of the draw)."
All games will be played at Albany High.
DEERFIELD STILL ROLLING:
A 2-0 start became 5-0 this past week for the Deerfield-Windsor boys, who capped another impressive week Saturday with a 70-58 victory against Central Fellowship Christian Academy.
The start is a pleasant surprise to coach Gordy Gruhl, who wasn't sure how his players -- many of whom got a late start on the basketball court because of the Knights' run to the GISA Class AAA title game in football -- would come along with such a short turnaround.
Luckily, the drop off has been almost none.
Banks Kinslow, the team's starting quarterback, led the Knights in scoring for the second time this year Saturday, dropping in 18 points in the win, followed by 11 from Shaun Jones and 10 each from Michael Matthews and Jordan Alexander.
And with a rematch looming this Saturday at home against Mount Vernon -- the team which beat Deerfield in last year's Class AAA state championship basketball game in Milledgeville -- Gruhl is happy to have a clear schedule this week leading up to the showdown.
"We've got exams and I gave the kids (Monday) off for a rest, then we'll practice (today), Wednesday and Thursday to get ready for Mount Vernon," he said. "Then after that game, I'm giving the kids some more time off because they need it -- especially the guys who played football. That will be their mental health week; a chance for everyone to get their legs under them. We have to remember one thing: (The season is) a marathon, not a sprint."
And while four of this year's starters all played in last year's state championship loss, Gruhl doesn't put that much weight on the rematch with Mt. Vernon this week.
"It's one of those things that, even if we beat them by 20 points, it doesn't make up for the state championship. There's just no way to say this game is as important as that one," Gruhl said. "Now, that being said, (Vernon is) still a quality team with one loss coming in and it's a good game to check where we're at. We're looking forward to it, fore sure."
After Saturday, Deerfield won't get back on the court until Dec. 28-30 when the Knights travel to Alabama for the second year in a row to take part in the Montgomery Christmas Tournament. The Knights are guaranteed three games, all of which likely will come against Alabama teams they've yet to face, although there's an outside chance DWS could meet up against the only other Georgia team in the field, Stratford Academy, which beat Deerfield in the championship game of the event last season.
DWS, however, already beat Stratford earlier this year, doing so on Stratford's home floor in the second game of the season, 63-42.
After the Montgomery tourney, DWS will play its GISA Region 3-AAA opener Jan. 5 against Cavalry Christian.
TERRELL COUNTY BOYS HAVEN'T MISSED A BEAT:
Greenwave coach John Davis lost four starters off of last year's Elite Eight team, meaning this season should've easily been a rebuilding year, right?
Terrell County, behind scoring threats like Alre'k Brown, Brandon Browner, Markez Dotson and Herald Super 6er Terel Hall, are off to a 5-1 start and likely will be 6-1 after its only game this week against a struggling Lee County squad Friday in Dawson.
If they go to 6-1, that will be the same mark last year's powerhouse team also posted heading into the Christmas break.
"I wouldn't say I am surprised because this group that replaced those starters from last year are just playing together, man. They're great on defense and they are just showing me that they're all very knowledgeable about the game of basketball with every game we play," Davis said Monday "Now, we are not where we were last year just yet -- I mean, we were just so stacked last year -- but you wouldn't know it by our record. These kids have the ability. And even the ones who are getting in just two or three minutes a game are showing remarkable ability."
Terrell County's most recent win was a 20-point blowout against neighboring rival Randolph-Clay last Saturday that not only represented a victory against a longtime foe, but gave the Greenwave another early leg up in Region 1-A.
"It's a region and a rival," said Davis, who will play the Red Devils again in January, only that game will be in Dawson. "That's one we're glad to have out of the way."
After playing Lee County on Friday, Terrell will take a jog South to Thomasville on Monday for the annual Hoopfest Christmas Tournament, where they play three games, opening up against Cook.
SEMINOLE GIRLS BREAK INTO TOP 5 POLL AS BOYS' HEARTBREAK CONTINUES:
The Lady Indians (4-1) debuted in The Herald's Top 5 High School Basketball Poll this week, entering at No. 5 and replacing a Dougherty team which has struggled in the early going at 2-3.
Led by senior Carrie Washington, who is averaging 18 points and is getting looks from several colleges around the country, the biggest of which is Southern Illinois, Seminole's only loss was the first game of the season to Lee County. The Lady Trojans, meanwhile, sit one spot ahead of Seminole at No. 4.
"Things are going well so far," said coach Jesse McLeod, whose girls have now won four in a row after the season-opening loss to Lee, including victories this past week against Calhoun and Baker counties. "We're having to play a lot of young girls this year, but we're playing better with each game."
While the supporting cast around Washington continues to develop -- "Each game, it's someone different who steps up to help out," McLeod said -- there isn't much doubt that the 2009-10 team can duplicate the success of last year's squad, which went 24-6.
But while McLeod wants to get as much game experience before the meat of the schedule begins in January, the Lady Indians' plans to play in a Christmas tournament fell through, meaning after their game against Early County tonight, the schedule is free and clear.
"We were supposed to go a tournament in Dothan, but that fell through," the coach said. "The rest is nice, but I am sure the girls wanted to keep playing."
A rest, however, is not what the Seminole County boys team needs right now. This after an opposite start from the girls team for the guys, who are 1-4 under coach Kevin Godwin.
Of course, there could be an asterisk by that mark -- for heartbreaking losses, that it.
"We beat Lee County to start the year 0-1, but we've lost four in a row since -- all of them games we could've just as easily won," Godwin said. "We lost by five to five to Calhoun and had a chance to get that one, I thought, and we lost by four to Baker County -- and that game was tied all the way up until the very end."
Godwin went on to say that he understand the adage -- "Close only counts in horseshoes," -- but it doesn't change the fact he feels his team is on the cusp of breaking through.
"We're not playing bad by any means, but hey ... a loss is a loss is a loss," he lamented.
The boys, which also play Early tonight after the girls game, are being led by Tiwan Donaldson, who scored 21 in the Indians' latest loss to Calhoun.