CONYERS -- The basketball season has arrived for six teams in Rockdale County.
The boys are just eight months removed from playing in the Class AAAA state championship game, a 67-59 loss to Miller Grove. Three starters are gone from that historic team -- Bernard Thompson (now at Florida Gulf Coast), Kevin Ware and Deshaun Sunderhous -- but the cupboard isn't completely bare. Junior C.J. Wilson and senior Darion Clark return to form perhaps the best guard-center combination in Region 8-AAAA.
The girls will head into the 2011-12 season with a new coach in Sherri Williams. While leading scorer Portia McCray is now at Eastern Wyoming college, the rest of the core of last year's state tournament team remains intact, led by Breanna Richardson, Brianna Lawrence and Kree Clark.
It was a historic season for the Salem boys as the program's win over Madison County in the Region 8-AAAA Tournament clinched the first state tournament berth in school history. Starters Jarrett Brown, now playing baseball at Georgia, and Tyone Elliot have graduated, but guard Dedrick Turner returns for his junior season in position to challenge for the region's scoring title.
The girls finished last season 5-19, but the record was a bit deceiving as nine of the Seminoles' losses were by single digits. This year's team, led by first-year coach Rochone Dilligard, will go without Amber Johnson and Summer Scott, who graduated, but lone senior Danielle Thomas returns and the future may lie in the hands of 6-2 freshman center Ayanna Mitchell.
After securing a state berth with a thrilling win over Clarke Central in the region tournament, Heritage gave Region 6-AAAA champion Southwest DeKalb all it could handle in the first round of the boy's state tournament. Unfortunately for coach Drew Williams, nearly every member of that team graduated, namely starting guards Twon Wade, Jelani Archer and Dezan Gibby, or transferred (guard D.Q. Jackson is now at defending class AAA state champion Columbia). With four days left until the Patriots open the season at Dutchtown, only forward Shon Pittman remains from last year's 17-win team.
"We are the definition of rebuilding," Williams said.
On the other side, the Heritage girls bring nearly everyone back from a team that suffered a heartbreaking loss to Flowery Branch in the first round of the region tournament. Senior Breanna Mitchell was the leading scorer a year ago and returns to anchor the team, while Che' Hardaway, Sierra Crosson will be expected to be big contributors in coach Chris Pennamon's second season.