BOYS BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Warriors hoping football success carries over to the hardwood

Cherokee County High School’s Jack Amos pulls up for a jumper against Sand Rock in the Cherokee County Tournament last season. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director

CENTRE – Cherokee County High School just wrapped up its best football season since 2009 on Friday with a Class 4A state runner-up. Warrior boys basketball coach Caleb Hays is hoping that success carries over to the hardwood.

“The first thing for us is just getting into basketball shape,” Hays said. “I’m not as worried about being in shape as it is that full-court, non-stop, being able to move and transition, and just getting their touch back. I do think our depth will help us get into that rhythm. It’s been a long football season, but hopefully they’re ready to go with the right energy for basketball.”

The Warriors (13-13 last season) feature seven seniors and three juniors.

Seniors Jack Amos and Malachi Horton split the point guard duties. Amos was a third-team all-state selection after averaging 19.3 points, 3.4 boards, four assists and two steals for the Warriors last season.

“Both of them get the ball up the floor really well,” Hays said. “We’re expecting Jack to come back and have a good year. Malachi is one of our team captains, a vocal leader, defensive leader, assist leader. Both of those guys are not tall, but they both are in the hunt for rebounding.”

Speaking of size, the Warriors feature six players who are over 6-foot tall, led by 6-6 senior strong forward Landon Caldwell and 6-5 power forward Jaden Wilson.

“Landon and Jaden were definitely the two leaders in the rebounding category last year. Those two guys attack the ball when it comes off the rim,” Hays said. “Jaden has put on some weight. He can jump very well. He finishes around the rim, and he’s a great shot blocker.”

Seniors Cade Hopper, Jackson Neyman and Na’im Dobbins, as well as junior transfer Jacob Cornejo, join Caldwell and Wilson to give the Warriors depth at the forward positions.

“We’re looking forward to being a little bigger, a little more physical, but also keeping the skill,” Hays said. “The length is there. It’s the speed we’re working on.

“Cade is a big-time rebounder, great shooter, a forward/power forward type player. He can do a little bit of everything. We expect Jacob to be an energy guy for us. He’s very physical and a great defender. He has a pretty good shot as well. He’s a gamer. He fits in with our guys very well. Na’im is coming up off the JV. He’s another post player who’s very physical.”

Juniors Alex Johnson and Eli Martin will also see time in the Warrior rotation.

“We’ve got 10 guys who we think can go,” Hays said. “There are some guys coming up who are young guys as well. I expect our JV team to be pretty talented and possibly push for some roles. We’ll just have to kind of see where the season goes with that.”

The Warriors compete in Class 4A, Area 10 along with defending state champion Jacksonville, White Plains and Cleburne County. They open the season on Tuesday at Etowah.

Hays said the Warriors want to run on offense, but said their style will depend on who they’re playing what type of game they play.

“Offensively we want to move the ball up and down the floor obviously, but the shot selection and the decisions we make when we do that is really what we need to do,” he said. “If the other team we’re playing is also fast and they do a good job on transition defense, we may have to slow it down and get into some of our sets. If we can get down the floor faster than they can and get a layup or get an open look, then we’ll take it.

“It just kind of goes to what decisions are we making if we’re playing at a fast pace. If we’re making good decisions, then we’ll run all day long. If we need to slow that team down, we may have to try and take some seconds off the clock and really see what kind of shot we’re taking and make sure we’re getting the right type of shot selection. We’re going to switch up some defenses and try to attack teams based on their scouting report.

“The biggest thing is if we can make the ball go in that little orange hoop. That’s what I’m worried about the most right now. I think the defense will be there. I think we’ll be aggressive, and I think the competitiveness will be there. When you get out of football, making it go in that little small sphere can kind of be tough. That’s what we’re looking for.”

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