Dr. Eric Holland has a plan. The Tift County Blue Devils mentor wants to have a series of games between south Georgia's finest basketball schools and the traditional Savannah prep powers.
Right now, the plan is only in its first phase, the first ever Friendly City Shoot-Out. There are two games Saturday evening, one between the Thomasville Bulldogs and Jenkins Warriors at 6 p.m. and another featuring his Devils against the Savannah Blue Jackets, slotted to start at 7:30.
If top schools out of Chatham County were his goal, it is hard to find one more powerful than Savannah.
"They're really good," he said. "They have a 6-8 kid in the middle and they're the No. 1 team in the state [in Class AAA]."
The two are familiar with one another. As part of the McDonald's Invitational last year, Tift won 65-55 in a hotly contested matchup. The Devils would ultimately go to the state quarterfinals, where they fell to North Cobb. Savannah made it all the way to the state finals, where they were defeated by city rival Johnson, denying them their 14th state championship. It was the second straight runner-up finish for them; in 2012, it was Milton who defeated them.
Times have not changed for the Blue Devils, who hold a 7-1 record, though there have been roster changes since last season. The Kansas Jayhawks claimed Brannen Greene while Donell Tuff went to Gardner-Webb. Future Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Tadric Jackson has naturally stepped up even further, averaging 22 points per game. Tuff's slot at center has gone to a rookie, Preston Horne. What Horne lacks in age, he makes up for in everything else.
"He's one of the best freshmen I've ever coached," said Holland. "He's the total package." Horne, who has also been playing AAU ball, is already receiving national attention from Division I programs. "He's one of the top recruits now," he said.