Tifton Gazette

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June 19, 2014

Hoop Devils prepping for next year

TIFTON — Back to work for the Tift County Blue Devils. Three months after winning the school's second state basketball championship and becoming the first non-metro Atlanta team to win a crown since 1998, they are prepping for title defenses.

Some names have changed in the meantime, but ask head coach Dr. Eric Holland about how everyone is doing and he will say, "our program is doing great." Eighth Street Middle is doing well, he said, and the junior varsity team is undefeated.

Does this extend to the varsity squad? Indeed, it does.

The losses of several key players — including seven of his top 10 scorers and eight who earned academic or athletic scholarships — seems to be no worry to Holland. "I feel like we're the best team in the state," he said.

Consistency has certainly been key over the years for the Devils. They have been to the state tournament 21 straight years and 23 of the last 24. During Holland's years in Tifton, they have gone 11-4 once they hit the big tourney, including three trips to the quarterfinals or deeper.

Holland has the replacements lined up. Micah Johnson, who spent some time on the varsity squad, is on course to be his point guard of the future. Among those expected to make a big first-time impact is Adam Hester, who Holland said "has really developed offensively and defensively."

Then, there are the usuals. "P.J. (Horne) is P.J." and Jalen Lewis and Hayden Mullinax have been named team captains.

The only thing that does worry Holland is his efforts to keep their development a secret.

"I'm trying to keep them under wraps," he said. Part of the plan to do so is not participate in many visible events. Thursday, they were scheduled to play an "in-house" game.

The GHSA's dead week begins June 29 and runs through July 5. The calendar then turns over into the new school year. Official basketball practice begins Oct. 27. Tift's schedule is set to begin with a scrimmage Nov. 8 with a tentative regular season start Nov. 15 at Thomasville. Thomasville is also slated to be their first home game on Nov. 21.

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