Blue Devils begin basketball at Cook

Henry Gebhart zips around a Camden County defender in a 2022 game. Gebhart is one of Tift County’s leading scorers returning in 2022-23.

TIFTON — The time has finally arrived for the Tift County Blue Devils to start the 2022-23 basketball season.

Two weeks after the Lady Devils began their campaign, the Devils finally join them Friday, Dec. 2, at Cook. The squads will also play Dec. 3 at Valdosta. Home games won’t begin until Dec. 9, which will not feature the varsity girls. Both boys and will play Dec. 13 against Westover.

Tift head coach Tommy Blackshear is optimistic about what will unfold this weekend.

“We seem to be ready,” he said.

Blackshear said the Blue Devils are a little older and more mature this season: “We have a little age this year.” Six of Tift’s top seven scoring options from 2021-22 are back, including points leader Tyler Parker. “We’re expecting bigger results,” he said.

The Blue Devils finished an uncharacteristic 12-14 last year and third place in Region 1-7A. They won’t be in that region this year, having shifted to 1-6A, but the challenges are arguably greater. Tift has the longest active streak in Georgia for consecutive state tournament appearances, one that dates back to Blackshear’s first tenure and 1994.

For the last two seasons, a state tournament bid was an automatic, given there were only four teams in the region. Now, there are six and Tift will have to finish better than two of them to keep the streak going.

Region is a long ways off, however, with the first scheduled game against a 1-6A team being Jan. 6. Tift still has two Christmas tournaments in between and a lot of basketball for Blackshear to see. That begins with Cook, a team Blackshear knows well.

Before coming back to Tifton, Blackshear spent a spell in Adel. He said he is looking forward to seeing friends at Cook. The Hornets’ current seniors are players he coached in eighth grade.

Friday will also be Cook’s debut. The Hornets are two weeks out of football, having advanced to the second round of the Class AA tournament. They went 7-21 a season ago — with two losses to Tift — but were a scrappy bunch.

Saturday sees them travel to Valdosta, which is 1-1 this year, having beaten Cedar Shoals but falling to Hebron Christian. They were scheduled to play Coffee Nov. 29 and Westover Dec. 2. Westover is also on Tift’s schedule.

Fans got a glimpse of the Blue Devils at Midnight Madness in November. Since then, Blackshear said he’s liked what he’s seen out of several players. Besides Parker, he’s returning big production numbers from 2021-22 with Will Clark, Ty’Quan Mills, Henry Gebhart, Davis Byrnes and Christian Jones. Tift additionally has reliable hands such as Tristan Boone, Teshawn Bryant and McKyler Horne in the lineup.

Tift’s 1-2 Lady Devils will also be at Cook. The Lady Hornets are 1-0, having edged Clinch County. Unlike the boys, the two did not play last year. Jimmya Cushion, O’ashia Cushion and Jalaya Miller have been the Lady Devils’ main scoring options so far.

Most recently, Tift fell late against state power Peachtree Ridge at the Charles Cooper Classic at Lowndes.

The Lady Cats of Valdosta are 2-3. All five of their games have been against Florida schools.

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