George Walton Boys Basketball

From left, George Walton senior Jacob Dally, head coach Tommy Yancey, senior Daniel Yarman and senior Eli Bowen during Walton County Basketball Media Day last month.

MONROE — For a program desperately in need of something positive, last Thursday’s season opener was a good start.

The George Walton Academy boys tipped of the new year with a thrilling 30-29 win over a previously unbeaten Mount de Sales team at the Nicholson Center. It was the Bulldogs’ first season-opening win over a fellow GHSA team since 2011.

After leading the entire game, the Bulldogs fell behind midway through the fourth quarter and were down 29-27 with less than 10 seconds left. But senior forward Jacob Dally launched a desperation 3-point shot from just in front of the home bench that found nothing but net and set off a mad celebration in a raucous student section.

“It’s such a confidence booster,” said Tommy Yancey, in his third year at the helm of the GWA boys team. “It just confirms what we’re preaching this year. That is, we’ve got to go from hoping to win to expecting to win.”

Unfortunately, GWA will be expected to win without one of its key players. Sophomore guard Noah Hicks, who’s already drawing the interest of college scouts, suffered what appeared to be a serious knee injury just four minutes into the game.

He had scored the Bulldogs’ first 5 points and added a steal and two rebounds before he was carried off the floor.

“I don’t expect him back for a while,” Yancey said. “But that just means some other guys have to step up and take on new roles.”

On a team lacking depth and looking to replace it’s leading scorer and rebounder, juggling the lineup won’t be easy. But Yancey is confident this group can sustain the hit.

“We’ve gotten to the point where our guys are doing things the right way,” Yancey said. “They’ve worked hard in the offseason and have reached the point where they feel like we’re supposed to win.”

It’s something the Bulldogs have done little of lately.

Before Yancey took over the program in 2017, GWA had won just 15 games during the previous three seasons and hadn’t made the state playoffs since 2011. Under new management the past two winters, the Bulldogs have compiled 16 wins, still not good enough to earn a postseason berth. But it has provided some momentum.

The biggest challenge for this group, besides the latest injury, will be filling the statistical hole left by graduation. Gone is guard Brelan Holston, who led the county in scoring the past two seasons, along with Jason Rockmore, who was the Bulldogs’ leading rebounder.

Replacing Holston’s 20 points a game will likely be more of a team effort. Sophomore Kennedy Johnson leads the attack from his point guard position. In Hicks’ absence, senior Eli Bowen will move from a wing to the 2 guard.

Joining Dally in the front court will be Will Herren at power forward and 6-foot-5 senior Daniel Yarman at post.

The Bulldogs next play Dec. 3 against Stratford Academy.

David Johnson is a correspondent for The Walton Tribune.

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