It was a year of transition for a few Bartow County boys basketball teams, but it was also a season of immense success for a couple of others.
Cass and Adairsville managed to punch tickets to the state playoffs after using similar approaches focused on defense, senior leadership and balanced scoring.
The Colonels narrowly missed out on the postseason the previous year, but they would not be denied this time around. After placing third in the Region 7-AAAAA tournament, Cass dropped a heartbreaker to Columbia in the first round of the playoffs. It prevented what would have likely been, at least, a run to the state quarterfinals.
Meanwhile, the Tigers ended a postseason drought dating back to 2017 with an upset of Murray County in the Region 6-AAA tournament. At the state level, Adairsville wound up falling to Jefferson, which ended up finishing second in Class 3A, in the first round.
Elsewhere, Cartersville missed out on the playoffs after having reached the Elite Eight each of the past two seasons. The Canes had the misfortune of going through a rebuilding year in the midst of a strong overall season for Region 5-AAAA.
Woodland and Excel Christian combined to win just a handful of games. It was the first season at the helm for Wildcats head coach Jacob Selman, while it proved to be the last year in charge of the Eagles for Shannon Boatfield, who was replaced by David Archer Jr. just weeks after the end of the season.
As will be the case in many sports, the 2020-21 school year will be fascinating with Cartersville, Cass and Woodland in the same region, alongside Blessed Trinity, Calhoun and Hiram. The race for the top-four spots in boys basketball should be as fun as any of the other sports.
Player of the Year:
Zaylan Chaney, Cass sophomore
A case could be made for several players to have earned this selection. That speaks to the overall talent in the area, but also the balance on most of the teams that no individual player stood head and shoulders above the rest. As it were, Chaney proved to be the most impactful player in the county, while adding the team success of helping the Colonels return to the state playoffs after a one-year hiatus. After showing occasional flashes of potential his freshman season, Chaney stepped into the hole vacated by graduate Jacquez Fountain — the 2018-19 POY — and shined. Chaney averaged 14.7 points on a 57.7 effective field-goal percentage. He added 6.8 rebounds, 0.5 steals and 0.5 blocks per game. The scary thing for future Cass opponents is that Chaney should only get better, particularly on the defensive end.
Braxton Benham, Cass junior — There are certain players who could fit into any system and immediately stand out. Benham is one of those players. His incredibly well-rounded game makes everyone around him better, while simultaneously providing cover for them. On the season, Benham averaged 11.1 points (with a 52.1 eFG%), 4.1 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 3.4 steals a game. As a wing, he even led the team with 18 blocks. A tremendous athlete, Benham was putting together a great season on the soccer field for the Colonels before COVID-19 led to an interruption last week.
Kolbe Benham, Cartersville junior — If a Canes game came down to the wire, Benham always seemed to find himself at the foul line. That’s not hyperbole. He literally stood at the charity stripe in the closing seconds of three games, with the outcomes hanging in the balance. Despite being unable to convert in the first situation, Benham came through the final two times, lifting Cartersville to a pair of thrilling come-from-behind wins in Region 5-AAAA. He was named to the all-region second team after averaging 12.9 points per game. Benham racked up 103 rebounds, 44 made 3-pointers and 21 steals for the year.
Rashard Doyal, Excel Christian junior — Doyal showed great scoring potential in bursting onto the local scene this past season. He averaged 16 points per game, while going off for 31 in a loss to Mt. Zion after leasing scorer Rayshawn Womack went down with an injury. Doyal showed an ability to connect consistently from deep, hitting 37% of his shots from beyond the arc. He also chipped in with an average of three rebounds and three assists a night. For his efforts, Doyal wound up as an honorable-mention selection in Region 6-A. He will be a player to watch next season with Womack graduating.
DiAnthony Heathcock, Woodland senior — After putting in a ton of work in the offseason, Heathcock was far and away the most talented player on a Wildcats team that didn’t return a single starter from the 2018-19 season. The Columbia International (South Carolina) signee benefitted from being the focal point of everything Woodland did. However, he also faced constant pressure — both from opposing defenses and in attempts to carry his own team. Heathcock grew from the experience and became a true force by the end of the season, averaging 14 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks a game.
Savaun Henderson, Adairsville senior — Henderson has proved to be one of the top Tigers on the gridiron for the past few seasons. This winter, he truly stepped into a starring role for the Adairsville basketball team. Always a lockdown defender with great instincts — that applies to both sports — Henderson developed into a major offensive threat for the Tigers in helping lead them to a state tournament berth. He paced the team with an average of 13 points a night, while chipping in across the board with five rebounds, two assists and two steals. Even still, Henderson’s leadership was his greatest asset.
T.J. Printup, Adairsville sophomore — While Henderson really came on strong offensively the second half of the season and a few other players were capable of big games, Printup was the most consistent scoring threat for Adairsville. Despite his youth, the lanky, 6-foot-2 wing showed an ability to score from all levels. He could slash to the hole and finish consistently, while also finding openings around the arc to knock down jumpers. Printup finished the season averaging 11 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block per game, showcasing his budding all-around talent.
Micah Tart, Cartersville senior — Tart has always been a solid asset for the Canes, but in his senior season, the versatile guard was asked to take on a prominent role. He rose to the occasion, averaging just under 10 points per game, while contributing in every statistical area. Tart totaled 83 rebounds, 73 assists and 34 steals for averages of 4.0, 3.5 and 1.6, respectively, per game. His assist total led the Canes. A remarkable athlete, Tart even paced Cartersville with 14 blocked shots, despite checking in at an even 6-foot tall. A smart, crafty player, as well as a team captain, Tart will be tough for the Canes to replace.
Rayshawn Womack, Excel Christian senior — In a telling sign as to the changing of the guard in the area, Womack is the lone holdover from last year’s all-county team. After a stellar junior season, his senior encore was even better. Womack went from a second-team all-region performer who averaged 14.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game to a first-team selection who contributed 19 points and seven boards a night. He led the county in scoring by shooting 47% from the field and 70% from the foul line. The Eagles are set to bring back Doyal and Kalil Holley to ease the transition into the Archer era.
Kam Callahan, Cartersville sophomore; Jordan Ford, Cass senior; Malachi Gardner, Adairsville senior; Kalil Holley, Excel Christian junior; C.J. Pipkin, Cass junior; and K.J. Rogers, Woodland freshman.