Georgia Grizzlies basketball sees success after expansion

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Nic Tyler believes there is a void sports-wise in Bartow County, and he's spent the past few years trying to fill it.

While Cartersville and the surrounding area is well-known across the state — and even somewhat nationally — for developing football and baseball talent, there isn't the same level of respect shown to basketball.

That isn't to say the talent on the court isn't up to the level seen on the gridiron and the diamond. But to consistently churn out top-tier talent there has to be an investment at a young age.

That's where Tyler's Georgia Grizzlies program comes into play.

The 2010 graduate of Excel Christian Academy said he started the program five years ago in hopes of giving young basketball players in the county another avenue to success. After having coached the same group of players for a few years, he revamped the Grizzlies last year and in February expanded the program to include five teams of varying age groups.

"Got in contact with a friend of mine who had been playing professionally overseas for eight years," Tyler said of vice president Emmanuel Holloway. "He came on board and was my assistant coach last year. When I originally started our program five years ago, I had told my wife and some other coaches in the community, 'Five years from now, I want to be able to have a program that is developing all age groups for our county.'

"A lot of our athletes in our county that get recognition are, of course, the football and baseball players. As a former basketball player from Bartow County who did go to college on a scholarship, to me there just is not enough platforms for the basketball athletes in our county, which is what originally started the idea of the expansion."

It's fair to say the expansion has gone swimmingly with three teams participating in the Teammate Basketball National Championship this past weekend in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

The Grizzlies' 8-and-under squad brought home a national title after winning the four-team tournament. Three pool-play victories came by a total of 71 points before a 42-point win in the semifinals. They then defeated the Metro Atlanta Kings, 39-32, in the championship game.

"The biggest thing is just wanting to be a competitor," Tyler said of the key to the 8U team winning the title. "We have a lot of dual-athletes on that team at the age of 7 right now, who are maximum competitors for their age group. No matter what sport they're playing, they want to be the best at what they're trying to do. ... They're just athletes year round. Every single day they're doing something to better themselves athletically, and 85-90 percent of the stuff they're doing is basketball-related."

The 9U team finished third out of five teams. They went 1-1 in pool play and 1-2 in bracket play, falling to the runner-up by three points in a game that would have put them in the championship.

There were 32 teams split into eight pools in the 14U tournament. The Grizzlies went 1-2, including a tough one-point loss, to finish third in their pool. It put them in the "NCAA" bracket that consisted of the teams that finished third and fourth in their pools. (The "NBA" bracket was made up of the top two teams from each pool.)

In bracket play, the Grizzlies won each of their first three games by single-digits. They ultimately fell in the championship game, 63-55, to a team from North Carolina.

The overall success has Tyler proud of what the program has achieved thus far, and he's hoping it carries over into the future.

"Our guys worked really hard, starting back in February," Tyler said. "Just busting our butts all summer. ... The progress that all of our guys have shown, mixed in with the hard work, it's amazing to see what the outcome has been this year."