The 6A region boasts a powerful core of boys’ basketball programs that served up some of the most unimaginable finishes last season.
The Mill Creek High School boys’ basketball team had something to do with that as the Hawks finished 21-7 overall and 10-4 in the region. All of Mill Creeks’ losses last year were by 10 points or less, a testament as to how aggressive each matchup was.
This year, not too much will change in terms of the competition. Every game is going to be a slugfest and they won’t have much room for error. The Hawks will have their hands full, but Head Coach Chad Rodgers doesn’t have a problem with that. In fact, he prefers his team jump right into the teams that will give him a tough challenge.
“Let’s go ahead and find out what are weaknesses are and get ready for the region. The region is going to be a battle but that’s what makes it fun. Every night they are going to play in front of a big crowd,” said Rodgers. “Our crowd has been great. Our goal is to win the region championship.”
The Hawks’ first three games of the year are all against teams that had a postseason run, including one that made it all the way to the state title game.
“We’ve got three sophomores up right now and they are going to have to jump right into the fire because our first three games are Sequoyah, Martin Luther King (MLK) and Alpharetta High School,” said Rodgers.
MLK have recently become a powerhouse and should deliver a tough challenge for the Hawks. Last season, the Lions went 21-10 and ended their season in the Elite Eight. Alpharetta went 19-13 before making it to the fourth round of the state playoffs, so the Hawks will have their work cut out for them, especially since they lost plenty of experienced players.
“We had seven seniors last year. Three of them signed basketball scholarships. Two of them were All-Region and All-County (players). The other one was honorable mention and then we had some really good players that didn’t sign,” Rodgers said.
Elijah Bryant and Trevon Shaw may be two of the most recognizable names but, the Hawks also have a host of other athletes that Rodgers says he believes can have an impact.
“Trevon is the only returning starter and Elijah is here and there. Elijah has grown to 6’4; he was a 5’8 sophomore playing varsity [for us]. He had a real good summer. [As far as] Trevon everybody knows him and they’re going to guard him tight. He’s a very good player. I expect leadership out of those two because of their experience,” saidd Rodgers.
“Chase Duffy will play post for us this year. He played starter minutes last year as a sophomore. He’ll be a junior this year,” said Rodgers. “Expect him to be big around the boards. He knows he is going to be guarding some guys that are three to four inches taller than him but he did fine with that last year.
“The surprise is going to be a guy that has no choice but to play good, [and that is] TJ Christopher. He’ll be a senior. He’s got a great vertical, got a good body; 6’3 210 pounds and can shoot the three,” said Rodgers.
“As a coach, I’ll start with them first, let them drive the bus and let them be the leaders. Because football is in the playoffs, I’m doing double duty right now which is great and, we’ve got some guys down there that we’re counting on. So we’ve got some young guys right now that have are going to have a chance (until those guys get out) to get some playing time,” Rodgers stated.
Mill Creek came just one game shy of being dubbed region champs, however, Rodgers said he believes that following a certain set of principles can carry this team a long way.
“We lost by one [point] in the region tournament in the region championship [game]. That was hard to swallow. We got enough guys in the locker room to understand it’s a long season and understand what we have to do in order to win,” said Rodgers. “We have to play as team, play defense, rebound and you have to get in shape. If we do that, who knows [what could happen].”
Sure you get a lot more recognition in this game if you win region games, however, the non-region opponents can turn heads as well if the underdog emerges. For Rodgers, playing a mixture of both is a recipe that will allow his team to exploit the areas that need to be patched up.
“Any night that we don’t play hard, we are going to get beat and that’s how it should be because if we don’t play hard, I’m not going to be satisfied regardless of the outcome,” said Rodgers. “That’s why we schedule those games. We have to set the bar high and we have to meet it all the time.”
Mill Creek went on a 10-game winning streak before being brought down by Duluth High School. It probably felt like a dream; a good slumber that Rodgers would have liked to continue.
“I was hoping [it wouldn’t end]. I know we had the best record in the state for a while and we won the accolades for the team of the month for [all of] Gwinnett County,” said Rodgers.
“The coaches did a great job of getting the guys ready. The [coaches] did a great job of helping the guys shoot the ball well. We shot 52 percent from the 3-point line for a long time. We want the ball games to come to the three,” said Rodgers.
The Hawks will need another undefeated streak to start things off and carry that momentum throughout the entire year. Every team is fighting for the same thing but only one can be crowned a champion.
“We tell them everyone is practicing for the same thing. We’re going to try to be good at playing as a team. I want guys to be very confident offensively. We are going to try and space the floor, shoot the three and try to win a bunch of ball games,” Rodgers said.