By Jeffery Armstrong
The North Clayton Eagles basketball team is the only area boys team left in the state basketball tournament and with a big win over Gordon Central last Saturday, they have gladly accepted their invitation to play in the Sweet 16.
North Clayton, 21-8, will face another set of Eagles, those from Etowah, Friday at 8:30 p.m. in the Dalton Trade Center in the second round of the Class AAAA state tournament.
North Clayton head coach Steven Cole said he's pleased that his team has advanced further in state than they did last season. Last year, North Clayton was soundly beaten by Butler in the first round of the Class AAAA tourney.
"Winning the state championship is a process. The kids have been in the system for two years now and they're pretty solidified now," Cole said. "It's very nice to see the progression we've made since last season. The guys have worked real hard and we've accomplished most of our goals."
The goals the Eagles have accomplished were defeating the county rivals they've played, getting seeded in the Region 5-AAAA West tournament and qualifying for the state tournament. If it wasn't for a two-point loss in the final seconds to region foe Columbia, North Clayton would've been playing Mays for the Region 5-AAAA title and they would've had a first-round home game. Cole said several players have done well this season, but he's especially pleased with senior guards Ricky Washington and Anthony Harvey.
"Ricky has been great on defense in our last few games; he's done a nice job shutting down the opposing team's star player and he's been handling the ball at the point guard slot, freeing Dominique [Mitchell] from having to bang with the rebounders on defense then bring the ball up the court," Cole said. "Ricky's also picked up his scoring [up to 8 points per game] and he's doing well in the classroom - he's got close to a 3.0 grade point average."
Cole said Harvey has been great at scoring down the stretch, not settling for 3-pointers as he did earlier in the season. He's glad that Harvey is taking the ball to the basket, making layups or getting fouled and making free throws.
"Harvey is averaging about 16 points per game and he has been a big boost to the team down the stretch," he said. "It's nice to have him play well this time of the year."