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Lovejoy back in action after long break

By Derrick Mahone

dmahone@news-daily.com

It's time for Lovejoy to get back to business.

The second-ranked Wildcats have been off from competition the last 16 days during the holiday break. Lovejoy will play this evening against Carver High of Montgomery, Ala., in a 5 p.m. game in the opening day of the Hoops In Overdrive Shootout at Centennial High in Roswell.

"We are looking forward to getting back on the court," Lovejoy center Justin Tuoyo said.

The Wildcats haven't played since a 52-38 win at Forest Park on Dec. 14. However, coach Rick Francis have put the team through several practice sessions over the holiday break.

He said he is not worried about the team being rusty heading into today's game against Carver.

"They have been chumping at the bit to get back on the court," Francis said. "We had some good practice sessions over the break. We want to be better in the second half of the season than we were in the first part. The guys played some good ball in the first part of the season."

Lovejoy vaulted to No. 2 in the weekly Gasports.com coaches' poll with an 11-0 overall record as the Wildcats sit atop the Region 4-AAAA standings with a 7-0 record.

"There is no question Lovejoy is the cream of the crop," Mundy's Mill coach Tu Willingham said. "They're loaded, and Rick has figured out how to play his guys. I was very impressed with Lovejoy. To me . . . I think Lovejoy is somewhere between Miller Grove, Fayette County and Rockdale County. I think they're obviously the No. 1 team in the region. It's their tournament to win."

Although the Wildcats have received to some statewide recognition, the players realize that they still have a lot to prove. Tuoyo said playing in the Hoops In Overdrive Shootout will be good for team exposure.

Last season, the Wildcats lost both games in the three-day tournament.

After a matchup with Carver, Lovejoy will take on Class AA's Morgan County on New Year's Day in a 3 p.m. game.

The tournament will featured national powerhouse teams as Milton, Winter Park (Fla.) and Norcross. Top players include Austin Rivers, who is rated the No. 1 player in the country by ESPN. He is the son of former Atlanta Hawks point guard and current Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

"We know a lot of people still don't believe in us," Tuoyo said. "People have been saying that we haven't been playing anybody. Each game we go in and play hard. We are serious about this season."

Francis has been most impressed with the team's defense and unselfish play. Lovejoy is giving up only 45 points per games, which leads the 11-team region. Only two other teams in the state allow fewer points than Lovejoy.

The coach also notes that the team is averaging about 15 assists per game, which helps an offense that is averaging 60 points a contest.

"We have played well," Francis said.

"I feel good about our defense. We have a very good group of guys that have played well together offensively. They are very unselfish. They really don't care how who scores because they are passing the ball around.

This is definitely a very unselfish group."

Lovejoy will likely be without two players in the tournament. Guard Leroy Merritt and forward Widley Guerrier each sustained ankle injuries during the holiday break. Francis said he will likely sit both to rest them for the upcoming region schedule.

"The big thing is our region games because these two games don't mean as much," Francis said.

"We want them to be ready when we start back playing the games that count in our region."