- Cullman, Alabama

January 3, 2014

TALKIN’ PREP HOOPS: Area overflowing with superstars of all ages

By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times

CULLMAN — At a time when money is tight for so many, it’s hard to imagine local parents, fans and spectators aren’t getting the most bang for their buck at boys basketball games this season.

Seemingly everywhere you turn, every gym you enter across the county, there’s a superstar showing off his sick set of skills.

And with the 2013 portion of the campaign officially in the books, no one’s arguably done it better than Cold Springs’ Triston Chambers, Cullman’s Lawson Schaffer, Hanceville’s Brontae Harris or Holly Pond’s Colby Adams.

All four are capable of going off for 30 to 40 points on any given night and, more importantly, have their respective squads swimming in contender status as we prepare to embark on the second half of the season.

The Broncos (12-5) and Bulldogs (13-4) are currently ranked second and third in Class 3A, while the Eagles (11-6) are sticking around at No. 10 in 2A. The Bearcats, meanwhile, have traversed their tricky schedule to start 10-6 overall and 2-1 in area play.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the aforementioned quartet’s accomplishments is that, aside from Adams, each primetime player is an underclassmen. Chambers is scarily just a sophomore, while Schaffer and Harris are only getting better with age as juniors.

This youth movement taking Cullman County by storm consists of far more than three young men, though.

Josh Freeman is another smooth-shooting sophomore making his name known at Cold Springs. Sophomore Seth Swalve completes a 1-2 punch at guard for a Bearcat bunch that emphasizes speed and athleticism. Good Hope junior Tyler Vanderburg has been the breakthrough star no one saw coming. Sophomore Xavier Malcom has shown he’s just as likely to reel off lofty point totals for Hanceville as he is to dish out double-digit assists. Juniors Austin Smith and Cody Jones have been Holly Pond’s big and little, the former a matchup nightmare for opposing teams, the latter an up-and-coming force on both sides of the ball. Vinemont junior Lance Stanley can tickle the twine with the best of ’em. And let’s not forget West Point’s Ryder Jones, the pound-for-pound best big man around, as well as fellow junior Will Wrenn, who’s started to take off as of late.

That list right there is jampacked with enough talent for two counties, much less one. And crazily enough, it doesn’t even include Adams and the rest of the area’s standout seniors. But don’t worry, that’s coming next.

Coach Tim Willoughby recently called Layne Rice the glue that holds Cold Springs together. Fellow 3-point specialist Lane Donaldson has been doing work behind the arc at Cullman for what seems like ages. Fairview’s Elijah Garrison is a threat to take off for a triple-double each and every contest. Good Hope’s Andy Cofer recently eclipsed the 1,000-point career mark, Alex Cofer is a menace down low when healthy and Eli Marty’s proven he’s just as effective on the basketball court as the golf course. Keith Twitty and Chris Smith are playing key roles as Hanceville looks to make one of its deepest postseason runs in recent memory. Although his grown-man beard might make it look like he graduated years ago, Gunter Morris is still providing his usual plethora of grunt work at Holly Pond. And last but not least, there’s Tristan Dubberly, a spectacular shooter who’s been insanely efficient from all over the court at times for West Point.

Put all those players — both young and “old” — together, and what do you get? Parity, at least as far as county play’s been concerned. Cold Springs shook off an opening-night beatdown at the hands of Holly Pond to get the best of the Broncos in the rematch. Hanceville clipped the Eagles and hung around against Holly Pond, while West Point bested the Bulldogs just last month.

I don’t know about anyone else, but all this talk has me excited for this year’s county tournament. With four teams as competitive as Holly Pond, Cold Springs, Hanceville and West Point — as well as wild cards like Vinemont, Good Hope and Fairview rounding out the field — let the games begin.

While it’d be near impossible to pick a Player of the Year up to this point on the boys side, the girls race to glory is looking like it will be a two-player sprint to the finish between Holly Pond’s Meg Gambrill and Cullman’s Baylee Johnson. Both juniors consistently put up massive amounts of points and are the driving forces for their respective squads’ successes.

Cold Springs’ Haley Freeman also deserves to be in the discussion, as do fellow seniors Rachel Finley and Natasha Holcombe from the Lady Broncos.

The loss of leader Taylor Terry was supposed to make the Green and White at least a little worse than they were a year ago. Yet, with Gambrill, Finley, Holcombe and Taylor Rowell playing some of their best ball, Holly Pond’s actually appeared to be a bit better.

Go figure. As long as reigning 3A Coach of the Year Scott Adams is patrolling the Broncos’ bench, it’s hard to expect a hitch in the program’s giddy-up any time soon.

Don’t look now, but these Green and White girls are on their way back to Birmingham.

I can guarantee it.

% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at