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Heritage High School's Jaylon Gaines, left, and Hunter Erickson guard each other during drills at the school.

RINGGOLD, Ga. -- Remember when the recipe for success on the basketball court was equal to the number of stars on the roster? Somewhere the ultimate team sport became a showcase for star power.

Things have changed quickly. The San Antonio Spurs proved last year just how powerful a well-tuned team can be, and the Atlanta Hawks have built on that through the first half of the NBA season this year. It's a theme that's also working on the prep level.

Take the Heritage Generals, for instance. After going 13-14 last year, coach Kevin Terry's team graduated several top players, so this season began with little expected. Twenty games in -- 17 of them wins -- the Generals are sitting atop Region 7-AAAA because the sum is greater than the parts.

"The last two years we were almost winning a lot," Terry said. "We had some talent, but it never really jelled. This year the chemistry is so much better, and the guys are just so selfless. They like passing to one another and setting each other up. We've had a lot of possessions where we've passed the ball five or more times before getting a shot.

"We talked earlier in the year about becoming that type of team, and we showed them some clips of the Spurs and how well they play together as a team. They've really made the effort to come together, so that's where the credit lies."

This isn't to say Terry has little to work with. Point guard Jaylon Gaines and shooting guard Hunter Erickson are the sparks. Gaines, a senior, recently became the school's all-time assists leader and is averaging better than six a game this year to go with 11 points. Erickson cashes in most of those dimes, averaging 16 points and shooting 43 percent from 3-point range.

It's a duo, much like the Hawks' Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver, that most teams can't handle, according to Terry.

"Our guards have been the best set we've seen all year," Terry said. "The last four or five games Jaylon has been the best player on the court every night, and he just loves setting his teammates up. He's real quick and he has unbelievable handles. He's also starting to get a bit of a pull-up jumper, which really makes him dangerous.

"Hunter has been shooting well, and he's such a deadly weapon from the 3-point line, that with teams having such a hard time staying in front of Jaylon, Hunter's shooting has really been a big difference."

Gaines, who also is averaging three steals and four rebounds per game, doesn't mince words when asked to describe the difference in the team this season.

"Last year we were really talented, but we didn't play together well," he said. "We were selfish last year, and there's much more teamwork this year and we're buying into what Coach Terry is teaching."

Despite their lofty record, the Generals have their doubters, but those ranks shrank with a recent three-win week. The victory over Cartersville, the preseason league favorite, was particularly impressive.

"When we played Cartersville, Ringgold and Northwest in the same week and beat them all, it showed what kind of team we can be," Erickson said. "The confidence level is real high right now. We all started coming together in the summer when we were playing pickup games together. We know we have a lot of individual talent, but we play really well together, and that's been the key."

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6296.

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