After an offseason filled with change, the area high school basketball season is set to tip off tonight.
Among the changes since the 2017-18 season ended eight months ago are new head coaches for McCallie and the Baylor and Howard boys' teams. Also, the TSSAA has lifted the postseason ban on Brainerd's boys, clearing the way for the Panthers to be eligible again for district, region and even state tournament contention.
The Panthers were not allowed to participate in last season's playoffs following a benches-clearing brawl with Austin-East. But after coaches from both teams agreed to hold two joint sportsmanship clinics and conduct several community-service projects, the TSSAA lifted the second year of its two-year playoff ban, allowing both programs to be eligible for postseason tournaments.
"It's major. We're extremely excited about it," said Panthers coach Levar Brown, who returns seven key players, including three starters from last year's 21-win team. "Our kids are excited again coming into the season, because they know the playoffs are a goal once again. We feel good about it and want to make those people that have supported us proud."
Shortly after Baylor's boys finished state runners-up in Division II-AA last season, legendary coach Austin Clark retired and was replaced by Mark Price, who had been an assistant coach at Belmont University the previous seven seasons. Price helped Belmont to six consecutive conference championships and three NCAA Division I tournaments.
This will be the first time in 37 years that the Red Raiders will have someone other than Clark stalking the sideline as head coach. Baylor returns an experienced group that includes all-state wing Beyaun Hendricks and fellow senior Lorenzo White as well as 6-foot-6 newcomer Nick Kurtz, a sophomore from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who is committed to Wake Forest's baseball program.
"We're excited and anxious to get going," Price said. "I've only seen what these kids can do in practice, and we're just now getting some of our football guys into basketball shape, but I like the effort I've seen already."
Howard turned its program over to James Talley, who had been an assistant for two seasons under veteran Walter "Moose" McGary and is also a former Hustlin' Tigers player. Also, McCallie named David Conrady, a former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga assistant, as its new coach.
On the girls' side, Bradley Central returns four starters from last year's Class AAA state tournament team but must replace all-state wing Rhyne Howard, who's now a starter at Kentucky.
Included among the all-star-caliber players who are back is East Hamilton junior wing Madison Hayes and Brainerd senior Kimia Carter, who has committed to Stetson, as well as Notre Dame junior guard Kate Ford and Signal Mountain sophomore post Olivia Koontz.
One of the northwest Georgia all-stars from last season is Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe senior guard Macey Gregg, who averaged 21 points and five rebounds, is a University of North Georgia commitment and is on the brink of becoming LFO's career scoring leader.
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.