Hank Peppers admits he's a competition junky. The better the game, the higher the stakes, the more the LaFayette High School boys basketball coach likes it.
Considering the competition the Ramblers now have in Region 6-AAA, Peppers should certainly get his fix this season.
LaFayette, a 25-game winner a year ago in rolling through Region 6-AAAA, is part of a top-heavy league that has the potential to produce fierce battles on a nightly basis and a few heavy hitters come playoff time.
"It's a very good boys basketball region, but that's a good thing," said Peppers, whose team has battled COVID setbacks to start 6-0 and hasn't had a game closer than 18 points. "Every team in the region is good, no pushovers at all. You have to bring your A-game every night, but that's the way you want it."
The Ramblers feature four major cogs from last year's Class AAAA quarterfinal team. Aidan Hadaway is one of the state's leading scorers at 24 points per game and adds 12 rebounds and nearly three blocked shots. DeCameron Porter is a double-double machine as well, putting in 17.5 points and 13 rebounds to go with nearly four blocks, while Junior Barber is at 14.6 points and 6.2 rebounds, with point guard Jaylon Ramsey getting nearly seven assists a game.
"We've gotten better every game, defensively especially, but what's stood out so far, to me, is how much our offensive ability has improved," Peppers said. "They learned so much from playing in those big games late last year. You can't simulate that type of experience, so it helps you grow up as a player. It teaches you the magnitude of each possession and it's shown so far this year."
The Ramblers get a true test Friday when they host defending region tournament champion Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe. The Warriors (7-2, 5-1) can match LaFayette's athleticism with sophomore stars Brent Bowman (15 points, five rebounds, three assists) and the versatile JaMichael Davis (15.4 points, 9.5 rebounds, five assists, four steals) and have one of the area's top shooters in senior Cameron Gregg.
Though coach Josh Laney had to replace graduated all-star Jacob King and lost sixth-man Cameron Lay to a knee injury early this season, he feels the Warriors are poised to compete with anyone. The emergence of Davis, who started as a freshman a year ago, is one of the main reasons for optimism.
"He had 41 points against Adairsville the other night to go with 15 rebounds, five steals and four assists," Laney said of Davis. "That's the third or fourth double-double he's had this year. His ability to finish at the rim is so prolific and he has a variety of moves. But what really separates him is how elite he is defensively. He's 6-2, but he has great length, so he can guard anybody from 1-4 and we put him on the opposing team's best player."
The league's surprise team is Sonoraville, which is off to a 10-0 (4-0 in 6-AAA) start. The Phoenix start five seniors, led by point guard Orry Darnell (15.5 points, 4.5 assists), forward Murray Somers (14.4 points, 10.6 rebounds) and post Kevin Morrison (9.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, three steals).
Coach Brent Mashburn's team, which is coming off a tournament win at Haralson County, has one of the state's stingiest defenses, allowing only 46.6 points per game.
"This maybe my best defensive group," Mashburn said. "They can cause some issues for folks. We're not overly athletic or extremely talented, but we have a group that understands what we're trying to get accomplished and they work so hard on their games. I'm excited about starting 10-0 but, considering how tough this region is, I know there are some hard times coming.
"I would like to think we are built for postseason success. If you happen to earn a one or two seed out of this region you've accomplished something."
The region's depth continues with Murray County (7-3, 4-1), a top 10-ranked team that already owns a win over LFO. Haden Newport (18.7 points, 7.6 rebounds) and Brannon Nuckolls (13.7 points, seven rebounds) lead a deep roster for veteran coach Greg Linder.
While those four have the inside track on postseason berths, Coahulla Creek (7-4, 3-3) and Adairsville (6-4, 2-4) will pose problems, while North Murray and Rockmart, while inexperienced this season, each won over 20 games a year ago.
"Everyone knows how elite the league is in Chattanooga with Brainerd, Howard, Red Bank and those guys, but I really feel ours is the toughest one around this year," LFO's Laney said. "It's a bloodbath every single night in this region."
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @youngsports22