The Raiders had a 6-6 record going into the new year after going 4-5 in December, but turned things around as they bounced back with a nine-game winning streak last month.
While the streak ended with a 73-62 loss to Region 6AAAAAA leader Lambert last Saturday, Alpharetta (15-7, 9-2) is now solidly in second place in 6AAAAAA and appears to be a solid bet to return to the Class AAAAAA state tournament – where it advanced to the Sweet 16 last year and the semifinals in 2012.
It was after a disappointing performance at the Big Red Shootout holiday tournament in Gainesville in late December – where the Raiders lost two of their three games – that coach Fredrick Hurt said his team began their comeback.
“We’ve played very well since the Christmas break,” Hurt said. “We did not play smart at all in our Christmas tournament and I was very disappointed and they were very disappointed in themselves as well. So we had some tough practices and some brutally honest team meetings after the Christmas tournament and we all seem to have gotten on the same page. We’re just playing much better right now.”
Alpharetta has had to deal with major changes in its lineup this season after losing seven seniors from last year’s Sweet 16 team – with all seven playing key roles in the lineup.
“We’re not really younger – we have only one sophomore on the varsity,” Hurt said. “It’s just that the seniors – their roles are much different from last year and it’s taken a little while to get used to it. But they’ve stepped up into those roles and played their roles well and the junior class has emerged and helped a lot.”
With some size in the front court, Alpharetta is able to establish itself under the basket as well as playing its usual up-tempo game.
“It’s weird, because sometimes what I think is their strength – we don’t play to it sometimes and that was what was a little bit frustrating about how we were playing during the Christmas break is that we weren’t playing smart in certain things,” Hurt said. “We’ve always had a team that likes to push it up and down the court. But now, we really try to play inside-out.”
The Raiders have been boosted by the arrival of 6-6 junior post player Devontae Cacok, a transfer from Drew High School in Riverdale, who leads the team in both scoring with 19.3 points a game and rebounding with 13 rebounds per contest.
Alpharetta has also gotten a strong contribution lately from 6-0 senior guard Bryan Roberts, who led the team with 14 points a game during a recent four-game stretch.
Also playing key roles are 6-7 junior wing Jaylen Gamble and 6-7 senior post player Grant Davis.
The Raiders finish the regular season this week and then will move on to next week’s 6AAAAAA tournament, where they have secured the No. 2 seed.
“Us and [No. 1 team] Lambert are the only two schools who control our own destinies,” Hurt said. “It’s for us to control, but we can mess around. But we like our chances and Lambert likes their chances.”