TIFTON — High school football is soon to dominate everyone’s days, but before it arrives, Tiftarea Academy basketball coach Mike Patrick was able to get some work in with his Panthers.

Patrick had a brief summer with his players, but a very productive one. They played games as part of camps at Valwood and Valdosta State.

“We had a good two-and-a-half weeks,” he said. “Optimism is high.”

Tiftarea is coming off its best basketball season in four years, a campaign that saw them advance to the elite eight. The first round was their first since 2010. Along the way, they won for the first time in ages at Deerfield-Windsor, finished as GISA Region 3-AAA runners-up and had a record of 13-10.

Eight players have departed Tiftarea because of graduation, a high number for the school. But Patrick said there will still be several seniors this upcoming season.

At Valwood, Patrick said the Panthers won three games, against Westwood, Echols County and Highland Christian. The latter school won the GICAA state basketball tournament in Division I-A

“Highland still has a really good team,” Patrick said.

A week later, they returned to the Azalea City and a team camp at Valdosta State. There, they played six games and finished with a record of 2-4 against tough competition that included public schools from Georgia and Florida.

Valdosta State had room for B-teams, too, and the young Panthers also played six games. A victory there was over the B-team of Fitzgerald High School.

Tiftarea graduated several players from the 2018-19 squad, including its top four scoring options and a wealth of experience. Point guard Dylan Harbort had the most starts among those expected to be back in uniform.

Harbort, like nearly every man on Tiftarea’s basketball roster, plays football. Some of Patrick’s players were available part-time during the team camps. One of the players affected was Adam McKinney. When he was able to join the basketball brethren, “He gave us a big boost.”

Patrick’s not complaining about football one bit. Everyone has gotten stronger, he said, including Gray Patterson. A post player, Patterson will have to be some of squad’s muscle under the basket.

Among others he expects to play this winter are Dow Johnston, Harmon Maraman, Banks Johnson, Sellers Veazey, John Adam Copeland, Colson Stewart and Holt Dixon.

Copeland is one of the most versatile players in the lineup, with the ability to play four positions. Veazey is back with the team after not playing a year ago. Stewart moves up from the B-team.

Harbort is the top scorer among the returnees, having averaged 6.3 points per game in 2018-19, with a high of 16 points against Westfield. Crosson, who missed the last handful of games because of injury, is next best among the group.

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