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Posted: Tuesday, January 25th 2011 at 4:18pm

Q&A: Dix says schedule has Vikings ready for Union showdown

By Morgan Lee Editor
click to enlarge
East Hall's basketball team and coach Joe Dix, in purple, react during their Lanierland Tournament victory in December in Oakwood.
The East Hall boys basketball team faces its biggest game of the subregion season (so far) on Tuesday night in Blairsville when the 10th-ranked Vikings (12-5) travel to face No. 7 Union County. East Hall has put together a strong campaign in the face of one of the toughest schedules in the state. As the Vikings prepared for Tuesday's showdown in the mountains, Access North Georgia sports editor Morgan Lee talked with East Hall coach Joe Dix to discuss the Vikings’ season so far, their chase for the Region 8-AA title and the injury situation -- to coach Dix, who hurt his right ankle this past weekend.

QUESTION: You started the season with an impressive victory in the Lanierland Tournament before Christmas. How has the season progressed since then, in your estimation?

ANSWER: Things have been going good. We’ve had such a tough schedule that we haven’t had much time to reflect on the Lanierland victory -- those teams we played in the Upward Classic (in Spartanburg, S.C. after Christmas) didn’t care about our Lanierland title. But hopefully playing such a tough schedule has prepared us for the postseason and some of the big games we’re going to face in the stretch run.

Q: You face a 15-0 and seventh-ranked Union County team on Tuesday in Blairsville. How good are the Panthers?

A: I saw them in person the other night. They’re a very good shooting team. They’ve developed an identity, and they’ll shoot a lot of 3-pointers and play a wide-open style. They’ve certainly changed the culture with that program. They won just four games last year, so to be undefeated right now is impressive.

Q: What will your team need to do to be successful on Tuesday?

A: We’ve got to do what we do well, on the defensive end particularly. We also need to rebound the ball the better.

Q: Are you pleased with how the season has gone for your team so far?

A: We’re where we wanted to be, 4-0, with a chance to go undefeated through the first round of the subregion schedule. The second time around, we’ve got three of our subregion games at home. So if we can get a win on the road (Tuesday) night that will be big and put us in a good position.

Q: How has your team developed throughout this season?

A: We’ve gotten deeper and deeper. We’ve had eight different guys score in double figures, so we’ve got the ability to put up points in a number of spots. (6-foot-5 forward) Sterling’s (Bailey) re-emergence as a basketball player has been big. He’s averaging 13 rebounds a game for us right now. Kymon (Woods') health has also been a major factor -- he’s been with us almost the entire season. And Joshua Hampton has been as good as anyone around this season, leading us in scoring (19 points per game). Brian Edwards has also developed as a big contributor off the bench for us, as has Hayden Chapman. The thing is is that we’ve only had about four-five games where everyone has played. Kymon missed a few games at the start of the season while he was still getting healthy; (senior forward) Chaz Cheeks is still trying to get basketball healthy -- he got hurt at the end of football season, came back and then got hurt again in a postseason all-star football game; and Sterling missed a few games to play in the (U.S. Army All American Game for football). So if we can get everyone going at the same time, we’re going to have a lot of depth.

Q: How tough was it playing so many games last week due to weather rescheduling?

A: It was our fifth game in seven days on Saturday, and I was afraid we wouldn’t have the energy to compete, but we competed and just came up short (in an 87-82 loss to Class A No. 1 Whitefield Academy in Rabbittown).

Q: Last year’s team got East Hall back on track and into the state playoffs; how does this team compare with last year?

A: We’re a little bit better than last year as this point. We’re not shooting the ball as well as last year, but we’re doing better on defense and with some other factors.

Q: If there was one factor your team has to improve on to make a deep run in the postseason, what is it?

A: We’ve got to rebound better. Our guard play is always going to be solid, but we’ve got to rebound it better, because at some point we’re going to see someone with some serious size, teams with 6-foot-7, 6-8 and 6-9 kids.

Q: You hurt your ankle on Friday night just before a win at Rabun County. How are you feeling?

A: I’m hurting right now. I just got back from the doctor, and I have ruptured my (right) Achilles (tendon). I’m scheduled for surgery Wednesday morning, and I’m just going to play it by ear if I’m going to coach this weekend. Right now I’m in a boot, and I’m having an MRI done (Tuesday) to determine the extent of the tear, but I knew something bad had happened as soon as I did it. ... It’s proof I’m not 20 anymore. (Dix will travel and coach in Tuesday’s game in Blairsville. If he can’t go after this weekend’s surgery, East Hall assistant coach Jarvis Davenport will act as head coach.)

Coach David Tucker has turned Union County from doormat into top 10 program in one season. The Panthers went just 4-21 last season before Tucker joined the program from a school in Tennessee.

Union County is very much about the 3-pointer. The Panthers, who employ a nine-man rotation, average nearly 30 3-point attempts per game. Every player, including 6-foot-6 center Jake Gooch, will shoot from beyond the arc. Union sank 13 treys in a win over Towns County. The Panthers also take care of the ball, committing zero turnovers in a 42-23 win over Dawson County on Saturday.

Six different players have led Union County in scoring this year. Meanwhile, the Panthers will press on defense and are allowing just 38.5 points per game -- best in the entire state.

Seth Merritt (6-2, Sr., small forward) leads the Panthers with an average of 13.2 points per game. He also leads Union in steals, three-pointers made, free throw percentage and is second in rebounding. Back-up post Skylar Smith (6-4, Sr.) also averages 9.4 points off the bench and is Union's leading rebounder and shot blocker.

Union County's 15-0 start is the third best in program history, but the Panthers have never beaten East Hall.

-- Union County information courtesy Todd Forrest
Associated Categories: Sports News, High School Sports

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