By Jonathan Deal
They haven’t lost in more than a month.
Athens’ boys basketball team is making winning look easy and they’re doing it against some of the best teams in North Alabama.
The Golden Eagles’ latest win was a 67-45 victory over area foe Muscle Shoals Friday that improved their record to 16-3 overall and 3-1 in area play.
After starting the season 0-2, Athens has won 15 of 16. During that stretch, they beat four ranked teams including 6A No. 5 Grissom.
“They’re playing with a lot of confidence right now. Our job is to keep them humble and hungry,” said Athens head coach Stace Tedford. “We’ve been playing really well in spurts, and then there are spurts where we don’t play well. We’ve been really fortunate that our defense has been really good throughout. That’s what has got us through the Christmas layoff.”
During Athens 13-game win streak, the Golden Eagles won a pair of challenging holiday tournaments — the Wills Valley Shootout in Fort Payne and the Yuletide Classic in Hanceville.
AHS then returned from Christmas break with wins over a pair of ranked teams in Columbia and Lawrence County.
Key to those victories were Nathaniel “Giddy” Potts and brother Trey. The two combined for 61 points and 37 rebounds.
While the Potts brothers get much of the credit, which is well deserved, other players are also contributing to the success.
One, who made an immediate impact in the starting lineup, is junior point guard Kwasi Hanson. Hanson did not contribute last season, playing at about 6-feet tall. But he returned for his junior season nearly four inches taller and ready to compete.
“He really went through a lot of growing pains learning the position at this level,” Tedford said of Hanson. “He has made it his own and really dominated the point for us. He can score, but he’s really good about making that spectacular pass.
“When we were first started practicing, he used to hit guys in the face with his passes. So, now, they know to look for the ball when Kwasi’s on the floor because it could come at any time.”
Another contributing junior is guard Jackson Pettus. Pettus may not lead the team in points every game, but he is a key element to its success.
“He (Pettus) brings such a calming effect to our guys,” said Tedford. “He’s had games where he’s scored 15 or 16 points, but when he’s not, he’s doing everything else to help us win.”
Athens players know the impressive winning streak will be for naught if they don’t win the Northwest Regional Tournament next month.
To advance to state, Athens will have to beat Wenonah and/or Parker, ranked No. 1 and No. 3 respectively.
“We talked about it in June. If you want to win it all you’ve got to get to the regional and beat Parker and Wenonah,” said Tedford. “If you can do that, you’ll probably have to beat Faith Academy in the finals. Whoever wins that Northwest Regional at Hanceville is probably going to be your state champion.”
But that’s down the road. For now, it’s one game at a time. A win at Russellville Friday night would improve the Golden Eagles to 4-1 in area play and earn the right to host the area tournament.