When this season's Region 8-AAAAA basketball schedules were drawn up during the offseason, tonight's boys region opener between Berkmar and Shiloh didn't seem particularly noteworthy.
However, with the No. 8 state-ranked and defending champion Patriots returning several key pieces of last year's region championship team and both teams being bolstered by preseason move-ins, the sixth-ranked Generals' visit to Berkmar, which tips off shortly after the conclusion of the 6:30 p.m. girls game, has become much more interesting.
"The region schedules are set (in advance), so we don't really have any say in it," Patriots coach Greg Phillips said. "But (Shiloh is) definitely one of the best teams in the state, so it will be interesting. ... With us playing Brookwood the next night and with South Gwinnett and Central Gwinnett coming up, there's not an easy game in this region. So, it's important to get off to a good start."
The addition of a pair of big move-ins -- 6-foot-9 Georgia Tech signee Robert Carter and 7-0 sophomore Trayvon Reed -- over the summer generated a lot of talk about the Generals in the preseason, but tonight will mark the first time the twin towers have taken the court together.
Reed has missed Shiloh's (2-0) first two games with a sore ankle, while Carter has averaged 19 points, nine rebounds and 4.5 blocked shots in those games despite soreness from flat feet.
But both are expected to be ready to play tonight, something Generals coach Kim Rivers is eagerly looking forward to, though he added that playing the first two games without Reed has allowed others to step up and contribute.
"Just to have both (Carter and Reed) on the floor at the same time is huge," Rivers said. "But (Reed's absence) has been a little bit of a blessing. Now, we have more guys with the confidence to be able to contribute. ... So now, we can play about nine guys at this stage (of the season) instead of the seven we thought we would."
Indeed, 6-3 junior wing Kyle Lewis, who has scored 18 points in each of Shiloh's first two games, has been a force with his perimeter shooting.
And while Carter and Reed represent a big challenge, Phillips is equally concerned about the Generals' perimeter game, especially guards Jordan Gaither and Christopher Keys.
"Any time you have a good point guard, it really helps your team," Phillips said. "To me, the key to (Shiloh) is Jordan Gaither. He really hurt us last year in the region tournament. Don't get me wrong. Carter is a great player, but Jordan's the key."
The Patriots (1-0) also have a pair of strong guards in the senior tandem of Kennesaw State signee Yonel Brown (12 points in a season-opening win over Centennial) and Brandon Thompson (10 points), as well as a little size of its own in 6-9 sophomore Tim Rowe, who dominated with 13 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocked shots in the opener.
But as with Phillips, Rivers looks to another player as being a big key to his opponent -- in this case, 6-2 senior wing Adonai Rogers, who played at Shiloh before transferring to Berkmar over the summer.
"I enjoyed coaching him," Rivers said of Rogers, who scored 10 points in the Patriots' opening win. "It will be tough to coach against him, but it's going to be interesting. I'm looking forward to the game."