Staff Photo: John Bohn Chris Bolden is a senior basketball player with North Gwinnett High School. Bolden will play basketball for Georgia Tech later this year.
Seniors aren't supposed to have to go through many adjustments during their final year of high school.
Yet Chris Bolden has had to go through plenty this school year, especially during the high school basketball season.
But the adjustment to a new school (North Gwinnett), new teammates (in more than one sport) and a new role didn't stand in the Daily Post's boys player of the year's way.
"It wasn't really that tough," said Bolden, who began his high school career at Brookwood as a freshman and spent the next two years at Norcross -- where he helped the Blue Devils to a Class AAAAA state championship a year ago -- before transferring to North last summer. "I had to meet new teammates and new friends, but they welcomed me. Everybody in the school did."
Despite outstanding numbers -- averages of 19.9 points (trailing South Gwinnett's Simeon Dennis by just one-tenth of a point for the Gwinnett County lead), 4.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.7 steals per game -- there were plenty of adjustments for Bolden to make this season.
And they weren't all from playing in a new system with an already solid nucleus of teammates that included fellow seniors A.J. Clement and Kwesi Abakah.
Some of it came from an unusually late start brought about by Bolden's decision to play football for the first time in his high school career.
"He didn't play with us this summer," North basketball coach Zach Smith said of Bolden, who caught nine passes for 131 yards and two TDs for the Bulldogs' football team last fall. "And because our football team is a playoff team every year, he didn't go through any preseason with us. He missed the first few weeks of practice. So, it was a big adjustment.
"You can't just walk off the football field and (play in midseason form). Your legs have to get adjusted. It took Chris a while to get adjusted to basketball."
Bolden agrees. While his production was solid through his first few weeks, it really wasn't until after the holidays that he began to fully adjust physically to basketball shape and to jell with his new teammates.
"I'd say it was probably when region (7-AAAAA) play started," Bolden said. "That's when I really started feeling comfortable."
That comfort level could also be seen in the rest of the team.
After losing their first four games and struggling to just a 6-6 start through the holiday break, the Bulldogs began to feel more comfortable with Bolden as their leader and reeled off 11 wins in their next 13 games to claim Region 7-AAAAA's regular season championship.
But it wasn't until late in that regular-season stretch, as well as runs to a runner-up finish in the region tournament and the Class AAAAA state quarterfinals, that he really began to demonstrate just how dominant he could be.
"He didn't really hit his stride until the end of the season when defenses started keying on him," Smith said. "He really carried us offensively toward the end."
And he did it with a sprained wrist he suffered in the next to last regular season game Feb. 7 against Meadowcreek -- an injury he played with the rest of the season.
Yet, Bolden shook off the pain and found ways to score from just about anywhere on the floor, averaging 22.8 points over North's final nine games, including two 30-point nights and four more games of 23 points or more.
Included in that run was a 27-point effort in the state quarterfinal game that included an incredible 11 of 19 (57.9 percent) shooting performance that helped keep the Bulldogs close most of the way before falling to eventual state champion Milton.
He has been a steady shooter and scorer throughout his career, especially behind the 3-point arc, where his 209 treys broke the existing Gwinnett County career record of 197 set by former Parkview standout -- and now North assistant coach -- Ricky McPhee.
Still, it was a slightly different role than he was used to playing.
"That was my role -- to get everybody involved and to make plays," Bolden said. "I did have a lot more freedom (to shoot) this year, and I think (the team) benefitted from it."
Being a shooter on the high school level is one thing.
However, Bolden knows that to be a success when he makes the jump to the Atlantic Coast Conference at Georgia Tech in the fall will take a much more well-rounded game.
"There's a time and place to pass up shots," Bolden said. "People already had a scouting report on me, but I wanted it to be more extensive this year. Over the course of the season, I worked on my defense. I worked on putting the ball on the floor and pulling up for the jumper, on posting up smaller guards and coming off screens, catching and shooting -- stuff I'm going to have to have on the next level."
Based on his ability to make as many adjustments as he made this season, Smith has no doubt Bolden will be able to adjust again once he joins the Yellow Jackets.
"We're a very unselfish team -- Chris included," Smith said. "They wanted to win, and they knew Chris was able to put the ball in the bucket. So, they worked together to get him the ball and put us in position to win."