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Although, the 2017-18 season was a good one for the Woodward Academy War Eagles, it was like riding the roller coasters at Six Flags Over Georgia.
With just five seniors on the team and only one who made an impact in the scoring department, the War Eagles finished 10 games over .500 after claiming a Region 4-AAAA championship and a trip to the second round of the playoffs.
“Last season was filled with ups and downs,” Woodward coach Anthony Thomas said. “We were learning a lot along the way with kind of a new team. A lot of sophomores. We had stretches where we were really good and stretches when it was obvious we were a bunch of sophomores but in the end I think the team did a great job of coming together and realizing our strengths and playing to those which helped us down the stretch.”
Walker Kessler, Jacorrei Turner and Michael Whitmore had plenty to do with the War Eagles’ success last season as sophomores and are expected to step again this season.
“We’re really excited about some of our younger guys that will help plug some holes that were left by a couple of seniors who really helped us last year,” Thomas said. “We got a veteran team and can no longer be considered the young team. We got to be able to play with the bull’s eye on our back now.”
However, Thomas has a 7-foot weapon to retaliate with in Kessler, who averaged 17 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks last season. According to rivals.com, Kessler also has seven Division-I scholarship offers, including Georgia where his dad (Chad Kessler), uncle (Alec Kessler) and brother (Houston Kessler) all played.
“There is no question that his talent level speaks for itself,” Thomas said. “He’s a rare talent. This year the difference for him will be that we will be leaning on him more from a leadership standpoint. His attitude in games has to be top notch. Being able to galvanize teammates and make others better is what we are looking for from him this year.”
Every game is divided into four quarters so now to the 4 Questions section of the 2018-19 South-metro Atlanta area preview with Coach Thomas.
What is the most important thing your team must improve on this season?
We have to shoot the ball better this year. Our shooting percentages were not where we wanted them to be last year. Hopefully after a summer of getting up a ton of shots we will shoot the ball better. We can always defend better especially at the wing position when we are playing these long, athletic kids especially in our region. The ability to be able to stop dribble penetration is going to be extremely key.
What will surprise opponents about your team this season?
I think we will be deeper than people expected. We have a couple of younger kids who are looking to play a prominent role in the rotation, and we are getting to the point now where we can put our trust in those guys and there won’t be a significant drop off.
Which team outside of yours will be the biggest surprise in the region this season?
I have not really seen any development over the summer as far as what the teams look like but as far as the coaches, I think everybody will have their A game by the season. If you just look at the teams who were in the mix last year as far as going to the state tournament, it was us, Druid Hills, Salem and Henry County which were all very good.
Eastside is solid as well. Luella has a new coaching staff so I’m sure they will be good. Hampton is coming in new to the region and will be talented. I think across the board it is one of the toughest regions that we have. It’s kind of like those colleges games when you get in conference every game is tough–no matter the record or ranking every game is tough.
What is one rule change you would’ve liked to see go into effect this season?
A shot clock. It forces teams to really have to execute even down the stretch. You can’t get away with just holding the basketball, get away with end of game execution and I think it aligns more with what players will see when they move to college and the pros. I just would like to see more alignment as far as the style of play and the regulations from high school to college to the pros so that student athletes are actually preparing for the next level because that is what most of the guys are trying to achieve.