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Salem putting on a showcase
Sparking a turnaround: Freshman Ayanna Mitchell (25) has been a key part of Salem's massive improvement over 2010-11, including matching its Region 8-AAAA win total with a win over Heritage on Tuesday. - photo by Darrell Everidge

Salem High School is bringing new opportunities for local fans to see different brands of basketball today.
The Salem Seminoles' girls and boys programs are hosting the Havoc on the Hardwood showcase in conjunction with Scholar Shots.

The event will feature three girls' games starting at noon and ending with Salem vs. Parkview. The focus will then turn to three boys' games, culminating in Salem taking on Meadowcreek.

"It's a fundraiser for us, and it provides the ability for us to showcase the area athletes as well as surrounding counties," Salem Athletic Director Maurice Gibson said.

The event will also bring college coaches to the Salem High gym in order to see several teams' athletes at once, including Rockdale High.

"We thought about it back in the spring to serve as a launch vehicle toward college," Salem boys' coach Darren Wilkens said. "Scholar Shots has called a lot of college coaches."

Scholar Shots is an organization, run by former Eastside coach Tommy McCortey, that helps high school players in recruiting.

"He helped put it together and coordinate the event," Gibson said. "It's dual purpose to raise some money for our program, as well as provide some exposure for some of the local talent we have here at Salem and elsewhere in the county.

"He has invited coaches to come out and do some scouting."

Salem girls show turnaround

The showcase, in a way, is also for the Salem Seminoles themselves. Both the girls' and boys' teams have provided the two biggest turn-a-rounds in high school basketball in the area.

The Lady Seminoles have put together an 11-2 record, including one Region 8-AAAA win prior to Friday night's matchup with Cedar Shoals.

That mark is much better than the 2010-11 seasons, in which the Salem girls' team finished just 5-19. The 2010-11 Lady Seminoles won as many region games last year as they have in just one matchup this season.

"I wasn't actually involved with girls' basketball last year so I did not see Salem play last year," Salem coach Rachone Dillagard said. "I think the girls from last year learned a lot and they just matured. They had a lot of close games last year, they just had a lot of youth. They now have a year under their belts and maturity and are excelling from it."

Dillagard was the Eastside boy assistant and J.V. coach last year, before taking the job at Salem.

Upon arrival she brought an attitude of hard work the Lady Seminoles continuing off a 2010-11 season, in which they lost four games by five points or fewer. Dillagard also had the benefit of inheriting six present juniors, three sophomores and two superb freshman.

"They are great kids that love basketball, actually getting to be out there and having fun playing,"
Dillagard said. "It's been a great situation. I have great kids, that's what made the transition so smoothly, is their character."

Character and transition is what Gibson had in mind when he reached out to the former boys' coach. The Salem girls' basketball team has had three coaches in three seasons, and he wanted this change to be as smooth as possible.

"One thing I saw with that core group over the last year was they never gave up even through the coaching transition," Gibson said. "Coach Dillagard has a very difficult situation with the girls buying into it. She has the energy and passion. They're really buying into what she's doing."

"I couldn't have asked for a better person to come in here and take on the challenge of a very difficult situation. I think she's done a very good job."

Salem Seminoles grow up

Gibson's boys' coach has also done in a good job in providing turnaround for the Seminoles. Wilkens has so far led Salem to an 11-3 record, after finishing 12-10 a season ago.

The boys' situation has been a little different than the girls' as they have just brought along talent under a familiar regime.

Now that talent that has been in the Salem Seminoles' system has reached a high level, twice this season going on five-game winning streaks.

"Our guys worked hard year round, getting in the weight room, and got individual workouts, and that's played a big role," Wilkens said. "One can say the guys are growing up."

Salem, which opened the year with five-straight wins, ended the 2011 regular season with three straight, providing a foundation for this season's success.
"Coach Wilkens and his coaching staff are starting to see some of the fruits of those guys maturing," Gibson said. "Some of those guys are three-year starters."
While both teams have provided wins this season, they are hoping to provide more than a showcase today, as both fans and college coaches will be paying attention. The Salem Seminoles, after a year without many, are providing wins to justify being showcased.

"Everybody is going to be ready to play and fired up," Wilkens said.