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Fazio: This is a hoops town
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As much as I enjoyed football season for the last four months, it took me just two weeks to decide Newton is a basketball town.

As a sports reporter in Georgia over the last seven years, I've learned to embrace and enjoy football, even at the prep level. But I've always loved basketball so I'm glad that Newton County's talents are so prevalent on the hardwood.

While all three area high schools made the playoffs this year, it was short runs for all three with Newton, Alcovy and Eastside suffering first-round exits - quality performances, but not exactly state-shattering campaigns.

And to my knowledge, other than Eastside's recent success, none of the programs have been repeat football state powerhouses.

However, on the basketball court, Newton has had legendary teams under a legendary coach and Alcovy impressed on both the girls' and boys' sides last year.

Now add in the 2012-13 season and the emergence of Eastside and Newton jumps onto the map of Georgia basketball counties. Being this close to Atlanta, it's easy to overlook the area as a basketball stronghold. After all, look at who Eastside and Alcovy faced as the playoffs stretched on last season.

The Rams beat Forest Park, while Alcovy beat the Forest Park girls and fell to DeKalb County's Miller Grove and Eastside had trouble from westerly neighbors Westside, Augusta.
With the Atlanta and DeKalb areas providing some of the state's best teams and nation-wide top recruits, look just a little further and you'll find the same in Newton.

On the girls' side, Alcovy, which is 5-2 this season has four straight wins, after falling in back-to-back games in its own Thanksgiving Classic.

The Lady Tigers started the season ranked in the state by Score Atlanta and has two players who will play in the Southeastern Conference next season.

Meagan Tucker (going to Auburn) and Ashley Williams (Alabama) helped lead Alcovy to a 27-5 season last year, finishing with a loss to the state champions in the final four, and are looking to do so again this season.

On the boys' side, Alcovy reached the elite eight in 2011-12 and have had plenty of talent coming through the program over the last couple of years.

This year, the Tigers are 1-4 with a bulk of their season still coming.

Newton and Eastside have both had strong starts to their seasons with each team opening with four straight wins. Since then, Eastside has lost two out of three games to past playoff teams and Eastside beat Monroe Area 66-59 Saturday.

The Rams and Eagles have plenty of talent on both sides with future college players Rashard Cabane, Rodarius Mitchel, Jalen Glover, Quindarrious Russell, Treyvon Francis, Anthony Henderson and others showing their skills this year.

Not only that, but support has been strong for both programs, which will meet in one gym Saturday in a game which is shaping up to be the best of the early season for both clubs. Sure, both Eastside and Newton play in different regions, but have both showed a high-level of basketball.

Newton has always done things the right way since the days of coach Bradley, who has passed on his winning tradition to Rick Rasmussen.

Rasmussen has his guys taking charges, working hard, hitting free throws and playing defense, giving up 42 points per game.

Since taking over before the 2011-12 season, Eastside coach Greg Freeman has the Eagles working harder than they ever had in practice, and it has shown so far this year. Eastside is scoring 64.8 points a game, and moving the ball around enough to remind its coach of an NBA team.

The Eagles are also boasting possibly the state's top scorer in Russell, who seemingly is making every shot.

The hard work displayed by both of these teams is what is making this a successful season. Sure the wins are coming faster than Russell's next points, but it's the way the Rams and Eagles are doing it that leads me to believe that Newton County knows how to play.

Every area has talented athletes but it's the fact that those athletes know that hard work makes them better which makes the area stronger in a sport.

While I was in Valdosta, which is known as one of the country's top football areas, I noticed it wasn't just that the athletes thought they should play football, it was the fact that they thought they should play winning football.

The same seems to be happening here on the basketball court.

Look at Eastside as the prime example. The Eagles haven't had a winning season since 2004-05 and the year before Freeman took over, won just eight games.

But the new coach explained that the area is about winning basketball, and with a little hard work, it could be a three-team town, as far as boys' basketball goes. That's exactly what things appear to be as the region portions of each team's schedules begin to heat up.

And as if Christmas comes a little early this season, Newton County should be in for a treat as Eastside and Newton puts the area's best basketball on display Saturday. And for this county, its best basketball is among the state's best basketball.