Sequoyah (21-8) had the most success, but none of the teams advanced past the first round of the playoffs.
River Ridge (12-17) slipped into the playoffs, despite a losing record, when it found success in the Region 7AAAA tournament. Meanwhile, Creekview met expectations by finishing as the runner-up from Region 7AAAAA.
Cherokee, which graduated five players from the 2011-12 season, had the most surprising year.
The Warriors opened with a 5-0 start but lost their next five to fall to .500 as they competed without one of their top players. But success in a holiday tournament got the team moving in the right direction, and while Cherokee finished with a 9-5 record against Region 5AAAAAA opponents, a third-place finish in the region tournament was more than anyone expected.
The Warriors found a way to beat some of the top teams — not only in their region, but in the state. And it was with a roster without a player taller than 6-foot-1.
For molding his players into a team and leading that team beyond what anyone expected, Roger Kvam is the 2012-13 Cherokee Tribune Boys Basketball Coach of the Year.
Kvam said the honor was made greater because of the quality of the competition.
“It’s quite an honor because I have great respect for the other coaches who coach in this county,” he said. “I know how hard they work, so it is quite an honor. This was a team that really exceeded my expectations, so I feel very fortunate to have the assistant coaches that I have.”
“Any honor like this is very humbling, but it is also a shared honor amongst the coaches.”
Also on the staff at Cherokee are Gerald Sharpe, Sean Glaze and Matthew Debes.
“I’m very blessed as far as having a good staff,” Kvam said. “And then the kids were just a unique group this year. They just kept surprising me.”
Kvam, who has coached for 27 years, said this is the first time he has ever led a team without a player that was taller than he is.
“I’ve never had a team where we had no size,” he said. “I have had some big kids with Chris Singleton and Shawn Kemp (Jr.), where we had 6-foot-8 kids, but I knew this would be a unique year because I didn’t know how you could win with five guards.”
Kvam said he decided to start the five best players and see what they could do. The starting lineup changed little through the season as most games saw just six or seven players take the court.
Among the key players were Ja’Davin Keith, Jeremiah Gill, Zack Kvam, Armony Parker and Jovan Morris. All but Parker will return next year.
“We weren’t deep,” Kvam said, “but they kept surprising me. Our goals kept changing. We were glad to win our first game.”
In the second game of the season, Cherokee hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds of overtime to beat South Forsyth. The trend continued as the Warriors defeated teams like Wheeler, Walton and Lassiter.
“The kids believed they were going to win,” Kvam said. “They were a very fun group to coach. They never felt sorry for themselves. They never hung their heads. Even when we got beat, they kept fighting until the end. Even though they were undersized, they kept competing.”
Kvam said the stretch that the team played without Keith made them strong. Kvam said that while they lost each of those games without Keith, the remaining players learned what they were capable of and learned not to rely on one another.
“We learned to play without (Keith),” Kvam said.
The Warriors would have to play without Keith again before the season was over. The team’s leading scorer fouled out in the third quarter of a Feb. 5 game against Wheeler, but the Warriors came back to win at the buzzer.
“I will never forget that game because it was David vs. Goliath,” Kvam said. “They were 6-foot-8 and we were guarding them with 6-foot, 5-9, 5-10 guys. I was very proud of them. We had stretches where it was just beautiful basketball.”
Kvam looks forward to coaching the group of what he calls “gym rats” again next season. He said he had to chase many of them from the gym at the end of the night, but that was what made them so strong.
“That’s why they had success, and that is why they will continue to have success,” Kvam said. “The season is over and they are still practicing on their own to get better. They love being in the gym. It sure makes them a lot of fun to coach.”