Eugene Fries, boys basketball coach at Furtah Prep, has certainly done his share of rebuilding.
The private school in southwest Cherokee County, seems to be continually rebuilding. Because a large portion of the student body is comprised of international students, many are only a part of the Falcons’ basketball team for a season or two.
This means the Furtah team must re-establish its chemistry and figure out what role the players will play.
“It’s different,” Fries said. “The days of the kids coming into second grade and staying through graduation, we don’t get much of that anymore. I wish we did. I’d love to see them play, but I love getting the transfers and international students that we have. They are not only great basketball players, but great kids. They are just so happy to be here.”
Players on the Furtah roster hail from such counties as France, Germany and Serbia.
Fries said the chemistry is the toughest part to work on, but different playing styles and language barriers also play a role.
“This group really seemed to jell quickly,” Fries said. “Last year, we had a lot of talent, but they didn’t jell. We had more losses last year than we had in the last four years. I think we lost 12 games coming off a 31-1 season two years ago. That was unbelievable.”
Many of the foreign students come to Furtah in order to not only study in the United States, but to hopefully gather interest from college programs.
Fries has had success helping several players make the leap to college. Among them is Dusan Langura, a native of Switzerland who played two seasons at Furtah and earned the opportunity to walk on at Georgia.
Currently, there are several players on the Furtah roster hoping to play in college next season, and Fries is doing everything he can to get those players to the next level.
Among them are Sam Wilson, Nils Dejworek, Wes Spencer and Milos Sikimic. Of the four, only Wilson and Spencer have been with the Falcons’ program for more than a single season.
Several are getting interest from various small colleges.
Newberry College, a Division II program in South Carolina, is recruiting both Wilson and Sikimic. Amir Savon, a junior in his first season at Furtah, is currently getting interest from Division II schools, but Fries expects Division I offers to come Savon’s way over the next year.
“This team isn’t selfish,” Fries said. “Amir could score 30 points a night. Nils could score 30 points a night. Milos could score 30 a night. We have five guys averaging double figures. They have a lot to do with it. They aren’t selfish and want to play hard.”
Fries isn’t a stranger to coaching successful teams. He has taken the Falcons to the Georgia Independent Schools Association state playoffs in each of the last eight seasons, leading the program to a Class AA state title in 2007.
This season, Furtah is off to a 20-2 start. The Falcons are atop of the Region 4AA standings going into Friday night’s showdown at Griffin Christian.
The two losses Furtah suffered helped shape the team as much as the victories did, according to Fries. The first loss was against Crown Athletics, a Woodstock-based team of home-schooled students, while the second was Restoration Academy of Birmingham, Ala.
“The Crown loss was probably our second or third game of the season, and we didn’t know each other yet,” Fries said. “Our chemistry wasn’t very good. (Crown) is a very good team, but we have played them again since, and we beat them by 11 or 12. You could just tell the progression in our guys.”
Fries said Restoration is a legitimate powerhouse that rotates 11 players on the court.
“They are known for football with no skinny-arm guys on the team, so it was a physical battle,” Fries said.
Wilson, Furtah’s point guard, suffered a knee injury during the Restoration game and still hasn’t returned to full strength. Sikimic, the Falcons’ top shooter, took an inadvertent elbow to the head in the second quarter and missed the remainder of the game when he had to take a trip to the emergency room was required for stitches.
“With Milos and Sam missing most of the game, we lost by six,” Fries said. “I feel like, if we had had them both at full speed, the game might have turned out differently.”
Fries said Friday’s game at Griffin Christian will be key for the Falcons, as will each of the team’s remaining region games.
“We just have to wait and see,” Fries said, “but I think that this team has what it takes.”