Though Rabun County is a small mountain town minutes from the Carolinas, over the years its athletic programs have made noise throughout the state and even the nation.
The football team had the Shaws — first coach Lee Shaw, then his son, Jaybo Shaw — and Gunner Stockton, who just finished his senior season as one of the country’s top-rated quarterbacks. With Stockton under center, the Wildcats played in a number of nationally-televised games as he chased the state records of Trevor Lawrence and Deshaun Watson. Lee Shaw coached the Wildcats from 2012-19 and Jaybo Shaw from 2020-21, and between them the program has netted eight consecutive region titles and a 2017 championship appearance.
The girls basketball team, led by longtime coach DeeDee Dillard, have missed the playoffs just once since 2007, also reaching the title game in 2017. It’s usually ranked in the top 10 as well, and is currently No. 4.
Now, the boys basketball team, under fourth-year coach David Adcock, is getting some of that state-wide attention. At 12-4, the Wildcats — with a senior nucleus led by guard Connor McKay — are ranked No. 9 with nine regular season games remaining.
They’re also coming off their best finish in 60 years, reaching the quarterfinals in 2021.
“The community here is great and they’ve always had the team’s support and always will,” said Adcock, a Rabun County alum who played for the Wildcats under his father, the late Mark Adcock, in the late 1990s and early 2000s. “It was our other programs that were receiving outside recognition, as they should, with Gunner and the girls teams. But, I said to our team, if you want that recognition, you have to be successful. They bought in, and it’s taken 4-5 years to reap the rewards — especially in the area we live in. Here, you have to develop the talent you’ve got, because we don’t have move-ins and things like that.”
Adcock took over the program after serving as an assistant for the Wildcats the previous eight seasons, and he’s been there every step of this team’s development. As a follow-up to last year’s quarterfinal run, so far they’ve set what’s believed to be a program record for wins at the break.
The goal now is to secure the No. 1 seed in Region 8, which means they’ll need to accomplish a region championship for just the second time in program history — the Wildcats won 8-2A in 2016. Anything less than the No. 1 seed likely spells a first-round exit for Region 8, because they’re set to play an opponent from Region 6 in Round 1.
Region 6 features No. 1 Columbia, No. 2 Pace Academy and No. 10 Lovett.
“With who we face in Round 1, we better win region,” Adcock said. “Basically, you have to get the No. 1 seed or its a bust. So, we have to win a region title or likely face a top 10 team in the first round.”
Adcock’s vision for the program goes far beyond this year, however.
“With this senior group, we’ve been working with them since the third and fourth grade,” he said. “Working with them that long, by now, they’re ready to go. In this area we live in, the goal is to have 2-3 impact players per grade level. That’s what we feel we need to maintain success.”
McKay, who signed with Lander, is a 6-foot-5 guard averaging 23.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists two steals and 1.6 blocks. He’s joined by seniors Gus Hood (13.1 points, 5.3 assists, 2.3 steals) and Grayson Carver (11.1 points, 1.3 steals) as those who have started since their sophomore seasons.
Sophomore Cooper Welch, who starts, headlines a strong Class of 2024 for the Wildcats.
Because of McKay’s length and the team’s overall size and athleticism, the Wildcats have switched from the zone defense they’ve played in years’ past to a man-to-man set. There’s been a few growing pains along the way, but Adcock said one highlight was beating North Carolina’s Franklin less than two weeks after losing to them.
“I felt that was the game we gelled,” Adcock said. “I like playing a team that’s already beaten us.”
The rest of the season will be used to fine-tune what they’ve built on, and if they take the right steps forward, Adcock in confident they can return to the quarterfinals.
“We’ve got to get better defensively,” he said. “Not that we’re bad, but we need to play great defense for 32 minutes if we want to avoid those 8-to-9-point deficits that need a comeback or a run.”
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