Coming off of an Elite Eight appearance in Class A-Private, the program’s most successful season in school history, St. Anne-Pacelli turns to new leadership after Alan Griffin, head boys basketball coach and athletic director left in the offseason to become White County High School AD after serving nine years in Columbus.
Replacing Griffin is Corry Black, a fixture in the Columbus basketball community for over a decade. Black served as an assistant coach at Columbus State University from 2002-2008, first starting as a video coordinator. Black got his first opportunity coaching back in 2000.
“I didn’t play any college basketball,” explained Black. “I’m from Tifton. I went to Southern Union on a cross country scholarship and just stayed around the game. The coach didn’t have an assistant coach, so I basically was his assistant coach for two years and we won two state championships and went to the national tournament.”
After a two-year stint at Southern Union State C.C., Black spent the next six seasons at Columbus State before serving as an assistant at Chattahoochee Valley C.C. for the 2008-09 season.
Since 2009, Black has made it a point to help student-athletes better themselves on and off the court through CB Hoops. The organization puts on multiple showcases, tournaments and leagues throughout the year to better connect high school athletes to college coaches while also preaching the importance of education.
“I just wanted to help more kids,” said Black about why he launched cblackhoops.com. “Instead of recruiting 12 guys at Columbus State, I want to help kids all across the country. When I started CB Hoops I was able to do that and touch more kids through this program, holding showcase events and different things.”
Aside from the high school level, Black’s influence is still felt at the college stage. He serves as the Assistant Director of JucoReport.com, the No. 1 Junior College Basketball site in the nation where he helps organize major events such as The Battle of the South Jamboree, ATL Live Spring Showcase and more.
Leading the Ship
Black jumped at the opportunity to coach at St. Anne-Pacelli.
“It’s here in Columbus. That was attractive that I didn’t have to move my family. I can still continue to do what I’m doing,” explained Black on why becoming a Viking was too good of a spot to pass up. “St. Anne, they had a good run. Coach Alan Griffin did a great job over there…To be honest, I want to see if I can build it back up to what Coach Griffin did. Coach Griffin had it rolling and he did an amazing job and I just want to keep that momentum going and help the community out.”
Black is set to meet with the players for the first time today, Tuesday, October 11 at 12:10 p.m. With eight seniors graduating from last year’s 17-10 team, Black’s message to the group will be simple.
“Let’s try to keep the momentum going from last year. They got to the state tournament. I want to just keep that going. Let’s try to keep the tradition going, let’s try to make it a tradition. Let’s not just be a one hit wonder.”
As the summer travel ball season heats up, teams and players begin to make a name for themselves. One program that has slowly been on the rise is 14U Macon United HypeSouth Elite, a third-year program taking baby steps into becoming a contender on the bigger circuits.
Consisting of players in the surrounding Middle Georgia areas such Macon, Jones County, Monroe County and Wilkinson County, Head Coach Armand Burnett and Assistant Coach Kowacie Reeves Sr. are trying to build not only a basketball power, but better young men.
“The idea behind the beginning of the Macon United HypeSouth program, was to create a positive outlet for the inner city youth in the Macon & Middle Georgia area (specifically Macon), due to the ongoing violence among youth in the area,” explained Reeves.
Burnett added that they founded Macon United with the goal to, “rebuild the basketball culture in the Macon and Middle Georgia area.”
“We provide mentoring services, academic assistance, as well as exposure opportunities for the kids in our program,” continued Reeves. “Additionally, we are looking to start the HypeSouth Scholarship Fund that will be awarded to graduating high school student-athletes who maintain a 3.0 GPA or higher and have no behavior referrals.”
The core of Macon United HypeSouth consists of Bryson Wooten, Courtney Green, Kowacie Reeves Jr. and Jehlen Cannady.
The last name Wooten should be a familiar one for those in Jones County and neighboring areas. Bryson, a 5-10 point guard, is the first cousin of Jones County standout Devin Wooten, who averaged 23.9 points, 4.0 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 2.6 steals per game his senior season while being named Sandy’s Spiel Class AAAAA All-State Honorable Mention. Wooten, much like his older cousin, has an uncanny feel for the game and an ability to catch fire at the drop of a bucket. He is the catalyst offensively, averaging a team-leading 16 points, six assists and two steals per game through Macon United’s first three tournaments. Wooten could see varsity time early in his high school career as the Greyhounds will begin to rebuild after losing their top three scorers to graduation.
Inside the paint is where Courtney Green controls the action. Standing 6-3, Green is set to attend Rutland High School next year. The long and lanky shot blocking specialist could have a few more inches left in him to grow. Right now defense is his calling card, altering shots and cleaning up misses. He is averaging a double-double through the summer at 12 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks per game.
Kowacie Reeves Jr. is the youngest of the bunch playing up a year, but that hasn’t stopped the sweet shooting two-guard from becoming an important piece to the Macon United HypeSouth puzzle. The 13-year-old is a marksman from deep, knocking down 7-of-8 from behind the stripe this weekend including a 25-point outburst in a 61-51 victory over Active Elite at the North Forsyth Shootout, a tournament in which Macon United finished 3-1, falling short in the championship game to ELW Future Stars 41-40. For the summer Kowacie is averaging 10 points per game and leads the team in three-pointers made.
Lastly it is Jehlen Cannady, a 5-10 combo guard, who gives Macon United their toughness. Cannady will attend Westside-Macon High School next year and will bring his contagious attitude with him. Coach Reeves declared him a “true leader” and a bulldog on defense. His effort is never called into question. Cannady can be counted on to hustle and get after it each game when guarding opposing ball handlers.
Macon United HypeSouth Elite isn’t just winning on the court they are also winning in the classroom and in the community. The sky can be the limit for these young men with Reeves Sr. and Burnett lending their guidance and advice along the way.
If you haven’t heard, there is a new sheriff in town leading the Sandy Creek boys program. A new head coach who is a self-proclaimed “Hype-man” for his team. Anthony McKissic has taken the reins of the Patriots after spending eight years at Morrow, coaching the boys for five years and most recently the girls team for three seasons. With his new gig, McKissic inherits a team that went 17-11 in 2014-15 and enters 2015-16 as Class AAAA’s No. 5 ranked team.
McKissic and his family have lived in Peachtree City for the last two years and with his wife already working at Sandy Creek, pouncing at the job opening after Coach Willie Reese left for Meadowcreek, was a no-brainer.
Bringing over a versatility of coaching both boys and girls in the past, there are different approaches that McKissic uses to get the most out of his players.
“There’s a big difference. There’s a different motivating tool when you’re coaching girls. Boys are usually a little bit tougher, getting them to understand using skill,” explained McKissic. “Girls are obviously more skilled than boys, because boys are more athletic and tend not to want to use skill. That’s how the better teams use a mix of athleticism and skill.”
Coach McKissic uses a variety of ways to make sure his players stay fundamentally sound and play the right way. More importantly, he wants to grow men and women as people off the court. He has held a multitude of positions over his coaching career, helping coach football, tennis, cross country and being the lead recruiting coordinator while at Morrow, but possibly his most gratifying job title has been Minister. McKissic is a man of God and leans heavily on his beliefs to not only guide himself, but help others along the way.
“I think that’s the basis of my whole philosophy. I’m just blessed to be at the position that I am and somebody helped me out at a young age and I just try my best to give back to the kids and be a good role model for them and be a leader in the community and in the school.”
His faith has allowed him to touch numerous people around him, players, parents and coaches alike. When it comes to how he leads on the court, McKissic believes he pulls from both ends of the spectrum.
“I would think I am a mix between a players’ coach and a hype-man,” he said. Some coaches play it close to the vest, but McKissic is a strong supporter of making sure the players have fun while striving for the goal of being the best they can.
“I just think that if they play excited and are happy about what they are doing they’ll do it with a lot more passion,” explained the energy filled coach. “The kids are kids. They want to have fun…I think they get a better experience out of it not making it necessarily a job for them. That’s how the kids get burnt out because coaches come in and they want it to be [like a job]. I believe you can work hard and have fun at the same time.”
Coach McKissic is likely one of the funnest coaches to play for in the state. His advanced knowledge of cutting up videos, making highlight tapes and putting together pictures promoting the team have been littered all throughout social media, making fans at the Creek as excited as they have ever been for an upcoming basketball season, proud to stake claim to the fact that they are “Just a kid from Sandy Creek.”
“It’s something that I’ve done since the start of my career,” he said when speaking about his numerous ways of marketing and advertising his teams through social media.
“I use technology as a recruiting piece and a marketing piece to get the guys looked at. A lot of coaches don’t want players using it at all, but I tell them it’s okay to use it as long as you’re mature with it and are being responsible with your social media.
“It’s a tool; you can reach college coaches across the nation with the click of a finger instead of having to send out letters and DVDs. You can just shoot a link to it or shoot out a hype video to the fans and they can get excited about coming to see us play, whereas if we didn’t do that, they might not know what we have here at school.”
With hype videos being released to the public, there needs to be a good product on display. Sandy Creek shouldn’t worry about there being a letdown if everyone continues to buy into McKissic’s philosophies.
“They [fans] can expect an exciting and fast paced game. We want to give them something to come back to. We are going to work hard,” stated McKissic.
I may have put a target on the Patriots’ back this season, ranking them No. 5, but it is a challenge and responsibility that the team will embrace.
“The ranking means nothing to us, but, it does put a big target on your back so you have to make sure that you come in and every game play as if you’re respecting the person who gave you the ranking and not disrespecting them by coming out and playing lackadaisical and making it seem like the person didn’t know what they are talking about,” McKissic explained of the Patriots who were eliminated in the first round of the state playoffs last year, 63-46 by 2015-16 preseason No. 6 St. Pius.
“So if you’re going to be the No. 5 team in the state, you need to play like a No. 5 team in the state and not play down to the level of your opponent.”
The Patriots are ranked No. 5 in the state for a reason: good coaching and loads of talent. McKissic had great things to say about everyone on his roster but seven players stood out to me as being potential game-changers night in and night out.
Seniors Christian Turner, Keith Heard and AJ Freeman will be leaned on heavily to balance the offense.
Turner is a 5-foot-11 guard that is committed to Gardner-Webb.
“He’s a solid point guard. It all flows through him. He controls the ball, he’s not afraid to pass and give up shots to get his teammates involved.”
Heard, a 6-foot-8 power forward, brings length and a high-motor.
“He’s a hard-working kid. He can rebound, he’s big on put-back dunks and he’s a shot blocker.”
Freeman is a guard with good size that often gets overlooked playing alongside other great talent.
“A lot of people aren’t talking about him but he’s a great shooter.”
Juniors Elias Harden and Evan Jester both bring versatility and athleticism. Harden, a four-star wing prospect according to 247Sports, has a chance to be special.
“He’s got offers from about six or seven Division-I schools and he’s just a pure shooter. He’s an athletic kid. He’s gotten a lot better since we’ve been working on him this offseason.
“Jester is another one of those unknown kids,” McKissic told me. At 6-foot-6, his skillset projects well in Sandy Creek’s style of play. “I’m expecting big numbers from him this season on offense and on defense.”
Xavier Brewer will also see plenty of time as a sophomore and freshman guard TJ Bickerstaff has had an exceptional offseason and will fight to see the court.
“We are going to use him [Bickerstaff] kind of to just get his feet wet this year…If you don’t guard him he’ll put up a lot of numbers this season.”
Piecing It Together
With a talented roster expected to do great things this year, the one question mark was would the players be able to mesh with their new coach and form a quick bond heading into the season. Luckily for Sandy Creek fans and possibly bad news for the rest of the state, Coach McKissic feels like everything has gelled quickly.
“I think it was just a match made in Heaven. They are great kids, the community is a great community and I think they bought into it very quick what I was selling, with my main goal for them is just help the kids get scholarships and get looks. I think being that that was my main goal and it wasn’t all about winning, they bought in real quick.”
It takes a special group of kids to get adjusted to a new leader so seamlessly.
“They are just great people, I can say that. The kids are a different kind than the ones I’ve worked with in the past. They are all self-motivated and they all have high GPAs and are very focused…It wasn’t a hard transition.”
The perfect recipe is in place. A fun-loving leader who can keep players motivated with a great group of kids who are hungry to compete and contend for the program’s first-ever state championship. Before long, Sandy Creek might not just be known as a football powerhouse, but a force to be reckoned with come winter time as well.
All Photos Courtesy of Anthony McKissic & Sandy Creek Basketball