My great friend David Thackham (@DThackham) of The Gainesville Times has the story that broke earlier this morning. No. 3 Gainesville will now miss Lanierland, the most prestigious tournament in Hall County and the longest running holiday tournament in the state of Georgia.
We are officially a month into high school basketball season. There is one prevailing aspect of this year’s play that I have seen so far and it is that there is parity amongst the classifications. Outside of your top three or four teams in a handful of classes, the field is wide open for sleepers, surprisers and spoilers to all play a big role in the outcome of this season’s final results.
Class AAAAAA is one of the hardest to rank early in the year. Once we get deep into region play, hopefully the picture will begin to clear. The likes of Westlake, Shiloh, Norcross and Wheeler all seem like good bets to make deep runs, but you can never be 100 percent sure.
Teams like Pebblebrook may be unranked right now, but have more than enough fire power to get hot and take a trip to Macon in March. By the way, who would have predicted that the last three teams to be undefeated in 6A would be No. 6 Lambert (11-0), Johns Creek (10-0) and No. 5 Tift County (9-0)? If you guessed the Longhorns and Blue Devils, I’d believe you. The Gladiators? Not so much, especially coming off a 14-15 season.
In AAAAA, how about Shaw’s hot start? The Raiders are 7-1 after an 8-16 year. Dakeen Diaz (12.9 points, 7.5 rebounds), Kourtney Shakespeare (11.8 points, 5.5 rebounds) and Cam Paulding (10.3 points, 5.4 rebounds) have all played well for Coach Terry White.
No. 1 Miller Grove and No. 2 McIntosh supply possibly the best basketball in the entire state to watch, but No. 3 Gainesville, No. 5 Heritage-Conyers and No. 6 Cedar Shoals have an arms race going on in Region 8. Don’t sleep on No. 5 Allatoona. The Bucs made it to the state title game last year but were outsized by Brunswick. With a few strong pieces at forward and off guard graduated, Allatoona finds itself at 7-0 behind Ephraim Tshimanga and sophomore Trey Doomes’ play up front.
Want bang for your buck in 5A? Check out Jones County’s Devin Wooten, a senior guard pouring in over 25 a night. East Paulding’s “System” might not be for everybody, but you will see as many shots as possible watching them play. Coach Joby Boydstone is back in Georgia and the result with the Raiders (4-7) is either very pretty or very ugly. In wins they average 98.7 points per game, but in losses they allow 93.4. East Paulding’s four wins have come by an average of 23.5 points per game, but their losses are blowouts, losing by 26.7.
So who is leading Class AAAA in scoring? Avi Toomer (25.7)? MJ Walker (22.6)? Elias Harden (22.3)? Nope. It of course is none other than Ty Pendley of Southeast Whitfield, pouring in over 26 a night. The fearless 5-foot-10 guard lives at the foul line and also isn’t afraid to pull up from beyond the arc. He has improved upon his 21.3 point per game average from 2014-15 and is currently among the top scorers in the entire state.
Class AAA’s main storyline is that there has been a profusion of unexpected turnarounds. Coahulla Creek (11-2), Douglass (10-2), Lumpkin County (9-2) and Islands (9-2) have all seen their fortunes spin in a positive direction. Coahulla Creek finished 14-11, Douglass 5-18, Lumpkin County 9-20 and Islands 11-16 in 2014-15. The one team who’s accelerated growth may not be much of a surprise has been that of the Lumpkin County Indians. After a 77-12 run over three years at Johnson-Gainesville, highlighted by last year’s 29-1 campaign, Head Coach Jeff Steele decided to bring over his Midas Touch to Lumpkin and has successfully turned them into a winner, already cracking the top ten once this year.
What has stood out the most in Class AA is the disappointment that Pace Academy has been. At 2-4 with the best junior in the country, the Knights are barely clinging onto the No. 10 spot with no room for error remaining. They have played a tough schedule, but losing to a banged up No. 4 GAC and a 3-8 Lower Richland (SC) are not good results coming off of a 27-3 season.
One player and team that has lived up to their billing has been No. 3 Seminole County and sensation Jordan Harris. The UGA signee was the best player I saw all of last year and is hands down the best player in the state in my opinion. Through seven games the ultra-athletic swingman has averaged a cool 37.2 points, 10.1 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 3.4 steals and 1.8 blocks. Do not be surprised if he makes some noise at the next level.
If Harris isn’t your flavor, how about the man he beat in the state championship? No. 2 Crawford County’s William Jarrell. The 6-foot-5 forward’s eye-popping statline reads: 26.3 points, 12.6 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 5.7 steals and 4.3 blocks. Jarrell may be an unknown to most people in the state, but he is a special player.
In 1A-Private, it looks as if everyone is just playing for second place with No.1 Greenforest the clear cut favorite to win it all. If the Eagles can avoid mental pitfalls, there is no reason why they can’t go undefeated this year. The only way I could see Greenforest falling in-state, would take a herculean effort from some of the state’s best. No. 3 St. Francis’ Kobi Simmons (27.4 points), No. 2 SWAC’s De’Andre Ballard (24.7 points, 9.2 rebounds) or Walker’s Robert Baker (27.8 points, 14.6 rebounds, 2.6 steals, 2.3 blocks) all have the talent to take over games, but it’s unlikely that Coach Larry Thompson would let one player cut down his Greenforest.
1A-Public has seen Ahmad Rand of No. 5 Lincoln County emerge as possibly the best college prospect in the classification. The 6-foot-7 junior already has compiled a streak of three straight triple-doubles.
- Westlake (7-2)
- Shiloh (6-2)
- Norcross (8-1)
- Wheeler (6-1)
- Tift County (8-0)
- Lambert (11-0)
- Collins Hill (7-1)
- Milton (9-2)
- Newton (6-2)
- McEachern (8-1)
- Miller Grove (8-2)
- McIntosh (9-1)
- Gainesville (6-1)
- Allatoona (6-0)
- Heritage (10-1)
- Cedar Shoals (11-2)
- Riverwood (12-0)
- LaGrange (8-0)
- Camden County (11-0)
- Southwest DeKalb (9-2)
- Grady (11-0)
- Jonesboro (7-2)
- Lithonia (7-3)
- Henry County (9-1)
- Liberty County (5-1)
- St. Pius (7-2)
- Walnut Grove (9-1)
- Sandy Creek (7-3)
- Thomson (7-0)
- Eagle’s Landing (10-1)
- Laney (7-0)
- Morgan County (8-2)
- Jenkins (5-2)
- Calhoun (5-0)
- South Atlanta (7-2)
- Banks County (10-0)
- Central Macon (7-1)
- Callaway (4-2)
- Southwest Macon (8-1)
- East Hall (5-3)
- Thomasville (10-0)
- Crawford County (7-0)
- Seminole County (7-1)
- GAC (6-3)
- Vidalia (10-0)
- Early County (6-1)
- Holy Innocents’ (5-3)
- Macon County (5-1)
- Long County (8-2)
- Pace Academy (1-4)
- Greenforest (10-0)
- SWAC (6-3)
- St. Francis (7-3)
- Whitefield Academy (6-4)
- Lakeview Academy (8-1)
- North Cobb Christian (8-1)
- Tattnall Square Academy (7-1)
- St. Anne-Pacelli (7-3)
- Landmark Christian (8-3)
- Our Lady of Mercy (6-3)
- Treutlen (6-0)
- Randolph-Clay (10-1)
- Wilkinson County (5-2)
- Taylor County (8-2)
- Lincoln County (5-0)
- Terrell County (5-4)
- Hawkinsville (7-3)
- Atkinson County (7-2)
- Wilcox County (7-4)
- Hancock Central (5-4)
The top six in Class AAAAAA remain unchanged, but the final four spots saw some shuffling. No. 7 Collins Hill moves up two spots after Newton and Dacula lost. No. 8 belongs to Milton after seven straight wins. The Eagles have won their past three games by an average of 39 points. Without Harvard signee Chris Lewis against Alpharetta, Milton won 93-54 and received 27 points from Alex O’Connell. Kendrick Summerour added 21, Justin Brown 18 and Kyrin Galloway 10 in the rout. No. 9 Newton continues to cling onto a top ten spot. Just when you think they will fall out after a 57-56 loss to Tucker in which the Rams missed 11 free throws, Coach Rick Rasmussen’s team rebounded with a huge 56-53 win over 5ANo. 6 Cedar Shoals at the Classic City Shootout at Clarke Central thanks to Jaquan Simms’ game-high 16 points. The No. 10 slot goes to McEachern, who edged out Dacula 84-76 in double overtime at the SEBA Hoopfest and in the process knocked them from the top ten. AJ Jones finished with 25 points, four rebounds and five assists while Darius Jones added 17 in the win. Freshman forward Isaac Okoro made his presence felt with 16 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. Dacula was powered by Derek St. Hilaire’s 30 points and Wofford signee Kevon Tucker’s 18. Douglas County drops from the poll after a 96-80 loss to Pebblebrook. The Falcons are now 8-4 and 5-0 in Region 3 and are knocking on the door to re-emerge in the top ten.
Fayette County was home to a colossal showdown between top ten teams in 4ANo. 8 Sandy Creek and AAAAA’s No. 2 McIntosh. In the end, it was the Chiefs blowing away host Sandy Creek, 69-51, and moving back up to No. 2 in the state. Unsigned point guard Will Washington was masterful with 25 points, five rebounds and eight assists. Wofford signee Dishon Lowery finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and four blocks and Furman signee Jordan Lyons captured the McIntosh all-time scoring record on the boys side with a three-pointer on the first play of the game. Lyons finished with 13 points and now has 1,930 over his career, surpassing Jeff Sheppard’s record of 1,919. Elias Harden of Sandy Creek scored 25 points, but Gardner-Webb signee Christian Turner was held to 11 points and seven rebounds from his point guard position. No. 8 LaGrange defeated 3ANo. 8 Callaway for the second time in a three-day span, 63-60. Southwest DeKalb clings on to No. 10 after hard fought losses to No. 1 Miller Grove 76-69 and 1A-Private No. 4 Whitefield Academy, 53-52. Former No. 9 Warner Robins was blown out by 3ANo. 7 Central-Macon 81-64 Monday afternoon at the Washington County Christmas Tournament. Replacing the Demons is No. 9 Camden County. The Wildcats are 11-0 and coming off a 74-69 win over 1A-Public No. 2 Randolph-Clay, the Red Devils’ only loss of the season.
The bottom of Class AAAA saw a shakeup with two new teams debuting. Perry lost 47-42 to Choctawhatchee (FL) and 64-56 against Bleckley County while Monroe fell to South Cobb 72-55, thus dropping the two teams from No. 9 and No. 10 respectively. In steps No. 9 Thomson and No. 10 Eagle’s Landing. The undefeated Thomson Bulldogs are winning by a margin of 32 points per game. In their latest rout, a 99-51 win over Jefferson County, Radaren Johnson finished with 21 points, five rebounds, four assists and six steals while San Antonio Brinson, a transfer from Aquinas, added 13 points, five rebounds, four assists and two blocks. No. 10 Eagle’s Landing has received big contributions from underclassmen, but senior leader Jordan Lewis has been the heart and soul of the team. He is averaging a team-high 16.8 points per game and 3.5 steals. In the Eagles’ only loss of the season, a 75-61 defeat to No. 2 Jonesboro, Lewis scored 21 points.
Some teams from Macon in Region 2-AAA are trying to make a case for the top ten. Central-Macon goes from being unranked to No. 7 after drilling Warner Robins 81-64. No. 9 Southwest-Macon has two of the most explosive scorers in Middle Georgia. Justin Slocum is averaging 23.2 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. Nick Hargrove Jr. is pouring in 21.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game. One unranked Macon squad is Westside-Macon at 9-3. The Seminoles are led by possibly the best sophomore in the entire country, 6-foot-8 forward Khavon Moore. He is averaging 21.3 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 3.3 steals and 2.5 blocks a night. They meet Houston County for the third time this season at the Bear Brawl on Monday night. The two teams have split their first two meetings. Elsewhere in AAA, No. 10 East Hall returns to the rankings after knocking off Lumpkin County 73-63.
A new No. 1 takes over Class AA, in Thomasville. The Bulldogs have an impressive resume and are undefeated after taking down Tyree Crump and Bainbridge, 85-70. Seminole County slips to No. 3 following an 84-81 loss to No. 6 Early County. It will be a mad dash to win Region 1 with Seminole County, Early County and Thomasville all having to play each other twice this year. No. 8 Macon County enters the poll thanks to an impressive 75-70 win over 1A-Public No. 4 Taylor County. No. 9 Long County debuts in the top ten after an 8-2 start, coming off a 6-22 record in 2014-15.
Lovett falls out of the rankings after a bad loss to Woodstock, 67-55. Soon to follow them might be another Region 6 team. No. 10 Pace Academy has not played well this year. Early close losses to 6A No. 1 Westlake and 1A-Private No. 1 Greenforest looked like promising results, but a loss to rival No. 4 GAC and to Lower Richland (SC) on Saturday has the Knights lucky to stay in top ten contention. Pace lost 66-55 to Lower Richland, who is now just 3-7 on the season. The 1-4 Knights rode Wendell Carter Jr., the top ranked junior in the nation to a big game, but it wasn’t enough as the Diamond Hornets, whose tallest player stands just 6-foot-4 to Carter’s 6-foot-11, were able to earn the victory at the Chick-fil-A Classic.
In Class A-Private, No. 2 SWAC took down No. 3 St. Francis, 74-68. De’Andre Ballard went off for 42 points to outduel Kobi Simmons’ 28. No. 4 Whitefield Academy moves up three spots after edging North Clayton 87-80 in 2OT and 5ANo. 10 Southwest DeKalb, 53-52. No. 6 North Cobb Christian slips three spots after blowing a 16-point halftime lead against Sprayberry at the SEBA Hoopfest. Starting point guard Nick Fleming has been out with a fractured elbow. No. 8 St. Anne-Pacelli remains in the top ten after a statement victory over No. 9 Landmark Christian. The Vikings used 35 points from Tre Sudberry to get past the War Eagles.
Class A-Public’s hottest team besides No. 1 Treutlen is No. 5 Lincoln County. Ahmad Rand posted three straight triple-doubles before seeing his streak broken in the Lincoln County Christmas Tournament championship. The Red Devils captured the crown with a 55-50 win over North Oconee. Zach Crite led the way with 15 points while Rand was named Tournament MVP and finished with 12 points and seven blocks in the title game.
South Paulding 54, Blessed Trinity 49
— Kyle Sandy (@KyleSandy355) December 19, 2015
Game 1 of the SEBA Showcase at Pope High School pitted two programs with differing identities. South Paulding, coming off a disappointing loss to No. 4 Allatoona the night before, wanted to get back into their groove and run a free flowing offense. Blessed Trinity preferred to slow things up and use a methodical pace on offense and a grind-it-out style on defense.
To begin the game, it looked as if South Paulding’s athletic lineup paced by Kane Williams, was going to run roughshod through Blessed Trinity, taking a 12-0 lead behind a trapping press. The Titans didn’t score a basket until John Michael Bertrand, who scored a team-high 16 points, scored with 1:25 left in the opening period and netted all four of Blessed Trinity’s first quarter points which resulted in a 14-4 hole entering the second.
Things slowly began to change after the Titans shook off a sluggish first eight minutes. Blessed Trinity began getting to the basket and drawing fouls. The Titans got as close as seven points in the second quarter but still trailed 29-21 at the half after sinking 10-of-15 free throws.
Though they let their foot off the gas pedal, the Spartans still felt like they were in control, especially with the big first half of Williams. He finished with 13 points, seven rebounds, three assists and four steals in the opening 16.
Coach Patrick Hughes made the proper halftime adjustments for Blessed Trinity and much like they did in the second quarter, the Titans slowly crept closer and closer to South Paulding. Ja’Cori Wilson picked up his fourth foul with 6:33 to play in the third and the Spartans’ lead down to 31-29 after CJ Abrams completed a three-point play.
While the 6-foot-7 Wilson sat, the South Paulding lead continued to dwindle before Blessed Trinity took its first lead of the game, 35-33 with 3:45 left in the third quarter. The Titans outscored South Paulding 20-10 in the frame to take a 41-39 lead into the fourth, thanks to seven points off the bench from Abrams, who ended the night with 11.
Blessed Trinity extended the lead to their largest of the game at 43-39 less than a minute into the fourth. Suddenly sensing the game was in jeopardy, Coach Gil Davis’ Spartans began to respond, using its trapping defense to force turnovers. Wilson finally checked back in with 5:29 left and trailing 45-43. While Wilson struggled to find any rhythm, it was big man Anthony Brown who stepped up. Brown blew a couple bunnies in the first half, before Williams fed him for a game-changing slam with two minutes to play to give the Spartans a 51-47 lead.
With 26.3 seconds remaining, Blessed Trinity found itself with the ball down 52-49. But the Titans were unable to get a good look as DJ Jackson forced Jackson Svete into a huge turnover. Blessed Trinity had one last opportunity after a Spartan turnover, but were unable to convert on a three with 13.3 seconds left, handing to the ball back to South Paulding who would sink a pair of free throws to close out a 54-49 win and avoid blowing a big first quarter lead.
— Kyle Sandy (@KyleSandy355) December 19, 2015
— Kyle Sandy (@KyleSandy355) December 19, 2015
My Take: South Paulding came to play and looked hungry after a poor showing on Friday night, but after they took a 12-0 lead, it looked like the Spartans lost focus and didn’t take the Titans as serious as they should have. Blessed Trinity began wearing away at South Paulding by making them play long defensive possessions and be patient while the Titans sliced and diced their way to backdoor cuts and screens leading to layups. John Michael Bertrand played well for the Titans with 16 points. Kyle Swade hit some big shots and finished with 12, but it really was backup guard CJ Abrams’ big third quarter that got them back into the game.
South Paulding turned to Kane Williams late in the game and he was the difference maker, coming away with all the plays. His running mate Ja’Cori Wilson picked up too many silly fouls and left all the work on Williams’ plate. He along with Anthony Brown made sure to get the Spartans back in the win column. Brown struggled to finish inside at times, but the burly big man’s soft hands helped him take over down low on his way to 17 points and 13 rebounds. If Brown can be that effective inside with Williams and Wilson performing like they are capable of, the Spartans will be very dangerous throughout the season. Blessed Trinity’s style of play and discipline will keep them in every game they play this year. Class AAA is wide open, giving the Titans the chance to play spoiler for a lot of other teams come state tournament time.
Kane Williams – 22 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals, 1 block
Anthony Brown – 17 points, 13 rebounds
Ja’Cori Wilson – 6 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 block
John Michael Bertrand – 16 points, 8 rebounds
Kyle Swade – 12 points, 6 rebounds
CJ Abrams – 11 points
Jackson Svete – 8 points, 2 assists
5ANo. 3 McIntosh 69, 4ANo. 6 Sandy Creek 51
— Kyle Sandy (@KyleSandy355) December 19, 2015
Sandy Creek High School was jam packed on Saturday afternoon in a game that featured two top ten programs hailing just 10 minutes apart from each other. What the fans received was a highlight laden contest, but a lopsided result as No. 3 McIntosh outclassed a talented No. 6 Sandy Creek team, 69-51.
The atmosphere was set for an intense game, meaning there was no better stage for Jordan Lyons to make history. The prolific scorer signed to play his college ball at Furman entered trailing former Chief Jeff Sheppard for the all-time boys scoring record by two points. Sitting at 1,917 points, a three-pointer would shatter Sheppard’s record of 1,919. To nobody’s surprise all it took was seconds into the game for Lyons to etch his name in the record books and continue to build on a legacy that will never be forgotten.
On the very first play of the game, Wofford signee Dishon Lowery swung the ball to the right wing where Lyons was ready to catch and fire. Bang. His three-pointer didn’t only move him into first place in boys program history and second behind Gabby Seiler for the school record, but it also set the tone as McIntosh led nearly wire to wire and never relented in a statement game that proclaimed the Chiefs are still the team to beat in Fayette County.
— Kyle Sandy (@KyleSandy355) December 19, 2015
McIntosh leapt out to a quick lead and rode Will Washington the rest of the way. Three dunks in a row put the Chiefs up 9-4 early in the game after monster slams from Lowery and Chase Walter after sloppy defense by the Patriots. In total, the Chiefs would throw down four dunks in the opening frame highlighted by a Washington to Walter alley oop. At the end of the first quarter, McIntosh held a 20-15 lead in a fast pace game.
— Kyle Sandy (@KyleSandy355) December 19, 2015
The Chiefs began to open up a lead, but Elias Harden kept Sandy Creek in the game and hit three three-pointers in the first half to draw the Patriots to within 27-26. But from that point on, it was all McIntosh. The Chiefs used a 16-0 run to blow open a 43-26 lead early into the third quarter. Washington was the key cog from his point guard position, making dazzling play after dazzling play. At the half McIntosh led 38-26 with Washington creating 25 of the team’s points, scoring 14 of his own and handing out five assists.
Sandy Creek had no answer for Washington and the bruising play inside of Lowery and Walter, who finished the night with 14 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and four blocks and 10 points and seven rebounds respectively.
The Patriots went ice cold after drawing within one-point in the second quarter and McIntosh knew what to do after smelling blood in the water. Sandy Creek would never threaten in the second half.
My Take: Will Washington is the best pass-first true point guard in the entire state, hands down. His game is so smooth and his ability to find open teammates is uncanny and unteachable. For the third time this season, Washington left me shaking my head wondering why D-1 schools are not all over him. He finished with 25 points, five rebounds, eight assists and two steals and completely outplayed Christian Turner, a Gardner-Webb signee, who was stuck on six points for most of the game until a couple garbage time baskets. I wondered if Sandy Creek’s pressure could get to McIntosh’s guards — a resounding ‘no’. I wondered if Evan Jester and Keith Heard II were up to the task of banging bodies with the bulkier and more experienced Chase Walter and Dishon Lowery — ‘no’. Lowery and Walter combined for 24 points, 20 rebounds, three assists and five blocks while Jester and Heard only mustered up nine points, 12 rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block.
The most troubling thing I saw tonight was Sandy Creek trying to throw lobs off the backboard down 17 in the second half. There is a time and place for that; it’s not when your crosstown rival is throttling you. Elias Harden played well with 25 points, but he and the rest of the Patriots lived by the jumper and died by the jumper in the first half. Christian Turner wasn’t his usual aggressive self and didn’t attack the paint with much success. The Patriots hadn’t played for two weeks and it showed; definitely a brutal draw to play such a powerful team after the long layoff. Coach Anthony McKissic will have a lot of bulletin material to use and will have a nice opportunity to do some teaching and get Sandy Creek back inline as they re-enter region play.
Will Washington – 25 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals
Dishon Lowery – 14 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 blocks
Jordan Lyons – 13 points
Chase Walter – 10 points, 7 rebounds
Elias Harden – 25 points, 5 rebounds
Christian Turner – 11 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal
Evan Jester – 6 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block
Keith Heard II – 3 points, 6 rebounds
Feature Photo By Adam Hagy