Worth County (20-8)4A
Crisp County (19-8)4A
Monroe took a trip to the Elite Eight where they fell short against eventual Class AAAA champion Liberty County, 71-61. The senior-led Tornadoes lose Emeshaun Offord (15.5 ppg), Trentavious Jackson (10.5 ppg), K’Naurtica George (9.5 ppg) and Napoleon Harris (8.9 ppg). 6-foot-4 senior guard Ulysses Williams is back as the team’s leading scorer after posting 6.7 points and 3 rebounds per game.
Coach Roney Mays of Worth County has the unenviable task of trying to replace the best 1-2 punch in the state down low between Brandon Moore (21.8 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg) and Auburn signee Anfernee McLemore (15.6 ppg, 13 rpg, 5.9 bpg). The Rams’ best experience returns in the backcourt between senior Tyre McKinney and junior Austin Jackson (4.2 ppg, 1.9 apg, 1.6 spg).
Crisp County loses point guard Dontavious Tolbert (7.3 ppg, 4.3 apg, 1.6 spg) but returns every other key piece. Senior shooting guard Quentavious Dean emerged as one of Region 1-AAAA’s top scorers as a junior, pumping in 18.3 points. Guard Ijon Owens (8.9 ppg) and power forward Valdis Daniel (7.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg) are back for their senior seasons as well. Junior post JaQavian Walker showed promise as a 6-foot-4, 215-pound sophomore, posting 4.7 points and 5.9 rebounds. The wide receiver will bring some toughness once football season is over.
Cook sees four seniors graduate including dual-sport standout Tavian Allen. Eight rising juniors saw time on the varsity last season. The Hornets haven’t had a winning record since 2013-14.
Ty Randolph damaged the Dougherty program before leaving for Lanier County in the offseason. The Trojans had a solid team last year, but had to forfeit 17 games for playing an ineligible player. Things got even worse when a second player was found to be living outside the school district, leading to Dougherty being fined $1,000 and receiving a postseason ban for the upcoming 2016-17 season. With the program in the dumps, the Trojans hit a grand slam hiring five-time state champion head coach Rufus McDuffie, who won over 600 games in his 29 seasons at Mitchell-Baker High School. McDuffie brought titles home in ’90, ’91, ’98, ’99 and ’00. McDuffie had an excellent piece to build around in 6-foot-4 combo guard David Quimby, but the senior has transferred to Greenforest Christian. 6-foot-7 Israel Shead and 6-foot-3 Terry Lewis figure to play prominent roles their senior seasons. Shead averaged 6.4 points, 6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.
Liberty County (28-1)4A
Long County (20-8)2A
Tattnall County (18-10)
Brantley County (15-11)
Pierce County (4-20)
Appling County (3-19)
The gold standard when it comes to Class AAA backcourts. Liberty County marched its way from Hinesville to Macon to win their first ever state title under first year head coach Julian Stokes, 58-52, stopping Jonesboro’s attempt at a Class AAAA three-peat. The Panthers’ big three should return in seniors Davion Mitchell and Richard LeCounte along with junior Will Richardson. Mitchell, an Auburn-commit, averaged 24.2 points, 7.1 assists and 2.9 steals. Five-star UGA football-commit, LeCounte, is a freak athlete that poured in 20.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.5 steals. LeCounte’s availability could be in question as he could instead choose to graduate early to enroll at UGA. Richardson, the championship game’s X-factor who coolly netted 19 points picked up a UGA offer after his big game performance. He averaged 13.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.8 steals. The only question mark if there is one with the Panthers will be their lack of size inside, especially if they run into a team with a dominant big man.
Long County went from 6-22 to 20-8 last year, winning the Region 2-AA tournament. The Blue Tide fell to Lovett in the Sweet 16, 76-61. Coach Deshon Brock returns juniors Henry Blair (11.8 ppg), 6-foot-4 post Christian Bass (10 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and point guard Ryhiem Izzard (8.3 ppg, 2.1 apg, 2.1 spg). Gone is graduate Eric Shaw (8.4 ppg) and senior guard Perrell Brisbane. Brisbane transfers to Pierce County after leading the Tide averaging 12.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.6 steals.
Tattnall County fell in the first round of the Class AAA tournament to North Clayton 73-68 after posting their fourth consecutive winning season. First Team All-Sub-Region selection Javarious Butler and Second Teamer Jamaine Coney have graduated. Junior guard Craig Saxton returns after earning Honorable Mention.
Brantley County boasts one of the best kept secrets in Georgia, 6-foot-6 rising sophomore Jaylin Williams, who earned First Team All-Region as a freshman. The bouncy and versatile forward already holds an offer from Kennesaw State and has HM schools such as Wake Forest courting him for his services. Williams should breakout even more this year and become a household name as he and senior guard and fellow Sub-Region First Teamer Mikel Collins return to try and lead the Herons into the playoffs.
Pierce County seeks its first winning season in years. Joseph Garner brings over a winning pedigree after serving as a Tift County girls assistant. Honorable Mention picks DeMarkus Folsom and Brit Williamson graduate alongside forward Blake Chancey. Everyone else however is set to return. Junior Quashawn Conaway, sophomore Dee Bethea and Moses (Jr.) and Ziggy (So.) Shider represent a young core. The addition of Perrell Brisbane brings a true No. 1 option to Blackshear.
Appling County was hard-pressed to find wins, but at least Second Team selection Devon Moore returns for his senior season along with Honorable Mention selections Stanley Heller and Latavious Nesmith.
Southeast Bulloch (15-14)
Windsor Forest (10-15)4A
Jenkins missed out on a Class AAA repeat, falling to Morgan County in the state championship 66-56. Michael Coffee (11.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Dimetri Chambers (11.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg) graduate, but the rest of the Warriors’ sturdy core is back with star seniors Region Player of the Year Trevion Lamar and Zion Williams. Lamar, a 6-foot-5 powerfully built forward, led Jenkins in every statistical category last year posting 16.4 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.6 steals and 1.7 blocks per game. Williams, who moved in from Savannah High, put up 13.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.1 steals at his new home. Tyrone Scott will see his role increase his junior season. He is an athletic 6-foot-3 forward that averaged 8.4 points and 7.2 rebounds. Myles Walker moves in from Windsor Forest for his senior season after the 6-foot-3 guard averaged over 15 points per game.
Islands posted a school-record 20 wins and have increased their win total every year since the young school opened in 2010. The Sharks however, tripped up in the region tournament, losing to Tattnall County and failed to reach the state playoffs. Ready to take a bite out of their new region, the Sharks return every starter and their top eight scorers. Pacing them is the school’s all-time leading scorer, Justin Cave, a 6-foot-2 All-Region First Team guard that averaged 20.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.5 steals as a junior. Son of Savannah State University head coach Horace Broadnax, Trae Broadnax represents the most talented young guard in the Savannah area. As a freshman the 6-foot-2 playmaker averaged 12 points per game and was named to the All-Region Second Team. Seniors Hugh Durham (12.5 ppg) and Justin Cutter (7.6 ppg) were named Honorable Mention along with junior Kimon Mosley (6 ppg). Durham also comes from a storied coaching tree as his grandfather by the same name coached Florida State (1966-78), Georgia (1978-95) and Jacksonville (1997-05), amassing a 634-430 record with four SEC Coach of the Year awards sprinkled in. The Sharks will need to build depth in order to compete with Jenkins for the region title.
The Johnson-Savannah Atomsmashers lose two First Team players in Da’Monte Greene (17.8 ppg) and Daeshawn Loadholt (11 ppg). Emerging junior Amanze Ngumezi is a 6-foot-8 active stretch forward that can block shots and run the floor. He earned his first offer from Rutgers in the summer and will have a chance to boost his stock even in 2016-17. Brothers E’Maury (8.6 ppg), Eleik (7.3 ppg) and Elavian (4.7 ppg) Bowles enter their junior seasons in the Johnson backcourt after Ernest graduates.
All-Region Second Team selection Markel Ming graduates from Southeast Bulloch. Seniors Aaron Houston and Caleb Carter are back however. Carter, a 6-foot-4 post, averaged over 7 points and 7 rebounds while Houston chipped in nearly 11 points per game from his shooting guard position. Both players were Honorable Mention picks.
Savannah slid to its worst record in over five years but returns their top three leading scorers. Senior Asante Boyd poured in a team-high 16.4 points and 5.5 rebounds as a 6-foot-2 guard. Marshall Barber, a 6-foot-3 rising senior, posted 11.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.9 blocks. Matt Sams played well as a sophomore, adding 8.5 points to round out the Bluejackets scoring attack.
Windsor Forest drops to Class AAA and loses Myles Walker, a potent scoring guard who leaves for Jenkins. 6-foot-5 junior Donovan Lewis returns as the team’s top rebounder.
Beach must stop its slow decline since winning 17 games in 2012-13. Rising senior Romello Royal was selected as a First Team All-Sub-Region player.
Groves won just two games last year in Class AA and now moves up to Class AAA without leading scorer and rebounder Torrence Johnson. Senior Chamel Chaney brings back the most experience as the Rebels look to rebuild a once proud program under new leadership at head coach in Xavier Woods who comes from Twiggs County.
Peach County (2-22)
Pike County (1-21)4A
Central-Macon was upended by South Atlanta in the Elite Eight, 92-79. A potent scoring trio takes a hit as football quarterback Derrick Evans graduates after being named All-Middle Georgia Second Team by posting 15.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 2.9 steals per game. The loss of center Kentrevious Jones will be difficult to overcome. Rising senior Antarius McCoy is the lone shooting star back. The tough guard averaged 16.7 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists as a junior. Energy guy Rakwon Iverson must be replaced as one of the team’s top defenders. Jones County transfer, junior Kylan Hill, could fill that role. The 6-foot-3 forward averaged 8.9 points and 7.6 rebounds with the Greyhounds.
The state’s No. 1 ranked player in the Class of 2018, All-Middle Georgia First Teamer Khavon Moore, will try to lift Westside-Macon over the hump after getting thumped by Calhoun in the Sweet 16, 71-43. Moore, a 6-foot-8 five-star point-forward, posted 20.7 points, 11 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.6 steals and 3.1 blocks per game. His supporting cast will be the best it’s ever been this year with senior Samone Reed (11.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.4 apg, 2.1 spg) being joined in the backcourt by Rutland transfers, seniors Trey Foster (15 ppg, 8 apg, 3 spg) and Jaylyne Brown. The Seminoles will be anchored inside by massive 6-foot-11, 285-pound center Kentrevious Jones after he posted 17.3 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game at Central-Macon. The huge region changing transfer committed to Xavier in September.
The rich get richer and the poor get poorer as Rutland loses two of its top players in the aforementioned Foster and Brown after slipping to 9-16 after owning the region in 2014-15 with Ty’lik Evans leading the Hurricanes to a 27-4 mark. Senior forward Jaikez Mann will see the bulk of the load placed on his back after being named All-Middle Georgia Honorable Mention.
Former Rockdale County Head Coach and Athletic Director Al Williams steps in to turn around the Jackson program. A large senior class graduates, making way for the Red Devils to a find a new leader.
Kendrick looks for its first winning season since 2013-14, after falling to 5-20, their worst record since 2007-08. Junior Tyler Brooks and sophomore Jalen King could play a role in the Cherokees’ future resurgence.
Peach County sees Prelvis Paster enter as head coach after leading Lamar County to an 11-14 mark and a state playoff berth in Class AA. Senior guard Jared Johnson returns with his 19.9-point per game average and represents a true No. 1 option for Paster to lean on. Fletcher Hooks chipped in a second-best 8.5 points as a junior.
Pike County was handed some of the worst beatings in the state last year in Class AAAA. Losses of 68 (Eastside), 61 (Jonesboro) and the coup de grace, a 102-point loss (116-14) to Jonesboro, highlighted a dreadful season. The Pirates’ only win of the season came in overtime against 0-26 Hampton, 49-47. 6-foot-10 senior center Acton Shirley averaged 11.1 points and 9 rebounds. He cashed in his play with the Pirates and with Team Forrest over the summer, committing to Gardner-Webb.
Pace Academy (21-10)2A
Cedar Grove (21-8)
Stone Mountain (12-14)4A
Two big name transfers flirted with joining the reigning Class AA state champion Pace Academy Knights, but neither enrolled. Instead Pace will have to settle with five-star 6-foot-10 senior center Wendell Carter Jr., who is viewed as the No. 1 player in the nation by some and by others, a consensus Top 3 prospect. Carter was named Player of the Year in the state of Georgia by Sandy’s Spiel and will attempt to repeat and lead the Knights to the promise land again, a team that opened up the year 2-8 and bounced in and out of the state rankings due to their tough national schedule. Back with Carter is 6-foot-7 junior forward Isaiah Kelly, a highly touted prospect in his own right. With Zack Kaminsky now at Penn and Caleb Holifield transferred to Peachtree Ridge, seniors Barrett Baker and Mark Sommerville must continue to bring solid play out of the backcourt.
Westminster was the biggest shocker in region tournament play as the Wildcats entered Region 4 with a 22-2 record but were eliminated by 15-14 Jackson-Atlanta, 53-48, denying Westminster a trip to the state playoffs. Star forward Will Benson has graduated and was the No. 14 pick in the MLB Draft, selected by the Cleveland Indians. Also gone are guards Philip Jones and Tyler Barry. 6-foot-5 senior forward Mikael Sampson now becomes the unquestioned go-to guy. He has diversified his game and will have the ball in his hands more now that Benson has left. Sampson will be challenged nightly by a tough new region.
Much to Lovett’s chagrin, the Lions move up to Class AAA but are still stuck with Pace, who they lost to by 13 and 14 points, sandwiched in between by a 66-63 overtime victory over the Knights. The Lions lose First Team All-Region performer Henry Richardson (18.5 ppg) but return the best freshman in Class AA last season, Ryan Greer. Greer averaged 13 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists and was named All-Region. The mature guard is the epitome of a winner and a leader. Joining him will be junior Crawford Schwieger, a deadly three-point shooter when left open. Sophomore Nick Jackson will see major minutes this season as an undersized, hard working 6-foot forward. Seniors Ryan Pate and Kyle Riley should have chances to see the floor. Pate is a streaky three-point shooter that can help open the floor while Riley, 6-foot-6, is back after missing last season with a blood clot.
Cedar Grove took a trip to the Class AAA Final Four where they were eliminated by Jenkins, 68-59. Antonio Reeves graduates, but 6-foot-8 senior Jelani Woods returns after averaging 12.3 points and 10.3 rebounds. Woods is an Oklahoma State football commit at quarterback. Slotting in will be sophomore Devon Barnes, a 6-foot-2 guard that already showed his scoring prowess as a freshman with multiple big nights. Junior Jamari Dean brings back his lunch pail work ethic on the glass after averaging 5.9 rebounds per game.
Redan doesn’t catch much of a break after leaving the powerful Region 6-AAAA, joining a just as difficult Region 5-AAA. The Raiders lose two pieces of a potent backcourt but do return the man who spearheaded the attack in senior guard Tyronn Stuckey. Stuckey, 5-foot-11, averaged a team-high 14.6 points, 5.4 assists and 2.8 steals while shooting 50% from three-point land. The shifty guard earned First Team All-Region honors as well. For the Raiders to repeat their success, 6-foot-4 senior Jibril Wykcoff will need to help fill the scoring voids left by Darryl Moody (13.1 ppg) and Chae McLaurin (12.2 ppg) and pick up the slack on the glass after losing Ashaki Powell (7.2 rpg).
Stone Mountain follows Redan into their new region but lose heavy firepower in Muhammad Dent (14 ppg), Michael Graham (12.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and Donnell Stafford (7.6 rpg). Senior guards Michael Williams and Eric Huff are the presumed top options in the Pirates backcourt.
Towers graduates eight players from a 5-win team. Top players Tyler Wright, Dalvis Morris, Jamal Benton and Jermaine Neal are all gone. Rising sophomores Jaronta Sims and Damaje Hicks saw varsity experience. Hicks is 6-foot-7.
Jarion Davis graduates from McNair, leaving the Mustangs without their primary post presence. The team only had three seniors last year and bring back a heavy junior class for their final year in 2016-17.
Coahulla Creek (21-7)
North Murray (19-9)
Murray County (10-17)
Lakeview-Ft. Oglethorpe (6-20)
Haralson County (1-23)
Calhoun’s magical undefeated season came up short, falling to Jenkins in the Elite Eight 84-78 after making a furious comeback. Top scorers Kaelan Riley (15.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg) and Jireh Wilson (13.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.5 apg) both graduate and now start their collegiate football careers at Mercer and Wofford, respectively. Riley ranked second on the team in scoring his freshman year and led the Yellow Jackets his following three seasons in points per game, making him a massive loss and an all-time Calhoun great. Second leading scorer Chapin Rierson returns for his senior season after posting 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds as a versatile 6-foot-5 forward. Rierson could see an uptick in his scoring role now that Riley, Wilson and Ray Reeves (9 ppg) are gone. Guards Malik Lawrence (6.8 ppg), Rhett Abernathy (3.5 ppg) and Porter Law will all see major minutes. Lawrence and Abernathy enter their senior seasons as experienced backcourt members while Law brings toughness and physicality to the perimeter as a junior.
Coahulla Creek enters its sixth season and has seen progress each year. Last season the Colts recorded a school-record 21 wins and earned their first state playoff berth, losing 80-61 to Banks County in the opening round. Major changes are coming for the Colts however as Head Coach Matthew Queener has stepped down and senior standouts Alex Fisher, JR Laird and Caleb Lewis have graduated. Matthew Legg, a Murray County assistant, now enters to lead the Colts. He will need to replace Fisher, an All-Region performer that did it all for Coahulla Creek and nearly led the Colts to an upset of Calhoun before falling 65-58 in overtime in a classic. In fact, Coahulla Creek was the only team all year long to stay within 10 points of the Yellow Jackets, losing their first meeting 60-52. Senior and Second Team All-Area honoree Tyler Phillips brings back the most experience as a fundamentally sound player and active rebounder inside.
North Murray has developed a proud young program in short time, posting winning records every season since joining the GHSA back in 2011-12. Top guard Noah Allen transferred to North Carolina last season but that didn’t stop the Mountaineers from taking another trip to the state playoffs where they lost 55-54 at Lumpkin County. Second Team All-Area performer Lucas Sexton graduates along with Jordan Couch. Inside, 6-foot-6, 285-pound rising sophomore Luke Griffin is a handful. He recently committed to play football at UGA.
Sonoraville loses Hunter White and Austin Carter as strong guards but return 6-foot-4 post Bryce Waters. Junior Wil Walraven is a capable guard going on scoring tears. A fully healthy Brad Wilson will star in the backcourt as a knockdown shooter from beyond the arc.
Murray County graduates 10 seniors, meaning plenty of new faces will get a chance to step up. Football standouts Dominick Genitempo and Braden Weaver enter their senior seasons and should help out on the hardwood. Cade Vice made the Indians roster as sophomore and could contribute this year in the backcourt.
Dual-sport star Mac Brower powers Ringgold in football and basketball. The 6-foot-2 senior guard averaged 18.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.9 steals per game as a junior. Rising junior Nathan Camp (5.7 ppg) and senior Davantae Jackson (5.6 ppg) represent the most help returning.
Adairsville returns it top core of a 9-win team, bringing back the team’s Offensive Player of the Year (Sr. Cole Hewatt), Defensive Player of the Year (Sr. Juan Perez) and Most Valuable Player and All-County selection senior Ronald Hardin. Junior guards Hunter Hice and Ethan Belcher also hold promise moving forward.
Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe is led by junior post Zach Thompson (9.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg), senior guard Noah Harris (9 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and junior guard Andrew Brock (6 ppg). Senior Triston Bennett is a steady rim protector (5.5 ppg, 4 rpg, 3.1 bpg).
Bremen moves up from Class AA to AAA in search of finding more wins. The Blue Devils have bright future as sophomores Charlie Crafton and Jason Houston both made All-Area Honorable Mention as 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-3 freshmen. Crafton led the Blue Devils in scoring with 14.4 points to go along with his 5.8 rebounds. Dalton Smith could fill a role as a three-point specialist in his first season with Bremen.
Haralson County played in the smallest and possibly weakest region in the state last year, 5-AAA, but still finished 1-23, their only win coming against state playoff participant 8-18 Rockmart. Bremen won just three games last year with two coming against Haralson County, 46-30 and 39-35. Top player, J.C. Garrett an All-Area Honorable Mention pick, has graduated. Coach Vic Coggins enters his second year at the helm. Senior Kris Boyd, sophomore Nick Vaughn and junior Noah Ray will be important pieces while incoming freshman Bryson King could be a key cog in the Rebels’ eventual turnaround.
East Hall (21-8)
North Hall (21-8)4A
Lumpkin County (19-11)
Greater Atlanta Christian (17-11)2A
Union County (16-14)2A
Dawson County (13-13)
Fannin County (11-14)
East Hall took a trip to the Sweet 16 where they were eliminated by Westside-Augusta, 79-59. Coach Joe Dix will need another masterful coaching performance this year as the Vikings lose key players and size. Graduates Tylor Brown, Triston Cooper and Andy Lara represent a backcourt that was heavily relied upon. Brown, a First Team All-Area selection, averaged 19.3 points his final season. Senior Markese Jackson is focusing on football full-time. His athleticism will be sorely missed. Luke Cooper is coming off a broken ankle he suffered during the Vikings’ first practice of the summer. The absence of all the aforementioned players afforded Dix the opportunity to load his offseason roster with freshmen and sophomores. Sophomore Luke Holtzclaw showed a nice three-point touch and could see important minutes this year. Lone veteran, 6-foot-5 forward Mahki Brown, is a senior that will be asked to control the paint after averaging 7 points and 5.5 rebounds. Senior guard Keilen Dowdy returns from an ACL injury and will bring quickness to the Vikings backcourt. Senior guards Tony Martinez, Deonte Evans and Joseph Buffington will be valuable pieces while sophomores Trevor Rider and Cambren Harrison help out from the guard and post position, respectively. Eighth grader Imre Earls saw some action this summer. The guard will be a player to keep an eye on in the coming years in Hall County.
North Hall lost a heartbreaker to Carrollton in the opening round of the Class AAAA state tournament, 59-56. The Trojans drop back to Class AAA where they finished 29-4 in 2012-13 but sank to 6-20 the following year. Coach Tyler Sanders has seen the rebirth of the program but must take the next steps without Carson Heinen and Sam Jackson, one of the most reliable backcourts in Hall County. Heinen was a First Team All-Area pick after posting 19 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists per game and earning Region 8-AAAA Co-Player of the Year. Jackson was a strong leader on the floor that got Heinen and Evan Easton the ball. Easton, a rising 6-foot-4 senior post, was Second Team All-Area following a season in which he averaged 14 points, 7 rebounds and was named First Team All-Region 8-AAAA. Joining Easton will be seniors Jake Meeler, Justin Rabb, Alec Volle and Alden Lewallen. Meeler brings toughness to the interior at 6-foot-2 while Rabb, Volle and Lewallen all have waited patiently and now get a chance to make an impact at the varsity level.
Lumpkin County got off to a hot start to open the Jeff Steele era, winning 13 of their first 16 games, but sunk back to the pack once Region 7-AAA play opened, losing seven of their next 12 before entering the state tournament. Even with the bumpy end to the season, the Indians won 10-more games than they did in 2014-15 and picked up a 55-54 win over North Murray before losing to Laney in the Sweet 16, 91-45. All-Area Second Teamer Jack Howard must be replaced. The big-time scorer averaged 18 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Honorable Mention big man Brandon Zarate is gone as well after becoming a double-double machine. Senior guard Zach Pulley is in-line for a big year with Howard graduated.
Coach David Eaton experienced some turbulence in his first season at Greater Atlanta Christian, but was able to steer the Spartans into the Sweet 16 in Class AA after two of the team’s best players were dismissed halfway through the year. Rising sophomore point guard Hunter McIntosh played beyond his years as a cool-headed ball handler that was able to fill it up when asked. He should continue to improve and has next level written all over him if his freshman season was just a preview. California, Stanford and Florida Gulf Coast have all shown interest. 6-foot-8 Air Force-commit Charlie O’Briant is a skilled player that can stretch defenses. To fully maximize his potential, he will need to add some more weight to his slight frame, but the skill set is there. Sophomore Chris Hinton allows O’Briant to be the finesse player while he lays the boom inside. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Hinton is a bruiser inside that can finish down low and hit the glass hard.
Union County took a trip to the Sweet 16 before getting annihilated by Thomasville 65-30. The loss of 6-foot-8 Chase Shook (10.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.2 bpg) hurts the Panthers inside but the team’s top two scorers are set to return in Lawson Baenninger and Crawford Colwell. Baenninger, a 6-foot-2 senior, averaged 13.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.2 steals. Colwell, a 6-foot-1 junior, posted 11.4 points and 5.4 rebounds.
Dawson County had a reason for optimism with Chad Pittman stepping in as head coach from Chestatee and a strong junior class coming back. A monkey wrench was thrown into those plans however as centerpiece Gabe Bryant, a 6-foot-8 animal inside, decided to return home to South Carolina. Nonetheless, Pittman still has four starters (all juniors) returning highlighted by All-Region member Cullen Reed and Jeremiah Crumley as top scoring options with plenty of experience. Football standout Coey Watson and Ryan Gallenkamp round out the starting group that remains intact. The loss of Bryant leaves the Tigers without much size, their tallest players standing 6-foot-2. Seniors Joseph Cronan and Corey Hammond will be asked to provide leadership while 6-foot-2 Kane Palfrey will see important playing time as a junior.
Fannin County joins a tough region and will look for leadership from seniors Clay Ware and Logan Holt who were among the team’s leading scorers last season.
Morgan County (26-4)
Jackson County (18-12)
East Jackson (17-12)
Monroe Area (15-13)4A
Franklin County (7-19)
Hart County (6-20)
Morgan County recaptured the Class AAA crown by upending rival Jenkins 66-56, giving the Bulldogs their second title in the past three years. Jordan Ford (Jackson State), Jailyn Ingram (FAU) and DeVorious Brown (FAU) all leave big holes across Morgan County’s starting five. The next big thing coming out of MoCo however looks to be Alec Woodard. The rising sophomore broke a school-record with 10 threes in a game. Obviously, Woodard at 6-foot-3 can shoot the lights out of the ball, but he can score when attacking the basket as well. He will be Coach Jamond Sims’ lead dog in 2016-17. It will be interesting to see who steps up around Woodard. One likely candidate to do so is 6-foot-3 sophomore guard Tyrin Lawrence who moves in from Monticello where he averaged 5.9 points per game. Lawrence built a bond with Woodard over the summer with the Atlanta Celtics.
Class AAA Coach of the Year Chuck Butler successfully changed the culture surrounding the Jackson County program seeing a turnaround from 4-22 to 18-12, in the process capturing their first state playoff win in 51 years when they defeated Rockmart 75-52. The Panthers met their demise in the Sweet 16 with a loss at Jenkins, 70-51. Now it is up to Butler and top assistant Brad Hayes to continue Jackson County’s rise from obscurity. A senior class that stuck together and bought into Jackson County’s E.A.T. mentality was the key to success. Out of those seven seniors the losses of Joel Ellis, Preston Giroux, Malique Wade, Stephen Fogarty and Jase Latty hit home the hardest. Ellis was a First Team All-Area selection after banging inside to average 18 points and 9 rebounds. Giroux was a Second Teamer that brought versatility to the table while Wade, Fogarty and Latty all bought into their roles. Rising senior Christian Smith will be relied upon to pack a scoring punch for a Panthers team that must continue to play hard. Brock McCullum and 6-foot-4 Kyron Baker are a pair of seniors that will factor into Coach Butler’s system. New addition Tae Woods is an athletic 6-foot-4 forward that hails from Gainesville. Woods has a chance to provide some much needed versatility, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Point guard Owen Purvis is a leader by example while sophomore bigs Chase Daniel and Wright Wilson represent playable size over their final three seasons.
Things are a lot different at East Jackson now that David Boyd has stepped away from the program. Drue Drinnon and Travis Anderson have gone their separate ways. Senior guard Jaylen Morgan also transfers out, taking his bounce to Central Gwinnett. David Akin takes over as head coach and has started to implement a next-level approach for preparing the team, using advanced video break down for statistical analysis. With all of the Eagles blue-chippers out the door, the fearless Akin has still scheduled six exposure events including a date with defending Class AA state champion Pace Academy. Junior Kobe Haley is 6-foot-3 on the wing and should have plenty of scoring opportunities. Cody Nix provides a 6-foot-4 frame on the perimeter and Zay Clark, a junior, is the only returning starter. Junior guard Jace Bonds transfers in from Oconee County as an athletic and active backcourt member. Sophomores Miles Addington and Marcus Wingfield both have chances to earn major minutes.
Monroe Area lost a heartbreaker in the opening round of the Class AAAA playoffs, losing 53-52 to Woodward Academy. Coach Chris Jackson enters Year 3 and looks to make it 3-for-3 in making it to the state playoffs. In his first season in 2014-15, he turned a 4-22 program into an 18-12 unit. Expectations are high for a young group in 2016-17. Chandler Gibson is a veteran leader that averaged 15.8 points and 3.4 assists while being named First Team All-Region 8-AAAA. Junior guard Devin Sheats is steady with the ball in his hands and boasts a high-IQ. 6-foot-6 junior wing Elijah Goodman was out with injury after Christmas when he broke his foot. Now on the mend, healthy and ready to go, the lengthy shooter has a chance for a breakthrough season. The Hurricanes put together a 24-5 mark over the summer and look poised to push for the playoffs even though only two seniors are projected to see important minutes.
Franklin County must replace KeAndre’ Morrison and Phoenix Roberts in the backcourt. Four sophomores suited up for the varsity last year.
Hart County sunk from 16-14 to 6-20. Senior Marquavian Walker will be joined by a group of juniors: Mondriquez Craft, Tyler Dalton, Tevin Craft, Jalen Brown and PJ Rucker in hopes of turning the Bulldogs back into a contender.