- Liberty County
- Sandy Creek
- St. Pius
- Worth County
- Henry County
Honorable Mention: Buford, Thomson, Westover, Perry, Upson-Lee
It may be time for a new No. 1 in AAAA and if it is, Lithonia looks ready to take the mantle. The Bulldogs won 20-straight games during the middle of the season and finished the year at 27-3. Lithonia saw an early lead slip away in the quarterfinals as the Bulldogs fell to Cairo 61-47. Contributors Kesean Warren and Christopher Roberson have graduated but more than enough returns to make Lithonia a serious contender for a state title. Senior guards Rodney Chatman and Tyheem Freeman make up a tough backcourt while senior forward Tyleen Patterson chips in on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Transfer Jacara Cross, a 6-foot-6 senior forward from Cedar Grove, instantly rounds out a now balanced attack. Cross averaged 15.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.7 blocks as a junior and is known for playing above the rim. Coach Wallace Corker has a chance to have a special team and finally knock off Jonesboro from its perch.
With MJ Walker and Head Coach Daniel Maehlman still in the mix, it’s hard to pick against defending repeat state champion No. 2 Jonesboro. The Cardinals defeated Carrollton 55-50 for the state championship and finished 32-1. Walker is still only a junior and is thought of as a five-star forward. He is coming off a season in which he averaged 17.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. Tracy Hector (Kennesaw State) and Austin Donaldson (Georgia State) were key cogs in the two-time state championship reign, but are now set to make an impact in college. Even with the loss of a couple starters, Coach Maelhman will not accept anything less than the best from his team. Jonesboro’s calling card has been its tough-nosed defense that has been unparalleled in the state and that will not change. Defense will once again be the factor that separates the Cardinals from the rest of the pack. Sophomore power forward Jamari Smith and senior guard Tariq Jenkins will be asked to take on more of the burden and support Walker as the Cards try to three-peat.
The dynamic junior duo of Davion Mitchell (Auburn) and Richard LeCounte is too much for No. 3 Liberty County to be ignored. The Panthers enjoyed a 24-5 season but ran into the Jonesboro buzzsaw in the semifinals. Mitchell and LeCounte were harassed into 21 combined points on 8-of-25 shooting, but the Cardinals were on a whole other atmosphere defensively. When not playing the best defense in the state, Mitchell averaged 18.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 3.3 steals. LeCounte was equally impressive, going for 18.5 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.1 blocks. Jishaun Harris plays bigger than his 6-foot-3 frame and averaged 6.6 points and 7.0 rebounds. The one thing holding back first-year Head Coach Julian Stokes’ Panthers could be their lack of size.
They might not have had the sexiest record at 18-9, but No. 4 Bainbridge is not a team to overlook. Explosive senior guard Tyree Crump is a Georgia-commit and flat out knows how to score. The 6-foot-2 dynamo averaged 22.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.3 steals in 2014. Crump highlights the Bearcats’ five top scorers who all return for 2015-16. Senior power forward Trevon Shaw has proven to be an X-factor. Bainbridge played eventual AA state champion Seminole County three times and handed the Indians all three of their losses (28-3). In those three games, Shaw was the difference maker. He went for 25 points and 21 rebounds in an 80-64 win, 24 and 10 in a 65-64 victory and 19 and 10 in their final meeting, 78-74.
With a new coach brings new expectations and the sky may be the limit for Coach Anthony McKissic and No. 5 Sandy Creek. After coaching the Morrow’s girls team, McKissic takes over the reins of a team ready to make a statement. The Patriots went 17-11 last year and fell to St. Pius in the first round, 63-46. Senior guard Christian Turner is heading to Gardner-Webb while 6-foot-5 junior Elias Harden is a hot prospect ranked four-stars. Freshman guard T.J. Bickerstaff is long and has had an impressive summer. Learning behind and playing beside Harden and Turner can only help Bickerstaff’s growth moving forward. Inside, the Patriots have some athletes as well. Senior Keith Heard II is 6-foot-8 and can erase mistakes at the rim. Sandy Creek is in-line to be one of the most exciting teams in the state if everything clicks.
If slow and steady wins the race, then No. 6 St. Pius is in good shape. The Golden Lions might not be as exciting and high-flying as other teams, but Coach Aaron Parr’s team is as good as they come and will limit mistakes and let teams beat themselves. They can shoot it from deep and go inside and fight for tough buckets. The Lions displayed their versatility to play any style as they dumped Sandy Creek in the opening round of state and played defending champion Jonesboro as good as anyone could in round two, losing 67-57. Senior forward Kerney Lane is a load to handle inside and can stretch the defense as well. Lane is a crafty lefty that can score with both hands and stands 6-foot-6. Christian Merrill and Jakob Spitzer also provide matchup problems from their forward positions. Junior guard Carson Seramur made some nice contributions last year and freshmen twins Brian and Matthew Gonzalo can make all the plays that older guards still struggle with at times. A 25-5 mark in 2014-15 could possibly be eclipsed in 2015-16.
The depth in Region 1 was quietly one of the deepest in the entire state. A lot of seniors have graduated from the top four teams in 2014, leaving way for No. 7 Worth County to make a major leap behind one of the best frontcourt duos in the state. The Rams finished 16-9 overall and 8-6 in region play under Coach Arthur Davis. Davis is now out and in is former state championship winning coach in 2003 while at Mitchell Baker High School, Roney Mays. He will enter a nice situation with 6-foot-8 power forward and Auburn-commit Anfernee McLemore returning for his senior season. The big fella averaged 19 points, 11.8 rebounds and 6.4 blocks per game. Brandon Moore isn’t as tall (6-foot-5), but the senior was actually the team’s leading scorer as a junior. Moore went for 19.5 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. A 76-71 loss to Cairo in the region tournament kept the one-two punch out of the state tournament.
No. 8 Henry County could catch some teams by surprise if they haven’t been paying attention. The Warhawks were 16-13 last season, but showed the ability to challenge anyone as they lost to Liberty County in round one of the state playoffs in overtime 74-72. Head Coach Vincent Rosser has some horses to ride this season. Junior guards Damion Rosser and Javon Greene are strong and can get to the basket at will, or pull up and knock down the mid-range jumper. Both have had exceptional summers and are geared up to make a name for themselves in AAAA. Another junior, Kovi Tate, is a strong presence inside but also has the ability to see some minutes at the three. Tate is a transfer from Woodland-Stockbridge where he averaged 7.1 points and 4.6 rebounds.
No. 9 Grady was 14-15 and lost to Woodward Academy 58-48 in the first round of the state playoffs. The Knights’ top four scorers all return for their senior season. Coach Brian Weeden turns to Bucknell-bound guard Avi Toomer to create offense. The guard poured in 19.8 points per game and also led the team in rebounding at 7.6 per contest. Joining Toomer on the perimeter is Ahmad Herron, a guard that paced the Knights in three-pointers made (43) and percentage (48%). Herron pitched in 11.4 points while Joshua Jones chipped in 10.3 on average. Sophomore point guard DJ Brittian transfers over after playing at Miller Grove and will bring a winning pedigree with him.
No. 10 Columbia is the fourth team from Region 6 to crack the top ten. The Eagles were downed in round one by eventual state runner-up Carrollton, 54-43. Coach Kerry Sandifer’s team finished 18-11 last season and will look to improve, but will be without center Micaiah Henry who is now at Tennessee Tech. Rodriquez Dennis does return however as the team’s leading assist man at 3.4 per game. Junior forward Reyhan Cobb stands 6-foot-7 and blocked nearly two shots per game. Justin Longstreet is back after banging home 43% of his three, while junior Jalen Cobb and senior team captain Nathaniel Ambersley solidify the backcourt.