Category Archives: Player Feature

Lincoln County Quickly Becoming More Than Just A Football School

500 Wins. An .830 winning percentage. 33 Region titles. 11 State Championships. That is Lincoln County’s resume for football. Lincolnton, one of the best pigskin towns in the state. For basketball? Try 1998 as the Red Devils’ last notable winning season. Lincoln County has long been known as a football county but with Wesley Wuchte at the helm and Ahmad Rand inside, the two are steering the Red Devils to one of the program’s best seasons in school history.

Currently Lincoln County is 7-3 overall and ranked No. 7 in Class A-Public. It has been a vast turnaround from last year’s 10-11 campaign. Coach Wuchte, a former Evans High School standout under Coach Kevin Kenny and Aiken Tech forward for Coach Bruce Capers, is in his second year as varsity head coach after leading the junior varsity. The 26-year-old coach has overseen the slow development of the program, coaching all the juniors and sophomores on the roster since they were in eighth and ninth grade. Wuchte also serves as the Lincoln County Middle School head coach.

At 26, Coach Wuchte has led the Red Devils to their best start in years
At 26, Coach Wuchte has led the Red Devils to their best start in years

So how has Lincoln County gotten off to a fast start? It has to do with taking the seriousness on the gridiron and transferring over that same winning attitude onto the hardwood.

“I think it’s just buying into the culture,” explained Wuchte. “It’s a big football school out here. I only have three of my kids that don’t play football and only play basketball and that’s Zach [Crite], Ahmad [Rand] and Maciah [Gunby], which are my three leading scorers.

“Overall they are just buying into the culture. …They are playing defense hard, they play together and they are playing for one another.”

Introducing Ahmad Rand

For a program that hasn’t seen a winning season in nearly two decades, Wuchte was brought in with a young energy and a passion to turn things around. Players have been held accountable, film has been dissected with the team and each player has bought into doing the little things in order to be successful.

As the team has grown and realized something special could be on the horizon, one star has shined bright. 6-foot-7 junior forward Ahmad Rand has blossomed into the centerpiece for a now balanced attack with Crite (16.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.8 spg), Gunby (9.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and Devon Holloway (11.3 ppg, 10.2 rpg) all making key contributions. The interest in Rand has started to grow and for good reason as he has shattered the school record for triple-doubles and is averaging an eye-popping 16.7 points, 16.4 rebounds and 9.6 blocks per game this year. He has heard from a handful of Division II schools and one D-I program, Kennesaw State University.

(L-R) Ahmad Rand, Zach Crite & Devon Holloway
(L-R) Ahmad Rand, Zach Crite & Devon Holloway

Rand has helped turn Lincoln County into a highlight factory with his dunks and ability to swat any shot thrown his way. The Red Devils welcomed rival Washington-Wilkes to Lincoln County last Tuesday and won 74-64 in front of a sell-out crowd that hasn’t been seen in years thanks to the hype that Rand and the rest of the Red Devils have built.

“It was so packed. It was so unreal. Kids were like ‘man I’ve never seen the gym this packed’ and I said yeah, you guys are turning it around, continue to grind. We are in the right direction, I’ll tell you that,” said Wuchte.

Finding Focus

Rand initially played football his freshman year but decided basketball was his calling after Wuchte encouraged him to focus on hoops. So how has Rand turned himself into a household name? It didn’t happen overnight or by luck.

“He just dedicated his whole entire offseason. So every day, I’m talking about four or five days a week him, Maciah and Zach, those three would be in there every day and Ahmad and Maciah especially, religiously they came every day,” said Wuchte.

Ahmad agreed that it has been a lot of hard work that has gotten him to the level of play he’s reached this season.

“I’ve been doing a lot of individual workouts with my coach in the offseason. Plus I’ve been into AAU which has definitely helped me out a little bit,” said Rand.

Ahmad Rand has overcome obstacles to become a premier '17 player
Ahmad Rand has overcome obstacles to become a premier ’17 player

Rand played over the summer with Team Power in Augusta but may be branching out to play with the Atlanta Xpress, one of the best Under Armour sponsored teams in the entire nation which features the likes of MJ Walker (Jonesboro), Elias Harden (Sandy Creek), Rayshaun Hammonds (Norcross) and Michael Durr (Westlake) as some headlining juniors.

Rand says he is used to playing power forward or center, but understands that if he joins a larger team or plays at the next level he may see a lot of time at the small forward position as well.

When asked why he decided to dedicate his life to improving on the court and in the classroom, one name came up as a motivating force.

“To be honest, he’s [Coach Wuchte] is the main reason why I’ve made it this far,” said Rand. “I didn’t really start taking basketball serious until my freshman year and sophomore year. He’s been helping me a lot during the offseason and doing a lot of workouts. He’s been pushing me and motivating me. Every day in the car ride home he’s telling me what I need to improve on and what other stuff I need to do.”

On The Map

As Coach Wuchte continued to provide support and guidance for Rand, the light went on as Ahmad realized he could have a future in basketball.

“When I started seeing myself get better, I started going home and thinking real hard about it. This year I said I have to have a better season than last year and that’s what I’ve been doing. And every day I’ve been working harder and harder and my name started getting out there more.”

Along with seeing his own name popping up across the internet, the re-emergence of Lincoln County basketball has been something special to Ahmad and something he takes pride in being a part of.

“Knowing that Lincoln County is a football county, we have a lot of leaders. Me and our starting shooting guard were talking about it. We have to bring LC up. This week we’ve beaten teams from Augusta and everything so that has been helping us get our name out there a lot.”

It’s been a long time coming, but Lincoln County basketball is finally being put back on the map by Coach Wuchte, Rand and a strong junior and senior class. With only around 350 kids in the school, the Red Devils have learned to become a close knit team, not only by suiting up together but by blood as Rand is cousins with both junior Zae Gartell and sophomore Javon Reid, who also stars as the Red Devils’ quarterback in football, a team which finished 9-2 this year.

Don’t be surprised if Lincoln County with its new found focus and emphasis on basketball becomes a statewide player on both the football field and the basketball court.

Chad Cook of @AugBball breaks down Lincoln County’s win over Lakeside: http://www.augbball.com/2015/12/lincoln-county-improves-to-3-0-with-win.html

Freshman of the Year Jacques Holmes to put Clinch County on the Map

Sophomore Jacques Holmes quietly turned heads as a freshman at Clinch County High School in south Georgia. Clinch County, home of less than 500 students and a part of the Class A-Public field, hasn’t won a state championship in basketball since the years of 1987 and 1989. A program that hasn’t seen that type of success in years, the Panthers aren’t one of the most publicized programs in the state, but after a freshman season which saw Holmes average 13.7 points per game and lead the Panthers in scoring, the playmaking guard hopes to put Clinch County back on the map.

Holmes was named HoopSeen Class-A Freshman of the Year after his play helped the Panthers increase their win total by four games and finish the season 9-11. For those who haven’t heard of Holmes yet or don’t know his style of play, Jacques or his nickname pronounced “Joc”, gave me the inside scoop.

“I like to push the tempo and penetrate the defense and get my big men open. I like to reward my big men for running. I pass a lot, but I’m a pretty good shooter,” explained Holmes. “I’m really an all-around player.”

To build on his rookie season success, Holmes stayed in the gym to fine tune his game.

“I played AAU. I did a lot of staying after school doing drills, just constantly working.”

Playing for a team out of Brunswick called Elite, Jacques is ready to translate his summer circuit progress into the high school season. Recalling how he felt about being named the Freshman of the Year, Holmes said, “It wasn’t really a surprise, but it was kind of. Coming in as a freshman I didn’t think I was going to start or get the minutes that I got, but I worked hard.”

Panthers On The Prowl

With its leading scorer another year older with a full-year of playing experience under his belt, Clinch County has high expectations this season to compete for a top seed in the region tournament and scrap for a state playoff berth. Holmes says that the team has put an emphasis on improving their defense and feels like their blend of size and speed can give opposing teams trouble.

Junior Jerrod Jones will be one of Clinch County’s leading scorers to compliment Holmes’ abilities. He averaged over 10 points and 6 rebounds a game while handing out nearly 3 assists per night.

“He’s a pretty good player. He’s very unselfish,” said Holmes of his teammate.

In the halfcourt offense, Holmes and Jones should thrive in Coach Terrence George’s five-out pass-and-cut offense. The constant movement and ball-screens allow Holmes to drive and dish or finish at the basket.

Hitting The Headlines

Playing at such a small school, I wondered what it was like and if it is difficult to get noticed by college scouts.

“It is kind of. If you’re not playing AAU down here or if you’re not getting out of the city to play ball, you can get recognized, but you got to be a great player.”

One great player that Jacques looks forward to matching up with is Tamarrion Terry of the defending three-time Region 2-A champion, Turner County (25-4, 16-0). At his forward position, Terry garnered All-State Honorable Mention after averaging 17.1 points and 11.5 rebounds per contest.

“I just watch film on him a lot…If we can just play good perimeter defense, him being 6’4”, it’s pretty hard to stop him, he’s pretty quick, but if we just play good perimeter defense on him we’ll be okay.”

Becoming A Leader

Coach George has taken the young Holmes under his wing and has helped mold him into the player he is now becoming.

“He’s taught me a lot of things. The main thing he’s taught me is how to deal with certain situations, game situations,” he said.

One part of the growing process has been being able to keep a level head during the rebuilding process that Clinch County has been undergoing. It has been a fight for the Panthers to reach .500.

“I get frustrated a little bit, but I know I can’t be frustrated. I know being the best player on the team I have to motivate my guys to just get better at the next practice and next game. Just go out and be better.”

Leadership is something he has taken serious and wants to improve on over the next three years of his career.

“I’m going to be a bigger leader this year; I should have been last year, but I didn’t know everything that I know now. I plan on being the biggest leader I can be.”

Coffey Ready To Energize Greater Atlanta Christian

In Class AA, No. 4 Greater Atlanta Christian has seven state titles to its name. After a 19-10 season and a second round exit a year ago, former two-time region champion as a player, David Eaton, steps in to try and capture the school’s eighth championship. Coach Eaton replaces Eddie Martin, the maestro behind numerous state championships, most recently during his tenures at GAC and Norcross.

With a new head coach in place, leading scorer Garrett Covington, Jacob Hoffman, Charlie O’Briant and Brian Coffey Jr. all return. Coffey, a junior, holds offers from North Florida, UNC-Asheville and Presbyterian already. When asked about becoming an upperclassman and playing for a new coach, Coffey said that learning how to play for Eaton has been an easy transition.

“So far everything has been running smooth. He definitely trusts me with the ball, so our relationship can only grow from there,” explained Coffey. “He puts his trust in me and I trust his system so as the year goes on we’ll be fine.”

Going from a veteran coach to a younger coach who has seen success himself while at Wando High School in South Carolina winning a state championship in 2013-14,  there have been some changes in coaching style and philosophy.

Photo By Gwinn Davis/Special to The Post and Courier/File
David Eaton                                                                        Photo By Gwinn Davis/Special to The Post and Courier/File

“It’s not necessarily a big transition but it’s definitely not the same. Last year I usually ran the offense and looked for the open man first. But this season coach wants me to make some of the calls and make some of the decisions on the fly when I’m out there on the court…It’s basically having a lot more freedom to lead the team and have a say.”

With Coffey’s expanded role as a floor general, he feels like his leadership is ready to take the next step.

“They encourage me to talk a lot and I can sense guys looking up to me and turning to me for calls. I feel like they accept me as a leader on the team.”

No Days Off

Coffey and the rest of the Spartans will be challenged each and every night playing in the tough Region 6-AA which features the likes of No. 2 Pace Academy, No. 6 Holy Innocents’ and Lovett. Going up against some of the best talent the classification has to offer brings out the best in the competitive Coffey’s game.

“It’s definitely fun. You want to play against the best, not only to measure yourself against the best but just for the simple fact that it’s fun,” said the point guard who averaged 12.9 points and 5.0 assists per game as a sophomore.

Coffey received an early season litmus test against the defending Class A-Private state champions, St. Francis, on Saturday. The Knights boast five-star senior guard Kobi Simmons and Duluth transfer Anthony Showell, who together form one of the most potent backcourts in the state. In the end, the Spartans rallied from a three point halftime deficit to upend St. Francis 77-69. Covington led GAC with 22 points while Coffey added 21. For the Knights, Simmons poured in 23 and Showell paced all scorers with 24.

Does playing against highly touted prospects motivate Coffey?

“It gives me an extra drive. It should be a personal challenge to everybody because you’re measuring how you are against top competition. You should stand up to the challenge and not be afraid to play,” stated Coffey. “I like playing against top competition. It’s just a chance to make me more focused and more ready to play the game.”

When asked if there is one player that he enjoyed playing against or has his sights on for the upcoming season, Coffey mentioned two players.

“We played McIntosh last year. It got me going playing against [Furman-commit] Jordan Lyons. …This year I have to say Pace and Wendell Carter. We lost to them three times last year and I want to at least get a couple wins under my belt.”

This Is Sparta

Brian Coffey might be the lead ball handler for the Spartans, but he doesn’t power the offense alone. Garrett Covington a 2015-16 Gwinnett Daily Post Super-Six selection (16.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg) and Jacob Hoffman (12.1 ppg) are two of the team’s leading scorers and two guys he loves playing with.

Photo By David Welker | Gwinnett Daily Post
Garrett Covington                           Photo By David Welker | Gwinnett Daily Post

“All of them are great. We are all closer from last year. We all trust each other; we have fun with each other and have a great relationship on and off the court. We are all the leaders of the team. We get practice going and pick up the intensity in practice,” explained Coffey. “It’s never about one person. I can count on Garrett to score if he needs to score or Jacob to hit a big three. We have a lot of people we can depend on so it’s fun playing with those guys.”

Coffey touched on some of the Spartans’ key pieces further in depth.

“Jacob is someone who can knock down the open three whenever you need him. He doesn’t shy away from big shots when we need it. We can depend on him.

“G [Covington], he’s our toughest player on the team. He brings a lot of toughness and intensity in rebounding and on defense. He brings out our competitive spirit.

“Charlie [O’Briant] competes too. He’s going to bring us a lot of rebounds and he’s going to set good screens. On defense he is going to play hard; everyone plays hard.”

After finding out what three of GAC’s biggest pieces bring to the table, I asked Brian to assess himself and let fans know what to expect out of the talented junior.

“I don’t want a main emphasis on one certain thing, I want to able to do all things,” he explained. “I want to be able to facilitate with my guys and score when I need to. But I really want to bring leadership and confidence to the team.”

Learning From Last Year

Crawford County, the defending state runner-up, downed the Spartans 88-81 in overtime to end GAC’s season in the second round. This year, Coffey feels that the Spartans are ready to take a step further and challenge for another state championship.

“This year it’s not just about one person. I feel like just our comradery alone can help us get over that hump, because when you play for each other and not for yourself you tend to play harder.”

Brian’s unselfish play has not only gained respect from his coaches and teammates, but has also piqued the interest of college scouts. His recruiting has heated up and with a few offers already in hand, I wanted to find out exactly what the recruiting process of a high school basketball player is like. I asked Brian whether the process was what he imagined growing up or a whole different animal.

“It’s definitely different. I remember when I was a kid I was just hoping to get a letter, but now I know that letters don’t really mean anything,” explained Coffey.

“The recruiting process is something cool to go through but it can be stressful sometimes. At the end of the day you do enjoy it. I never knew it would end up like this but I’m happy with my progress so far and so far it seems to be picking up a lot and I just hope to continue to get better and earn more looks.”

As a player with realistic goals of playing Division-I basketball, does it ever get overwhelming or add an extra pressure to perform? Coffey doesn’t think so.

“When I play in the games I don’t think about colleges or anything like that. I just focus on playing for my team and getting the W. That’s all I care about: winning and playing for my teammates. It’s never just about me, it’s about the team.”

Speaking about winning, Coffey thinks the Spartans have as good a chance as anyone to make a deep run into the postseason and challenge for a Region 6 title.

“We are capable of doing it this year. If we win our region it’s going to motivate us and start us going towards the playoffs. I think we have a good shot.”

Feature Photo By Ty Freeman

Team-First Mentality Expected to Lift Jordan Lyons and McIntosh to New Heights

Entering the 2015-16 high school basketball season, there are many teams with dreams and aspirations of capturing a title. But there is one school that seems to be on a mission and has a hunger that has been growing since an unfortunate early ending a year ago after an unblemished 28-0 regular season.

The McIntosh Chiefs were in cruise control entering the second round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs before starting point guard Will Washington (12.7 ppg, 9.3 apg) went down with a broken wrist on a layup attempt against M.L. King. The Chiefs would fall 66-65, ending their shot at the dream season.

Photo By Jason Mussell | The Crescent Buzz
Photo By Jason Mussell | The Crescent Buzz

With a loaded senior class returning, the Chiefs have one last shot at making history. Jordan Lyons (24.7 ppg) is one of the stars on this balanced team. The guard has committed to Furman and thinks that fun things are in store for McIntosh fans and fans of basketball in general.

“This year fans can definitely expect to see a very mature and organized team, a team that executes well. A team that can get up and down but can also run plays in the half court. Very exciting. A team that is going to play good defense; a veteran team,” explained Lyons.

And Lyons ain’t lyin’. Eight seniors are all expected to contribute heavily and have the experience to do so. Lyons described Washington as “one of the best true point guards in the state.” He continued on to say, “He’s always looking to make the right pass. …He’s our floor general.”

A missing piece to last year’s puzzle might have been found in Isaac Kellum (13.8 ppg), a 6-foot-4 swingman who transferred over from Fayette County this summer.

“Isaac brings us the length and athleticism at the three spot that we never really had,” said Lyons.

Kellum will also help out rebounding on the interior alongside the likes of recent Wofford-commit Dishon Lowery (10.5 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 3.3 bpg) and Chase Walter (10.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.8 bpg).

“They are both going to rebound. They both love contact, they both bang, they both block shots and alter shots and do things out of bigs that we need.”

As balanced as the starting five is, Lyons is quick to remind us not to forget about the depth on the bench. Braxton Shaw, who finished second on the team in three-pointers made last season as a junior, is back to bring a lethal deep threat. Lyons tabbed him as “one of the best sharpshooters out there.”

Ulysses Brown brings sticky defense on the perimeter and Brendon Rowan is the consummate glue-guy that helps Coach Jason Eisele’s team out in a plethora of different ways.

The Lead Lyon

With all the perfect components in place, there still has to be a centerpiece to complete the work of art that is the McIntosh Chiefs. That centerpiece is none other than Mr. Jordan Lyons himself. Efficiency is the name of the game for Lyons with his astronomical shooting numbers (66% 2PT, 87% FT, 45% 3PT). But by being the top-scoring option on one of the best teams in the state, does that bring an extra burden or pressure applied to Lyons’ shoulders? He doesn’t think so.

“I wouldn’t say that it’s pressure on me. Scoring is really just what I do. It’s my big time role and the team needs me to score points. I’ve been the leading scorer on the team since my freshman year so I think Coach Eisele has put a lot of confidence in me over these past four years which has really helped my play on the court because I know he believes in me.”

Even though Lyons might fill up the box score nightly, he knows he can’t do it alone.

“I can’t do it by myself. I need the help of my great teammates and I know I’ll get the help from them.”

Lyons mentioned Coach Eisele and the confidence he has instilled in him and touched on it further.

Photo By Fayette-News.com
Photo By Fayette-News.com

“I have a lot of respect for Coach Eisele, I love him to death. He brought me into the varsity program as a 14-year-old,” explained the senior shooting guard who has scored 1,737 points over his career and is now chasing Gabby Seiler’s all-time record of 2,003. “He gave me the confidence to be a very good player at the varsity level at 14 years old…He’s always believed in me. He’s stuck with me through everything.”

Steady Growth

It’s not only an exciting time for the players and fans, but for the coaching staff as well. Eisele has a loaded group and him and his staff have matured through the years along with the Class of 2016. Attention to detail has been more and more pronounced and a tight and clean style of play has been the result. Before this year’s senior class arrived at McIntosh, the Chiefs had been a middle of the road team, going 12-11, 16-12 and 12-12 before the program and culture changing class arrived for the 2012-13 season.

Year-one saw the Chiefs finish 17-8. Year-two, 19-10 before nearly putting it all together last season at 29-1. It has been a constant growing process and the fruits of McIntosh’s labor are finally ready to come to fruition, but for that to happen, there is only one fitting ending to this storybook tale: a state championship.

“The ring is really the most important thing to all of us,” stated Lyons. “Last year we won the first region championship in our school’s history. Our whole year that was our goal.”

McIntosh, Lyons, Lowery, Washington, Coach Eisele, the entire group, understands that it’s now or never.

“This year, there’s no second chance. We all understand there is no next year, no tomorrow. This is the last time, the last opportunity. We really got to go get it,” said Lyons. “We got to be focused day in and day out. We got to be on a straight line and eliminate everyone else that’s not in a straight line, so we can get to where we want to be. We just got to focus on what we have to do every day and just get better every day and we’ll know that we’ll be okay.”

Extra motivation to accomplish the dream of winning a state title stems from last year’s heartbreaking loss after the injury to Washington.

“It’s personal to him and it’s personal to all of us. We’ve been waiting for this for four years. We know this is our year; we got to go do it. We know we can. We all know we can.”

Final Destination

It is no doubt it’s state championship or bust, but when asked what this group of seniors and he personally would like to leave as a lasting legacy, Lyons said, “I definitely want people to remember that I always wanted to be a good teammate. I always wanted to lift my teammates up.”

“I just wanted to put McIntosh on the map. McIntosh has never been known for basketball and I know when Will, myself and Dishon came into the varsity program, especially when we told ourselves we wanted to make an impact on this program, we wanted to take this program to heights and levels that they’ve never seen before and we’ve just been doing great things since our freshmen year. We’ve been blessed with many opportunities, records broken, we’ve done many things in our career at McIntosh and we are very blessed and fortunate to have those opportunities. …We want to be known as great humble players that never took anything for granted.”

With one solitary goal in mind and a group of men with a respected leader in charge, Jordan Lyons and McIntosh should not have to worry about ever taking things for granted.

Featured Image Photo By Michael Clifton / www.kombatkamera.com