Peach State Players to Watch for During March Madness

The peach state has given the nation some big name players over the years and this season is no different. As we enter March Madness, here are a few key players on their respective teams that played high school ball in Georgia.

The Virginia Cavaliers have dipped into the south and have found themselves some gems from some winning programs. Greater Atlanta Christian has been a feeder school for Tony Bennett lately as he has plucked Malcolm Brogdon and now Isaiah Wilkins. For a second consecutive season, “Uncle Malcolm” has been named to the All-ACC First Team and has helped UVA to a second straight ACC regular season title. Not a lot of flash in his game, it’s Brogdon’s grown man strength that helps him get past defenders and get to the rim at will when he wants to. Wilkins plays sparingly for the Cavs but when he enters he gives the team great energy. Wilkins comes from rich ‘bloodlines’ of stepfather Dominique Wilkins. The athletic forward also has a winning pedigree after finishing his senior season undefeated with a state title at GAC. Evan Nolte has seen more playing time as of late since Justin Anderson went down with a broken finger and an appendectomy. Nolte is a state champion from Milton and provides the Cavaliers with great hustle and streaky three-point shooting.

Atlanta’s own Georgia State Panthers will try to be this year’s Cinderella story and will rely heavily on former Walton Raider Ryan Harrow to do so. The free-scoring guard averages 18.7 points and passed the 1,000 point mark in his career this season while helping lead the Panthers to their first tournament appearance since 2001. Harrow has dealt with numerous injuries this season and did not play in the Sun Belt title game due to a strained hamstring. When healthy, Harrow teams up with R.J. Hunter to form one of the highest scoring backcourts in the entire nation. Another former Walton standout, Karl Cochran, paces the Wofford Terriers.

Cochran started his prep career at Wheeler before finishing across town at Walton. He has averaged double figures his entire career at Wofford and is the Terriers’ leader in all categories including scoring (14.6), rebounding (5.8), assists (2.7), steals (1.8), and blocks (1.1) this season.

The Georgia Bulldogs feature a plethora of in-state talent led by Charles Mann (Milton), Marcus Thornton (Westlake), Kenny Gaines (Whitefield Academy), and J.J. Frazier (Faith Baptist Christian). These players highlight four of UGA’s top five scorers on the season, all averaging over nine points per game. Thornton is the eldest of the bunch and is a senior while Mann and Gaines are juniors and Frazier, just a sophomore. This pack of Dawgs has helped Georgia reach the tournament for the first time since 2011.

Dominant Miller Grove big man Tony Parker won four state titles as a Wolverine before shipping out west to UCLA. It was a slow start to his collegiate career, but Parker has since trimmed up into shape and has turned himself into a major contributor for the Bruins. The big man is averaging 17.2 points over his last five games as UCLA has slowly begun to gain a head of steam heading into the tournament, winning four of its last five games.

Tekele Cotton of Wichita State might not light up the score board but he contributes in many other facets. The senior is one of the toughest defenders on the perimeter for the Shockers. Though he is having a down year shooting the ball (40% down from 45%), Cotton has averaged a career high in assists. The experienced veteran has already made one trip to the Final Four and will lean on that journey to try and get there again in his final season.

Senior Shannon Scott won a state title at Milton but has yet to taste the same team success at the college level with Ohio State. He is the Big Ten leader in assists per game (5.9) and also ranks third in steals (1.8). Scott’s main objective is to run the show on offense and limit turnovers. He has played a key role in the Buckeye’s backcourt for three seasons now.

Tim Quarterman has been a jack of all trades for LSU since graduating from Johnson, Savannah. The sophomore has exploded onto the scene for the Tigers and is a major reason why LSU has made the tournament for the first time since 2009. At 6-foot-6, “Puncho” uses his length to frustrate opponents and score in a multitude of ways. His versatility allows him to guard many positions, and his play making ability is helped out by his vision over smaller defenders. He averages over 11 points, five rebounds and nearly four assists per game.

James Webb III has jumped around from school to school but has found a home in Idaho. He ended up at North Idaho College after starring at Curtis Baptist High School and now calls Boise State home. Webb scores both inside and out as the Broncos’ second leading scorer (11.3) and top rebounder (7.9). Madarious Gibbs out of East Coweta now leads Texas Southern in his final season. Gibbs averaged 26.3 points per game his senior season at East Coweta and now as a senior at Texas Southern, has begun to find his explosive scoring ability leading the Tigers at 14.1 points. Gibbs has struggled from deep this season (25%), but has done damage at the foul line taking 164 attempts. He will hope to leave behind a legacy at Texas Southern and be a part of the first team in school history to win a tournament game.

The wealth of talent in Georgia will not be drying up anytime soon as more and more highly touted prospects are coming through the pipelines. Next year we will be treated to the likes of Jaylen Brown, Malik Beasley, and Tookie Brown who will all try to be the missing piece of their school’s puzzle to bring home a national championship.

Let the Madness Begin

It’s time for the madness to ensue and for brackets everywhere to be nearly worn to shreds with the amount of filling in and erasing as the NCAA Tournament has finally arrived. This year’s edition of March Madness has a clear cut favorite that the entire country feels is the team to beat with Kentucky entering undefeated at 34-0. In what has become a rarity; some local schools in Georgia have made the big dance and will try to become the latest Cinderella stories in Georgia and Georgia State. Let’s take a quick preview of both games before setting our sights to the national stage.

No. 14 Georgia State v. No. 3 Baylor

            The Panthers won an ugly rubber match against Georgia Southern 38-36 to win the Sun Belt automatic bid and head to the dance for the first time since 2001. If they want to have any chance at winning, getting healthy would be a good start. Second leading scorer Ryan Harrow did not play in Sunday’s championship after straining his hamstring. Harrow has missed six games and if you count games where he has left early the total is up to eight, but Georgia State is a perfect 8-0 in those injury marred games. Another key injury occurred after the game on Sunday. Head Coach Ron Hunter tore his achilles while celebrating the title and will be wearing a cast for Thursday’s game.

As far as those who will be on the court Thursday, Baylor poses a tough test. The Bears are the best offensive rebounding team in the nation and are led by the burley Rico Gathers who averages 11.6 boards a night. It will be strength vs weakness as the Bears rank 13th in the nation in total rebounding while the Panthers come in at 247th.  Baylor is balanced on offense with six players averaging over seven points per game compared to just four from Georgia State. Junior forward Taurean Prince leads the way scoring 13.8 points on average. The backcourt duo of R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow will need to carry the load for the Panthers and do it in an efficient manner. Harrow finished the season shooting over 50 percent, but Hunter struggled at 39 percent. Hunter, Head Coach Ron Hunter’s son, is the school’s all-time leading scorer and has the ability to get hot. Before a 3-of-15 shooting performance in the Sun Belt final, Hunter scored 35 and 32 points in consecutive games. Georgia State will need its role players to shoulder the load in Kevin Ware and Markus Crider. Both schools have played Iowa State this year with Baylor beating them twice while Georgia State lost by 23.

No. 10 Georgia v. No. 7 Michigan State

            Michigan State has had a down year, but still the tough Tom Izzo coached bunch will be a tall task for the Dawgs who enter the tournament for the first time since 2011. Georgia hangs its hat on strong rebounding and balanced scoring. Five players average over nine points per game and give coach Mark Fox reliable options. Senior big men Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic are tough players inside that also have the ability to hit the open jumper. Junior guards Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines score in different ways. Gaines leads the team in 3-pointers made with 54 and Mann leads the team in free throws made with 141. Sophomore J.J. Frazier can be an x-factor if he gets hot. He dropped 37 in a win over Mississippi State on the road when he went 7-7 from beyond the arc.

The Spartans are an unselfish team that averages 17.1 assists per game, fourth in the nation. MSU had a chance to win the Big Ten tournament but collapsed down the stretch and fell to Wisconsin in overtime. Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine power the Sparty offense. Branden Dawson is a defensive stalwart and leads the team in rebounding at 9.1. Two key stats entering this game is the fact that the Spartans shoot just 63 percent from the line and UGA gives up no easy looks allowing just 39 percent shooting on the season. The Dawgs will have to grind out a physical game if they want to advance to the next round.

Shootin’ the ‘Breeze’ with Brandon Dawson

Brandon Dawson is a devout Christian who has played basketball collegiately at the D-1 level at Kennesaw State University. Breeze, as he is known as by friends and family, is a 23-year-old from Atlanta, GA. Brandon is a very humble young man and says that “The only reason I’ve gotten to where I am today is because of God and the family that he has blessed me with. It’s not because of my abilities; it’s been all of him and none of me.”

Brandon comes from a long line of successful family members. The close knit Dawson family is caring and loving but also knows when to push each other to get the best out of one another. He has two brothers; Nick who is 25 and Josh who is 21. Nick is a recording artist who is starting to make a name for himself in the Atlanta area and has brushed shoulders with some of the top labels in the industry. Josh currently plays defensive end at the University of Georgia and will be entering his senior season. The two brothers have played a big role in Brandon’s development as a person. “Both of my brothers have inspired me tremendously throughout the years. We all inspire each other, that’s what family does.”

At the age of four was when Brandon started to develop a love for the game of basketball and he has his father to thank. “He played in this men’s league when we were kids. He would take us to his games and I just remember watching him play, and him letting me hold the basketballs on the ride home.” The unique sights and senses of a cozy gym, which may be overlooked by those who haven’t played the game growing up, drew Brandon in. “I loved the way the ball felt in my hands, and the smell of a gym.”

After playing basketball for years, it was in the 8th grade against Redan Middle School when Dawson first realized he may be a step above his peers and have a chance at playing in college. “I had 19 points in the first half. From then on I never doubted it. For me, basketball was never about “making it” I knew I would make it. I just wanted to keep having fun with it.” Brandon’s ability to separate the pressures of playing basketball and the importance of having fun was soon tested in high school. He went to Tucker High School in DeKalb County which has to this day, been recognized as a perennial power in the state of Georgia. As a freshman Dawson suited up for the Tigers and watched as Tucker brought home its second state championship in school history. Though Dawson was not an integral part to the team’s success as he was called up from JV to join the bench for the run to state, he managed to see how Tucker greats such as MarShon Brooks and Manny Atkins carried themselves and learned from them.

Asked about what it was like playing for a prestigious program and playing with great players, Brandon said, “It was hard, but a lot of fun. We had coaches that held us to a higher standard, and demanded nothing but excellence from us. Coach [James] Hartry always told us to have fun and leave everything out there because playing basketball isn’t a right; it’s a privilege that can be taken away from you in an instant. Winning is hard, I was so fortunate to be a part of a team that won a state championship.”

Once Dawson’s recruiting picked up steam after a successful junior season, Brandon knew it was time to make a decision and ultimately decided to become a Kennesaw State Owl. “I prayed one night about it. I wanted to be signed before I started my senior season because I wanted to play my senior year and be free, not having to worry about where I was going to school. So I asked God to send me a sign one night, 15 minutes later I heard an owl outside of my window, and I knew then. So I called Coach Ingle the next day, set up my visit and became an owl.” Brandon would play three years at Kennesaw before transferring to pursue other things in life. After a one year hiatus, he would return back to continue studying at KSU. Now a senior, Dawson is studying Sport Management with the hopes of either becoming a sports agent or a coach. He has helped coach within the Tucker basketball program this season and already is beginning to give back to the community that helped shape him.

He says that he is still pursuing a basketball career but just for the short term as he has many other interests in his life such as cartoons and cars. Many would not guess it at first sight due to his tenacity on the hardwood, but ‘Breeze’ is a gentle man standing at 6-foot-5.  He is very intellectual and loves to follow God and Jesus’s teachings. He is passionate about cars and considers himself a “cartoon connoisseur”. Brandon loves Dragon Ball Z and also classic cartoons such as Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry.

Becoming a well-rounded individual has taken some help and guidance along the way. “I can’t say it enough, I am truly blessed to have a family like the one I have. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them. We don’t always see eye to eye, but at the end of the day it’s all love, and I know they’re always behind me 100%, and there’s no doubt about that” When asked about his strong bond with God, Brandon stated, “I can say this without any doubt, and I want to make sure that this is clear and understood, there is nothing that can happen in the world to shake my faith. I read the bible and I have a strong relationship with God. 365 times in the bible it says “do not fear.” So even when a situation has seemed bleak, I have always kept my faith in The Lord. And I can honestly say I’ve never been in a position where I didn’t come out winning because of this undeniable faith.”

Knowing Brandon for over two years now personally, I can truthfully say that he is one of the nicest people I have met in my time at Kennesaw. He cares about everyone he comes in touch with and wants the best for all his peers. I have no doubt in my mind that the man known as ‘Breeze’ will continue to be a role model for those around him and will continue to walk hand-in-hand with the Lord on his path to a long and successful life.

Top Five Performances from Macon

The March to Macon concluded this past weekend but left us with some memorable performances. Here is how I would rank the top five individual efforts from championship weekend.

BOYS

  1. Jordan Harris – Seminole County – 41 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 6 steals

This was an easy one. The junior who has committed to play college ball at UGA was electrifying. Harris soared above all others for thunderous dunks and spectacular rebounds. He didn’t just dominate the game with his athleticism like most top high schoolers do, he also showed that he has a lethal jumper. Harris splashed in four 3-pointers to help the Indians bring home their first state title since 1998 over Crawford County and its raucous fan base, 76-71.

  1. Derek Ogbeide – Pebblebrook – 14 points, 22 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks

Another player heading to UGA stole the show in his respective game. Though the Falcons lost on a controversial call on which Ogbeide was whistled on, the big man thoroughly dominated the interior. Wheeler had no answer inside as Ogbeide cleaned up the boards and did not allow anything easy inside for the Wildcats. The big fella got the majority of his points off putbacks. Imagine if the Falcons fed him the ball in the post.

  1. Kobi Simmons – St. Francis – 27 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists

Simmons showed why he is ranked a five-star prospect heading into his senior season. The junior flew in for dunks and slashed into the lane and made life nightmarish for the Greenforest Eagles. Simmons lived at the line and connected, going 13-15. The Knights captured their second straight state title in convincing fashion, 96-81.

  1. Malik Beasley – St. Francis – 23 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists

It’s tough to beat a team when they have two of the best players in the state. The Florida State-signee teamed up with Simmons and Xavier-signee Kaiser Gates to pour in 73 points combined. As Kobi Simmons did, Beasley lived at the line going 13-14. He nearly brought the house down as he just missed a dunk over 7-foot-1 Ikey Obiagu.

  1. Montae Glenn – Carrollton – 22 points, 11 rebounds, 8-12 FG

The final spot is a tough one, but I have to give it to the old school back-to-the-basket big man Montae Glenn. True big men are a dying breed as the majority of young players would rather fly through the air or drain threes. The Georgia Souther-signee displayed great footwork in the low post as he punished the smaller Jonesboro Cardinals. He showed he could score with either hand, and also showed that he can rock the old school goggles. The Trojans fell 55-50, but Glenn did all he could to keep them in the game.

GIRLS

  1. Aliyah Collier – Laney – 24 points, 19 rebounds, 8 assists, 7 steals, 4 blocks

A no-brainer here as Collier absolutely dominated in every facet of the game. Laney won its first ever state title while Collier slashed through the lane and picked up 20 free throw attempts of which she cashed in 16. The Wildcats defeated Beach 70-55.  No Bulldog was able to match Collier’s activeness as she impacted the game on both sides of the ball.

  1. Te’a Cooper – McEachern – 26 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists

The Tennessee-signee helped McEachern capture its second straight state title in overtime, 58-51. Cooper’s big game put a nice bow and ribbon on her successful high school career. She made play after play with the ball in her hands and made some sweet passes along with dazzle defenders with her ball handling skills.

  1. Mylashia Yancey – Turner County – 28 points, 16 rebounds, 2 steals

Yancey kicked off championship weekend with a stellar performance in a loss to undefeated Taylor County. She kept the Lady Rebels in the game and helped lead a furious comeback to make things interesting in the second half. Yancey was trouble for the Vikings once she got into the lane, and attacked the rim to get Taylor County players in foul trouble. She also showed off a nice mid-range game in her all around strong performance.

  1. Maya Dodson – St. Francis – 15 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists

The sophomore had the biggest sequence all weekend to give her team a state crown. As Southwest Atlanta Christian was holding for a last shot, Dodson jumped in front of an errant pass for a steal. She dished it ahead to a teammate who lost the ball right before she could attempt a layup, but Dodson was there to clean up the loose ball and laid it in at the buzzer to stun SACA. Dodson’s length caused problems for the Warriors as she had the ability to guard multiple positions and also used her height to battle inside and score tough baskets.

  1. Jacqueline Anderson – Beach – 22 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals

Anderson proved she was a bulldog of a guard in the Bulldogs’ loss to Laney. She came in averaging over 15 points per game and did not disappoint. Anderson handled the ball smoothly and cashed in four 3-pointers. The Wildcats had to cool down Anderson and teammate Ilyn Spann in order to win state for legendary head coach Otis Smart.

What I Learned in Macon…

What a weekend! The March to Macon was everything that I had hoped. Nine out of the 14 games were decided by single digits and every game was up for grabs in the fourth quarter except for one. We saw some nail-biting finishes, questionable calls, and all-out passion. Sitting courtside for the first time, I was able to see in person some of the best players not only in the state but the entire nation.

I witnessed D-1 players steal the show with Jordan Harris, Malik Beasley, Kobi Simmons, Derek Ogbeide, James Walker, and Tookie Brown all carry their teams with their scoring. I also saw some unsung heroes come up big with DaJohn Williams and Eric Johnson giving their teams state championships.

So what did we learn this week? Let’s take it class by class. In Class A-Public, Calhoun County held off a late rally from the Patriots. I learned that: Seniors find ways to make plays in the clutch. Quenten Taylor was the star of the game until he picked up his fourth with 4:26 remaining in the third. He came back in the fourth and scored one more bucket to give him 20 on the night. Both he and Sherrod Williams finished with 20 points to lead the way for the Cougars but it was senior DaJohn Williams’ 18th point of the night that would give Calhoun County the crown.

St. Francis battled with Greenforest in Class A-Private and came away with a 96-81 victory for its second straight title. I learned that: Stars shine brightest on the biggest stage. Greenforest had more size and had strong guard play, but FSU-signee Malik Beasley, Xavier-signee Kaiser Gates, and five-star junior Kobi Simmons were too much as they combined for 73 points. The St. Francis girls edged South Atlanta Christian 47-45 after SACA turned the ball over on its final possession and Maya Dodson converted at the buzzer to knock off the team that ended the Lady Knights’ season a year ago.

Class AA saw the Wesleyan Wolves capture their 11 state title and their seventh in eight years. The boys game featured Crawford County and its raucous fan base against Seminole County. I learned that: Jordan Harris is the best player in the state of Georgia. The junior exploded for 41 points after draining three after three and cramming dunk after dunk. Mark Fox got a steal in this kid who will only continue to improve.

Morgan County fell to Jenkins 62-60 in the Class AAA final after Eric Johnson broke Bulldog fans’ hearts with a layup with 3.6 seconds remaining. I learned that: Morgan County can pack a gym out. Just over an hour away, the Bulldog fans filled the gym to the rafters to see Tookie Brown’s final game. It was a standing room only crowd and they were treated to possibly the best game of the weekend, even though their team didn’t come out on top. Aliyah Collier was a superstar in Laney’s win over Beach recording 24 points and 19 rebounds.

Carrollton was denied a sweep of the state titles in AAAA and came away empty handed after the Trojans could not feed Montae Glenn in the second half and after the Lady Trojans couldn’t find a bucket in the fourth quarter. I learned that: Jonesboro has the best defense in the state bar none. The Cardinals flew around the court and locked down the bigger Glenn in the second half.

Stephenson grabbed the title after beating Mays in the AAAAA girls final. I learned that: It is hard to beat a team three times. Davion Wingate and Miracle Gray refused to let the Jags drop another one to the Raiders. Brunswick’s size overwhelmed Allatoona in the boys championship and won going away, 49-32.

In overtime, McEachern and Te’a Cooper defeated Norcross 58-51. Wheeler beat Pebblebrook by one in the AAAAAA boys game. I learned that: Stars get calls and free throws win championships. Jared Harper split a pair for Pebblebrook and gave them just a one point lead instead of two. Jaylen Brown subsequently got fouled on the other end and iced it with two from the line.

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