- Morgan County
- East Jackson
- Blessed Trinity
- East Hall
- South Atlanta
Honorable Mention: Banks County, Westminster, Johnson-Savannah, Westside-Macon, Josey
There will be a lot of changes at No. 1 Laney but the Wildcats still have the pedigree to get the job done and finally finish the season with a win after three straight losses in the Final Four. Laney has actually advanced to at least the semifinals six-straight seasons. The Wildcats put together the best resume in the state last year: 29-2 with wins over – Morgan County (2x) 71-67 OT, 78-62; Pebblebrook 65-59; Norcross 70-59; Jenkins 60-49; East Hall 92-67. The third time was not a charm however against Tookie Brown and Morgan County, as Brown exploded in the second half and led the Bulldogs to a semifinals victory 68-62. For the Wildcats, Buck Harris has left the program and will now try and rebuild a struggling Baldwin program. In steps Shawn Parks, who has coached at Josey and Jefferson County over his career. Leading scorer JaShawn Brooks has graduated and Collin Young and his 11 points per game have transferred to Miller Grove, but a feisty backcourt chock full of division-one talent is back to pace the Cats. Senior 6-foot-2 guard Christian Keeling is a recent Charleston Southern-commit after posting 11.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.1 steals in 2014-15. Zep Jasper runs the offense as the lead guard and is a College of Charleston-commit. He chipped in 8.1 points and 3.9 assists to the balanced offensive attack. Sophomore Donald Henley and junior Tahj Tanklsey might be the next two guards to take the spotlight after the seniors graduate. The Wildcats’ recipe for success last season was their smothering defense that allowed 54.4 points per game. There is no reason why that should change under Parks.
The defending champs, No. 2 Jenkins, went 29-3 and beat Morgan County 62-60 in a thrilling state title game that featured an Eric Johnson lay-in with seconds left to win. Johnson has since graduated along with Georgia State signee Malik Benlevi. Coach Bakari Bryant has to replace his two leaders and should start with junior forward Trevion Lamar and senior guard Dimetri Chambers. Lamar led the team in rebounding (7.1) and finished second in scoring with 11.5 points per game. The 6-foot-5 slasher loves to get in the lane and cause problems with his athleticism. Chambers has proven to be a big game clutch performer thanks to his prowess from beyond the three-point line. He averaged 8.4 points during the season, but pitched in 12 points and three long balls in the state championship. Junior guard Zion Williams transfers in from Savannah where he averaged 10.3 points and 6.8 assists as a sophomore.
Life without 3,000-point scorer Tookie Brown begins for No. 3 Morgan County, but don’t expect the drop off to be that severe. Springy forward Jailyn Ingram and versatile guard Devorious Brown have decided to continue playing together at the next level and both have committed to Florida Atlantic. Ingram is a 6-foot-6 highlight reel that plays well above the rim and also has been recruited for his skills as a wide receiver. Both he and Brown will see bigger roles in the offense now that Tookie has landed at Georgia Southern. The Bulldogs finished 24-8 and were unable to repeat as champions. Don’t count out Morgan County as a threat to make a deep run at state behind a battle-tested senior class.
Morgan County won’t have a walk in the park when it comes to Region 8 anymore. No. 4 East Jackson has loaded up with three talented sophomore guards, headed by Drue Drinnon. The highly sought after guard produced a freshman season for the ages averaging 23 points 6 assists and 4 rebounds per game. This year he will have much more help with the additions of Travis Anderson (Holy Innocents’) and Lamont Smith (Buford). Anderson was named HoopSeen Class AA Player of the Year and was set to attend Grayson this season, even playing with their fall league team before making a late switch to East Jackson. Lamont Smith is another talented guard who should thrive next to fellow playmakers. Senior forward Kamron Walters will be an integral part to Coach David Boyd’s team. At 6-foot-7, Walters will be asked to protect the basket and track down rebounds for second chance points or ignite the fastbreak. East Jackson finished 18-11 last year and was dumped by Banks County in round one of the state tournament, 63-56. They will face an early litmus test scrimmaging Miller Grove at home. For East to truly become a contender, they will need to shake the demons that Morgan County presents them. The Bulldogs have beaten the Eagles 7-straight times dating back to 2012-13. Morgan County handed East Jackson losses of 101-55, 100-41 and 77-34 last year. If the Eagles can find constant production down low to couple with their premier guard play, East Jackson will be in the hunt for a state title which Boyd has great familiarity with.
No. 5 Calhoun cruised to a 22-4 record and perfect 16-0 mark in Region 6. The Yellow Jackets routed Pepperell in the opening round of the state tournament but faltered against Cedar Grove, 52-42. Coach Vince Layson’s top seven scorers return for another shot at a deep playoff run. Star quarterback Kaelan Riley is also the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. He averaged 14.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists to pace the Jackets. Point guard Jireh Wilson supplies some sting with his scoring touch. The senior pitched in 14.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and a team leading 3.6 assists per contest. Chapin Rierson is another tough cover at 6-foot-5. The junior isn’t afraid to let it fly from deep (38%) and can get to the hole (85 freethrow attempts). Calhoun should enter postseason play unscathed in region play and labeled a difficult out in state.
No. 6 Blessed Trinity won’t quite have the size inside they had in 2014-15, but a strong backcourt and a fundamentally sound team will grind opponents out. The Titans allowed just 44.8 points per game and elected to control tempo and run their offense to frustrate teams that wanted to run. Blessed Trinity ended with a 24-6 record and was able to pick up a 32-30 win over Washington County in the first round of the state playoffs. They barely lost to Callaway 58-56 in the second round, but did impose their will and hold the Cavaliers 21 points below their average. Seniors Jackson Svete, Griffin Michael and John Michael Bertrand make up a nice core. Juniors Adam Fenlon and Kyle Swade should be among the team’s leading scorers along with Svete.
Coach Terry Hayes returns with No. 7 Callaway and his run-and-gun offense. A ton of talent is back to continue pushing the pace to score easy buckets. The Cavs finished 20-5 a year ago, slipping to eventual state champion Jenkins in the quarterfinals, 97-61. Junior guard Braylon Sanders is an explosive scorer and teams up seniors Dre Martin and Quantrez Cooper to form an excitingly quick backcourt that can disrupt opposing ball handlers. Senior forward Earnest Patillo isn’t afraid to score inside and out and brings a versatile component teams have to account for.
No. 8 East Hall will be without center Kyvon Davenport, but Coach Joe Dix is a proven winner and has experience coming back from his 24-6 team. The Vikings made a quarterfinals appearance before Laney romped them 92-67. Dix won’t have the dominant 6-foot-8 post player this year and instead will turn to seniors Tylor Brown, Triston Cooper and Jacquen Hopkins to push tempo. Brown likes to wreak havoc by getting into the lane. He also has shown improved range on his jumpshot and can’t be left open from deep. Cooper is a dead-eye sniper and plays with a fire that is contagious while Hopkins is a south paw that can also stroke it and slither his way to the basket.
Behind a dynamic offense, No. 9 Central-Macon has a shot to claim a Region 2 title and make some noise in the state playoffs. Andre Taylor’s group averaged 76.6 points per game and compiled a 20-8 record which sent them to the second round where they lost a tough game to Morgan County, 69-61. Why do the Chargers crack the top ten? All four leading scorers return highlighted by junior guard Antarius McCoy, who averaged 22.2 points in 2014-15. Seniors Derrick Evans Jr. pitched in 16.8 per game while Rakwon Iverson added 13. The difference maker that makes the Chargers a scary team is 6-foot-10 junior center Kentrevious Jones, an 11.3 point per game scorer. Jones is yet to scratch the surface of his potential but if he does, he has a chance to force his name into the discussion as one of the best centers in the state. The Chargers still have to deal with the likes of an up and coming Westside team led by five-star sophomore Khavon Moore and proud programs Rutland and Peach County, making this region in Macon a fun one to keep an eye on.
No. 10 South Atlanta coasted to a 27-5 season and a quarterfinal appearance against Morgan County, who beat the Hornets 78-50. Senior guards Orlando Bebee and Devontae Dean have experience and familiarity with running Coach Michael Reddick’s offense. Dean was an All-Area Second Team selection while Bebee garnered Honorable Mention. Inside, forwards Tyler Thornton and Artavious Banks gobble up rebounds and change shots. South Atlanta has also added 6-foot-7 senior swingman Korbian Bell. He is a strong lefty that uses his athleticism to attack the paint. Bell displays an ability to play with his back to the basket as well when set up on the block. The Hornets will contend with Blessed Trinity, Cedar Grove and Westminster for the Region 4 title and top seed in the playoffs.