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Class A-Private Preseason Top Ten

Class A-Private

  1. Greenforest Christian
  2. St. Francis
  3. North Cobb Christian
  4. Whitefield Academy
  5. SWAC
  6. Landmark Christian
  7. St. Anne-Pacelli
  8. Stratford Academy
  9. Lakeview Academy
  10. Tattnall Square Academy

Honorable Mention: Aquinas, Walker, Hebron Christian, Athens Christian, Mt. Vernon Presbyterian

It looks like it will once again be a two-horse race in Class A-Private and with that said, I give No. 1 Greenforest the slight nod over defending repeat state champion St. Francis. The past three titles have been held between Greenforest and St. Francis with the Eagles last knocking off the Knights, 55-41 in 2013. Last season it was Greenforest (27-2) coming up short with a 96-81 loss to the high-powered Knights. Good news for Greenforest is that St. Francis has lost two-thirds of its vaunted three headed monster and the Eagles return everyone except Justin Ravenel and Faisal Abdulmalik. Five-star junior center Ikey Obiagu anchors the paint at 7-foot. The big bodies don’t stop there for first year head coach Larry Thompson. Senior 6-foot-8 forward Precious Ayah has pledged to play at Miami (OH) while 6-foot-9 juniors Victor Enoh and Abayomi Iyiola are uncommitted along with 6-foot-8 sophomore Mohammad Abdulsalam. With all that great size, it will still be guards John Ogwuche and Justin Forrest who will make the offense click. Ogwuche, a senior, has committed to play at New Hampshire. Forrest is a junior and is quickly rising up the recruiting boards. Forrest poured in 19 points as a sophomore in the state championship a year ago while Ogwuche led all scorers with 28.

No. 2 St. Francis attempts to capture a three-peat behind five-star guard Kobi Jordan-Simmons. Simmons poured in 27 points in the state championship and was the youngest out of the big three which featured Malik Beasley (FSU) and Xavier Gates (Xavier). The Knights finished 29-3 and captured the crown in Drew Catlett’s first season as head coach. Catlett has a ton to replace for year two, but Simmons brings back his 21.2 points per game as the centerpiece. Duluth transfer Anthony Showell is a senior guard that poured in 16.6 points per game as a Wildcat and will be a strong running mate alongside Simmons. Senior forward Chance Anderson is expected to see a major up-tick in production and guards Will Richter and Wallace Tucker bring great depth.

No. 3 North Cobb Christian is coming off a 19-10 season and a second round exit thanks to Whitefield Academy, 62-58. Head Coach Greg Matta won’t have center Trey Kalina (UTC) inside this season, but the experienced coach always finds ways to win. Double-digit scorers Will Crumly, Nicholas Flemming and Jalen Dampier all return to power the Eagle offense. Newcomer Demiere Brown has transferred in and gives Matta versatility at the two and three spot. As a sophomore at Hiram, Brown averaged 16.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game. North Cobb Christian will enter 2015-16 as the odds on favorite to win the A-side of Region 6, with terrors St. Francis and Whitefield Academy looming on side B.

No. 4 Whitefield Academy would have made a strong case for being the best team in Class A-Private if it wasn’t for St. Francis. The Knights, like they did everybody else in the classification, had the Wolfpack’s number, beating Whitefield all four times and ending their season in the semifinals, 63-40. Whitefield finished 22-10 in 2014-15 and senior Brendon Myles will try to power the Pack over the hump and make some noise this year. Myles averaged 12.5 points and 8.9 rebounds as a 6-foot-3 guard last season. Junior Isaiah Hart doesn’t have Myles’ size (5’9”) and instead plays the role of distributor, dishing out 4.1 assists per game to go along with his 11.4 points. Sophomore Myles Belyeu has a chance to see major minutes in the backcourt while Jimmy McCarthy is relied upon to rebound and find east buckets inside.

The Warriors of No. 5 Southwest Atlanta Christian boast one of the nation’s most coveted scorers. DeAndre Ballard, a four-star 6-foot-6 wing, was unstoppable at times last year, scoring 23.3 points per night while grabbing 5.8 rebounds. He will need some help if SWAC wants to improve on their 17-11 finish. The Warriors’ season came to a rude and abrupt end in the round one of the state tournament, losing to Greenforest 103-31. SWAC should have more balance in 2015-16 with Malik Baisden returning to flank Ballard. A strong junior class is also expected to make waves with Ballard at the head. Johnathan King and Isiah Cotton are two names to keep an ear out for as they will be crucial in helping the Warriors regain their status as one of the elite programs in A-Private.

One of the funnest teams to watch in the state a year ago was the fast-paced offense of Chip McAllister at No. 6 Landmark Christian. The War Eagles ran up 76.3 points per game on their way to a 21-9 season and a trip to the Elite Eight. Athens Christian crashed Landmark’s party with a 73-46 win. Leading scorer Zack Allen is set to return after averaging 18.6 points and 6 rebounds. The War Eagles took a whopping 1,053 three-pointers (35.1 per game), meaning everybody has the green light in McAllister’s offense. Allen was the team’s most efficient shooter, drilling 77 attempts and connecting at a 40% clip. Junior Collier Schultz is expected to take on a bigger role this year as are seniors Stockton McGuire, Eddie Windsor and Nathan Burdette.

Looking for a bit of a sleeper? Search no further than No. 7 St. Anne-Pacelli. The Vikings did go 17-9 and made it to the playoffs where they fell to Landmark Christian 83-75, but that might have just been the beginning. If there was no major shakeup that I missed this offseason, the Vikes will be returning their top five leading scorers making them an experienced team that could be dangerous come playoff time. Senior guards Tre Sudberry (19.7 ppg), Triston Wells (14.5 ppg), Armon Prophet (12.5 ppg) and Deandre Bowman (10.7 ppg) are all capable scorers. Sudberry also chips in 5.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 3.4 steals while Prophet leads the Vikings with 5.9 assists. Junior Trevor Rice is another valuable piece after adding 5.3 points per game. Coach Alan Griffin’s team is a very unselfish group that has become one of the state’s most efficient offenses, shooting 67% from inside the arc as a team last season.

Two powerful guards propel No. 8 Stratford Academy. Senior Quintez Cephus is set to play at Furman but also has a solid offer from Wisconsin in football. Cephus is the school’s all-time leading scorer (1,960) and will eclipse the 2,000-point barrier early in the season. He also is the school record holder in assists and steals. As a junior, Cephus poured in 22.7 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game to help Coach Jamie Dickey’s Eagles go 18-7 and make it to the second round of state before being banished by Greenforest, 66-23. O’Showen Williams is the perfect complement to Cephus. Williams also plays football and on the basketball court he can score from deep but also find the open man. In 2013-14 Williams scored over 17 points per game at First Presbyterian Day before transferring over to Stratford at Christmas and helping lead the Eagles to a GISA AAA state title.

For No. 9 Lakeview Academy, Coach Todd Cottrell returns a strong core that should compete for a Region 8 top seed. Tae Turner averaged 14 points, 3.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists as a junior and was selected to the All-Area Second Team. He and Honorable Mention selections Tre Gober and Josh Randolph can push the pace and get easy buckets in transition. Both Randolph and Gober played big roles in the Lions success as sophomores and return even more seasoned. Lakeview should be an odds on favorite to reach the state playoffs for a second straight season after finishing 17-11 in 2014-15, ending their season with a 103-59 loss to St. Francis in round one.

No. 10 Tattnall Square finished 20-9 with a first round exit after losing to Aquinas, 55-39. Only two seniors have graduated from last year’s team, but Will Trevitt was a strong interior presence. Junior Calvin Slaughter will once again be asked to lead the charge for the Trojans. Slaughter was among the team leaders in scoring in 2014-15. Fellow junior Sean Brown saw quality playing time and should have a strong rapport with Slaughter in the backcourt.

DeKalb County Media Day

Tucker High School was host to DeKalb County Media Day on Oct. 22 for the upcoming GHSA basketball season which officially kicks off in roughly three weeks. Twenty-two programs packed into William S. Venable Gymnasium with optimism aplenty and sights set towards building upon the 2014-15 season.

DeKalb County has become notorious for its annual basketball powers on both the boys and girls side. Combined, 42 state titles have been claimed by the county. It has been 12 years (2003) since a DeKalb County school has not won a state championship in basketball.

Focusing on the boys side, I targeted three teams which I feel could add onto that streak of success. I was able to catch up with Miller Grove’s Sharman White, who enters my Preseason Class AAAAA poll ranked No. 1, Lithonia’s Wallace Corker, my No. 1 in AAAA and Aaron Parr of St. Pius, my No. 6 ranked team in AAAA to see how they feel about the 2015-16 season.


Miller Grove

The Wolverines re-loaded this offseason and added even more talent to a great backcourt. UConn-commit Alterique Gilbert welcomes in ETSU-commit Aaron Augustin (Peachtree Ridge), Tae Hardy (Southwest DeKalb) and Colin Young (Laney) to form an exciting guard rotation.CR9rX0QVAAApdbK

But with so much talent, is it difficult to manage playing time? Coach White doesn’t think so.

“It’s not really that hard. These are some high character kids. Having Alterique for all four years and adding Aaron Augustin to the mix, another high character kid with a high basketball IQ, it’s not hard,” explained White. “They played together on an AAU team when they were in eighth grade so they are very accustomed to each other.”

As far as what Augustin, Young and Hardy can bring to the table, White is excited about the possibilities. “They are new, but these guys have come right in almost like they’ve been here since the beginning and they bring a lot. When you talk about Aaron, you talk about a great guy who has a great feel for the game from the point guard position. Colin Young is truly a scorer of the basketball. He can score in so many different ways and then you got Naquante Hardy, who’s quietly kept as probably one of the best players in the state with his ability and what he can do with the basketball.”

As great as Miller Grove’s guard play projects to be, long forwards Raylon Richardson and Aidan Saunders are the night in and night out grinders who can do the dirty work defensively and score when called upon. Richardson was a double-double guy last year and White expects the same this season.

A historic run of six straight championships was brought to an end last year when Warner Robins edged Miller Grove in the quarterfinals 63-57. When asked about how to reach the pinnacle again, White thinks it begins with the type of guys on the team. “You can’t win championships without championship people.”



Coach Wallace Corker’s team saw a vast improvement last season, leaping from a 12-13 record to a powerhouse 27-3 season. A great senior class has me feeling like it could be championship or bust this season for the Bulldogs.

As good as Lithonia projects to be on offense, Corker understands that it all begins on the defensive end of the court. “Defense wins championships. If you don’t play defense ultimately you’re going to feel it. Shots may fall, and that’s ultimately what happened to us last year in the Elite Eight, we didn’t finish the game playing defense, but I think we got a good group of kids. Seniors that understand what is expected and are going to work hard,” He went on to say, “We have a tough schedule. Not so much worried about my record as a coach, but just getting better so we can compete for the state championship.”

The senior class of Rodney Chatman, Tyleen Patterson, Tyheem Freeman, Derious Wimberly and new addition Jacara Cross from Cedar Grove, will ultimately be the group that decides how far the Bulldogs go. Corker noted that Chatman has had a great summer and has seen his recruitment pick up. The 6-foot-2 guard is also one of the biggest leaders on the team. CR9skxXUEAEAxCa

The Bulldogs will look to push the tempo with their guard play but also dump it inside to Cross whenever they get the chance. The 6-foot-7 Cross gives Lithonia a true weapon that can score inside and out.

Lithonia will have no easy games on the schedule playing in the extremely difficult Region 6-AAAA.

“Oh my God it’s amazing,” exclaimed Corker before listing off a slew of competitive teams.

“Every game is going to be tough and if we don’t prepare ourselves and don’t come ready to play, we can be subject to lose a game. I think it’s all going to boil down to region play, so I’m really excited about this year,” Corker added, “I think it will be a good year for us. We just have to come in and compete every game, not just show up and expect to win because we have Lithonia on our chest.”

After a great season and expectations sky high for 2015-16, I questioned Corker on how he will be able to keep his team focused with a new target on their back.

The key is: “Getting in the gym working hard and understanding that you’re coming in 10 points down with that bullseye on your back. That’s what our thought process is: that you’re 10 points down because a team is going to come with so much energy at the beginning.”

A second round exit to Cairo has left a bad taste in the Bulldogs’ mouth, but Coach Corker understands that it can be used as a learning tool and can help Lithonia this season.

“Players have recognized what they’ve done wrong and me as a coach; I’ve recognized what I’ve done wrong. So what we do is we talk about it and reflect on it, put it behind us and move forward,” Corker explained. “But every now and then we bring those games back up to understand what we’re trying to accomplish and get over that hump.”


St. Pius

One of Lithonia’s biggest competitors for the Region 6 crown will be the Golden Lions of St. Pius. Coach Aaron Parr’s team battled tooth and nail with the Bulldogs to garner a regular season split before falling 51-49 in the region championship.

After a 25-5 season, expectations are rightfully high for St. Pius. To win the region and make a deep run at state, Parr believes in taking things day-by-day.

“I think the biggest thing for us is trying to take it game-by-game, practice-by-practice, focus on the process of getting better.”

Much like Coach Corker of Lithonia, the Golden Lions are focused on doing as well as possible in region as their region alone is a strong litmus test for how strong the team is heading into state. “It’s an incredible region,” noted Parr.

Seniors Kerney Lane and Christian Merrill will be the centerpieces to Parr’s offense but a nice blend of youth is also expected to see playing time. Merrill has started since he was a sophomore and Parr describes him as the “heart and soul” of the team with his character and leadership.CR9tNtQW0AE3pc7

“We talk about trying to be a winner and he [Merrill] does all the things: he’s a winner on the court, in the classroom, he’s a student ambassador, he’s a leader among his peers and he’s somebody that you want to be teammates with. You want to be in a foxhole with Christian.”

Lane was characterized as, “A workhorse. He’s an absolute gym-rat. I’ve never quite been around somebody who loves the game as much as him. He loves it, he lives it, sleeps it, breathes it and he’s somebody that when the lights turn on and when the crowds big, his game rises.”

Coach Parr believes after an excellent offseason that 6-foot-7 senior Jakob Spitzer can take the next step into becoming a consistent low post threat.

“Jakob has had a great offseason. He has worked hard in the weight room, hard on his game. He has now become much stronger and confident and we’re hoping for a breakout year from him from the center position.”

A second round exit to eventual state champion Jonesboro, 67-57, was not enough for the Lions and Parr knows that this year they can go farther. I asked how they can reach the promise land and coach left me with this: “We’ve got to treat every single possession like it’s critical.”

Staying mentally locked in and focused will be the key for St. Pius. By eliminating wasted possessions, Parr thinks that the close games they lost last year can transform into victories in 2015-16.

Class AA Preseason Top Ten

Class AA

  1. Seminole County
  2. Pace Academy
  3. Crawford County
  4. GAC
  5. Thomasville
  6. Holy Innocents’
  7. Early County
  8. Vidalia
  9. Swainsboro
  10. Rabun County

Honorable Mention: Bryan County, Greene County, Model, Chattooga, Manchester

They might not be the most highly publicized team, but they still are the defending champs and return everyone except one senior who did not see much playing time. No. 1 Seminole County has emerged as a force and will look to repeat behind a stellar senior class led by Georgia-commit Jordan Harris, who put on the best performance in Macon last year. The 28-3 Seminoles (all three losses to 4A Bainbridge) received a scintillating 41-point, 11-rebound, 4-assist, 6-steal effort from the four-star swingman in the 76-71 state championship victory over Crawford County. The southpaw flew above the rim for every rebound and effortlessly launched long threes, connecting on 4-of-7. During the season Harris poured in 27.4 points, 11 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 3.6 steals and 1.9 blocks per game. Seminole County isn’t a one man show however. Seniors Anfernee King and Jahmyka Pearson are both dangerous scorers that compliment Harris perfectly. King, a guard, averaged 18.3 points, 7 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 5.6 steals while Pearson, a forward, pitched in 15.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists 1.1 steals and 1 block a night. Point guard Alex Fudge and forward Dwayne Samson round out the Indians’ starting five under Coach Kevin Godwin.

No. 2 Pace Academy has the best quality size in the classification and will look to use it to their advantage. The Knights rolled last season to a 27-3 record and held the No. 1 spot in the polls throughout the year, but in the quarterfinals, a scrappy Vidalia team stunned the powerful Knights, 48-46. Head Coach Demetrius Smith was unable to exploit their massive size advantage against the Indians on the road and lost a tough one after having to travel nearly three hours. Unanimous No. 1 ranked player in the class of 2017 Wendell Carter Jr. returns after easily averaging a double-double and producing 20-15 nights regularly. The 6-foot-10 center has a skill set similar to Jahlil Okafor as he can face up and hit the mid-range jumper, score with his back to the basket, get to the hole with the dribble and also pass and defend at a high-rate. Pairing up with Carter this season will be sophomore Isaiah Kelly. The long 6-foot-8 forward averaged 16.2 points and 10.5 rebounds as a freshman at Augusta Christian. Rounding out a strong frontcourt is senior 6-foot-6 forward Zack Kaminsky. On the perimeter, sophomore Caleb Holifield is asked to replace his brother Elijah as the Knights’ top outside threat.

Much like Seminole County, last season’s state runner-up No. 3 Crawford County is in a great position to make another deep run under the guidance of Head Coach Clyde Zachery, who enters his 36th year at the helm. The Eagles return EVERYONE from their 27-4 team a year ago. Senior swingman William Jarrell has blossomed into a star, averaging 25.8 points, 13.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 3.5 steals and 3.9 blocks in Crawford County’s high-flying offense. In their state championship loss, Jarrell heated up for 31 points and 6 rebounds. Junior Marcal Knolton stands 6-foot-5 and plays center. As a sophomore he pitched in 17 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game. Sparkplug point guard Monkeize Moore added 9.9 points, 4 assists and 2.8 steals, while seniors Jeremy Raines and Quay Wiggins along with junior Damien Saffold all chipped in over 6 points a night.

No. 4 GAC saw a 19-10 season end with a second round loss in overtime to Crawford County, 88-81. Former GAC two-time region champion and All-County selection as a player back from 1998-2000, David Eaton, takes over the reins for Eddie Martin, who ventures to turn around Buford.  Eaton, in his early 30’s, comes over after a successful stint at Wando High School in South Carolina. He brings over a youthful exuberance and a hunger to return GAC to the pinnacle of high school basketball. Eaton has some talent to work with in seniors Garrett Covington (16.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg) and Jacob Hoffman (12.1 ppg). A pair of juniors will be the key to pushing the Spartans to where they want to go. Point guard Brian Coffey added 12.9 points and 5 assists while 6-foot-7 forward Charlie O’Briant can work both the high-post and the low block on offense. Coffey already holds offers from North Florida, UNC-Asheville and Presbyterian. There will be no games off as the Spartans play in one of the best regions in the state, Region 6, dealing with the likes of Pace Academy, Holy Innocents and Lovett.

No. 5 Thomasville finished the season 22-9 and slipped to Crawford County in round two of the state tournament, 80-65. Leading scorer Jordan Willis is back for his senior season after netting 14.8 points per game. Coach Benjamin Tillman might have a secret weapon that gets the Bulldogs deep into the playoffs. Six-foot-six senior forward Alex Perry moves in after averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds at Maclay High School in Florida. Perry brings great versatility and a skillset that Tillman can showcase in a variety of ways. Last season’s third leading scorer Gregory Hobbs returns after chipping in 9 points per game. Shedric Cooper is also expected to see a bigger role his senior season at forward. The Bulldogs will be battle-tested if they are able to return to state. Seminole County looms on their schedule twice. The Dogs played the Indians tough in 2014-15, losing 67-55 and 72-64.

Coach Terry Kelly led No. 6 Holy Innocents’ to a 24-6 season but saw the season slip away in round two in a controversial overtime loss at Swainsboro, 57-52. Travis Anderson paced the offense as a freshman and was the team’s go-to guy, but he is now at East Jackson. Returning is junior Cole Smith, a wing with deep range, and 6-foot-6 senior forward Brett Duncan. Duncan does just that, a powerful high-flier that has been known to rock the rim and swing momentum in the Golden Bears’ favor. Son of NBA Hall of Famer Julius Erving, junior 6-foot-5 forward Jules Erving, will be counted on to play a big role for Coach Kelly’s team this season after the Bears have graduated Ashton Meertins and Sam Asbury. Both sophomore Mykel Tubbs and senior Harrison Cobb saw action in 2014-15 and will add depth and quality minutes in 15-16.

The No. 7 Early County Bobcats flew under the radar last season, going 16-12 featuring a second round exit after a 62-55 loss against Model. In 2015-16, the Cats could have some major claws and enter the season as the third (Seminole County, Thomasville) team ranked from Region 1. Coach Randy Isom’s bunch returns all of their key players and will feature a roster peppered with juniors and seniors. Junior point guard Qubilah Hall is tough to wrangle with his shifty 5-foot-6 frame. Hall scored over 15 points per game and displayed a deft touch from beyond the arc. Senior center Tracey Beacham is the team’s leading rebounder and has proven he can play against the best, showcased when he scored 26 points against Seminole County. Another senior, Traquez Wells has had success against the Indians and chipped in 21 points in a 93-89 loss, proving the Bobcats can play with anyone. Juniors Devonte George and Malik Thornton round out this potentially dangerous team.

Under Head Coach Tommy Dalley, No. 8 Vidalia recorded a 28-3 record and a semifinals appearance. In the Elite Eight, the undersized Indians harassed the larger Pace Academy Knights by pressing and trapping all over which led to a 48-46 victory. Vidalia forced Pace into careless mistakes and sped up their offense, effectively lessening the impact that 6-foot-10 center Wendell Carter Jr. could make. Surprisingly, it was the Indians who were able to control the tempo and score in the half court set on floaters and three-balls to negate Pace’s height. Some big pieces have graduated, highlighted by guard Jordan Black, but the proud program that has gone 87-6 over the past three seasons returns senior Wil Chambliss and sophomore Tahj Jones.

At 21-10, No. 9 Swainsboro fought its way to a semifinals appearance before losing to Crawford County 71-58. Coach Bobby Andrews loses a lot from his veteran team and will look to rising seniors to fill the void. Power forward Quan Akins returns after scoring 7.1 points and grabbing 4.6 rebounds per game. Point guard Martez McKinney added 6.3 points and 2.9 assists and is a trusted floor-general to run the offense. Andrews has increased his win total each season since coming aboard in 2012-13. The Tigers have gone 8-17 and 15-14 before breaking through in 2014-15.

No. 10 Rabun County needs to replace leading scorer Austin Dinofrio. Coach Jeff Page has some good choices to lead the way coming back from last year’s 21-9 team that was eliminated by Seminole County in round two, 83-66. Senior point guard Harry Oliver is capable of replacing Dinofrio’s big time scoring. Oliver averaged 14.3 points, 5.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds to go along with his 2.8 steals as a junior. Running mate Matthew Addis is another quick little guard with the ability to burn defenses. Addis can’t be left from beyond the three-point line as he drilled 108 threes and scored 12.3 points per game. The backcourt duo makes the Wildcats a sleeper to knock off some teams.

Class AAA Preseason Top Ten

Class AAA

  1. Laney
  2. Jenkins
  3. Morgan County
  4. East Jackson
  5. Calhoun
  6. Blessed Trinity
  7. Callaway
  8. East Hall
  9. Central-Macon
  10. 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.

Class AAAA Preseason Top Ten

Class AAAA

  1. Lithonia
  2. Jonesboro
  3. Liberty County
  4. Bainbridge
  5. Sandy Creek
  6. St. Pius
  7. Worth County
  8. Henry County
  9. Grady
  10. Columbia

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.

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