Class AA Championship Preview: Pace Academy vs. Manchester

Class AA

Did You Know: Pace Academy is 3-8 in neutral site games this year.

R6 #1 Pace Academy (19-10)

No. 3 Pace Academy has 10 losses, starting the year 2-8 after taking its lumps on the national circuit. After losses to Class AAAAAA No. 2 Westlake and 1A-Private No. 1 Greenforest to kick off the year, Pace’s only other two in-state losses came to GAC 55-49 in the third game of the season dropping them to 0-3 and at No. 6 Lovett in overtime 66-63 on Jan. 30. All eyes will be on five-star junior center Wendell Carter Jr. and versatile 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Isaiah Kelly. Carter went for 35 points in Pace’s 69-58 win over Jefferson County in the Sweet 16 while Kelly added 14. Penn-commit Zack Kaminsky stands 6-foot-6 at small forward and netted 14 in their win over Jefferson County. The Knights met one-loss No. 1 Thomasville in the Elite Eight and embarrassed the Bulldogs 75-48 in a jaw dropping performance. Carter thoroughly dominated the 6-foot-8 front line of Reggie Perry and Titus Wright posting 26 points, 14 rebounds, 12 blocks, four assists and two steals. The Knights only led by nine at the half but after Barrett Baker splashed in a pair of threes in the third quarter, the rout was on. Baker scored 17 on the night as Coach Demetrius Smith’s fourth option. Pace faced another challenge on paper against No. 2 Crawford County. The Eagles’ quickness however was no match for the Knights’ size. Kelly finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, picking up the slack for Carter who hurt his toe but still managed 12 points and 10 rebounds. Crawford County’s explosive tandem of William Jarrell and Marcal Knolton was held to just 23 points in Pace Academy’s 61-51 physical win. For the Knights to win their first state title in basketball, expect a heavy dosage of Carter in the low post to exploit their size advantage over No. 10 Manchester.

R5 #1 Manchester (25-5)

No. 10 Manchester doesn’t have the consistent size or the Division-I talent that No. 3 Pace has, but they do a strong belief that they can play with anyone and have two dynamic guards that can help Coach Curtis Noble try and hoist their first trophy since 2007. Coming out of Region 5, the Blue Devils hadn’t been tested much during the regular season. Their main competition was Temple, who they beat 65-62 and 69-37. In non-region play, the Blue Devils scored an impressive 63-61 win over No. 2 Crawford County at the Merriweather County Holiday Tournament. On their road to Macon the Blue Devils have knocked off No. 5 Early County in the Sweet 16, 75-62 and dropped No. 6 Lovett 70-56 in the Elite Eight. Against Lovett, Manchester trailed 18-13 at the end of the first quarter but quickly took control behind a 21-6 second quarter. Senior Demarcus Addie exploded for 30 points while Jah’Nile Hill, a sophomore, added 13. In the Final Four the recipe was the same. Manchester eliminated Monticello 63-53 after Addie netted 22 points and Hill tacked on 14 more. Cadarian Brown emerged as a third threat scoring 11 points. Jerquavion Mahone is a 6-foot-4, 255-pounder that throws his weight around inside. Bobby Stevenson and Garrett Brown provide size at 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-7 and will likely see some time guarding Wendell Carter Jr. if needed. Manchester hurt Monticello on the glass. They will have to replicate that same type of intensity on the boards while battling Pace’s larger frontcourt. The Blue Devils ride a 19-game winning streak into the state championship and should have the house packed at the Centreplex as Manchester is just an hour and thirty minutes away from Macon. Manchester last advanced to the state championship in 2011-12 when they lost to Laney 67-53.

Class AAA Championship Preview: Morgan County vs. Jenkins

Class AAA

Did You Know: Morgan County freshman Alec Woodard set a school-record with 10 threes in a game this season.

R8 #1 Morgan County (25-4)

They meet again. Macon has become a March mainstay for the No. 1 ranked Bulldogs as they take their third straight trip to the Centreplex. In 2013-14 Charlemagne Gibbons oversaw Tookie Brown’s destruction of Buford for the program’s first and only title. In his first year as head coach Jamond Sims took the Bulldogs back to the title game last year but they fell to Jenkins on a last second layup from senior Eric Johnson 62-60. With 3,000-point scorer Tookie Brown now leading Georgia Southern in scoring as a freshman, Morgan County got its season off to an inauspicious start losing to Cherokee 57-52 at Rockdale County’s Battle at the Rock tournament. Things quickly got better as they defeated Class AAAA’s No. 4 Lithonia 44-41, but they ran into familiar foe No. 3 Laney, losing 65-64. The Bulldogs took out the Wildcats in their second meeting 65-63 but would have to escape them one more time if they wanted to march back to Macon. After blowing out Pepperell in round one 71-30 and knocking off North Clayton 67-54 in the Sweet 16, the Bulldogs ran into Laney for the third time this year and sixth time in two seasons, last year ending the Wildcats’ season with a 68-62 comeback win in the Final Four. Morgan County won the rubber match in the Elite Eight this year, beating Laney 55-50 while holding Charleston Southern signee Christian Keeling to five points after he entered averaging a team-high 24. Florida Atlantic signees Jailyn Ingram and DeVorious Brown were the difference makers as Ingram poured in 24 points and Brown netted 12. After the emotional victory the Bulldogs entered their Final Four meeting with No. 6 South Atlanta hungover, falling behind by as many as 16 points and taking a 40-25 deficit into the half. Freshman Alec Woodard and senior Jordan Ford helped key the comeback. Woodard sank all 10 of his free throw attempts in the fourth quarter en route to 18 points while Ford scored a team-high 22. Brown hit the game-winning three with one second left right after Frank Bailey of the Hornets tied the game with a three with 7 seconds left, stinging South Atlanta for a stunning 64-61 win.

R1 #1 Jenkins (28-4)

The defending state champions had a questionable start to their season, needing overtime to beat Creekview 74-67 at the Dai’Jon Parker Classic. No. 5 Jenkins has righted the ship since their sluggish start and are back to playing a fast brand of basketball centered around one of the state’s best juniors and a guard who transferred in from nearby Savannah High School. 6-foot-5 junior forward Trevion Lamar does it all for Coach Bakari Bryant. He averages 16.4 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.6 steals and 1.7 blocks per game. The versatile big man can score both inside and out causing matchup problems for defenders. Zion Williams brings over stability at the point guard position and is the team’s second leading scorer as a junior. Williams and Lamar have replaced the output left by Eric Johnson and Malik Benlevi (GSU). Johnson hit a layup with 3.6 seconds left to capture the Warriors’ first-ever state title. On their march to Macon the Warriors have ended some of the state’s best Cinderella stories. They eliminated Jackson-Atlanta in round one 79-69. The Jaguars snuck into the tournament after stunning 22-3 Westminster in the region tournament. In the Sweet 16 it was Jackson County falling to Jenkins 70-51. The Panthers going from 4-22 to 18-12 while winning their first state playoff game in 51 years before running into the Jenkins buzzsaw. Next it was No. 2 Calhoun seeing their 27-0 season come to an end without a state title, falling 84-78 in the Elite Eight. The Yellow Jackets used a 17-4 run to come back from the dead and take a 73-72 lead with 4:28 left, but Lamar was too much, scoring six straight for the Warriors and finishing with 19 to hold off Calhoun. Williams added a game-high 21 with three three-pointers in a row coming in the third quarter to extend their lead. The Warriors jumped out to a 35-20 halftime lead over No. 8 Cedar Grove in the Final Four. The Saints battled back to cut the gap to 62-59 with 3:20 to play, but Jenkins answered back with a 6-0 run of its own to close the game taking a 68-59 decision. Lamar scored a game-high 21 along with senior Dimetri Chambers.

Class AAAA Championship Preview: Jonesboro vs. Liberty County

Class AAAA

Did You Know: MJ Walker Jr. was a football standout at Jonesboro before deciding to focus on basketball his junior and upcoming senior season.

R4 #1 Jonesboro (28-4)

Potential pitfalls checkered No. 1 Jonesboro’s path to Macon but it hasn’t stopped the Cardinals from soaring to a potential three-peat. Jonesboro opened the year with a bumpy start, dropping its first two games of the season to AAAAAA No. 3 Norcross and Wesleyan Christian Academy (NC). With Austin Donaldson (GSU) and Tracy Hector (KSU) both graduated it looked as if the Cardinals’ reign of dominance was finally coming to an end. MJ Walker Jr. had different ideas. The star junior brought his game to the next level and has averaged 22.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while leading Jonesboro to a perfect mark in Region 4. Talented teams such as No. 6 Walnut Grove, No. 7 Eagle’s Landing and Henry County all had chances to knock the Cardinals from their perch but were unable to as Jonesboro turned them all back. Playing the best of the best has helped mold Coach Daniel Maehlman’s tough-nosed team into a machine. Jonesboro took third-place in the MaxPreps Holiday Classic, their only loss coming to the nation’s No. 1 ranked team, undefeated Chino Hills (CA) 124-93. In the state tournament, potential matchup problems proved to be no worries. They blasted Worth County 81-47, who was led by 6-foot-8 Auburn signee Anfernee McLemore and Brandon Moore. In round two, an emotional state championship rematch presented itself. The Cardinals dispatched of Carrollton last year 55-50 in the title game and this year broke the Trojans’ heart again with a 51-50 win. Looking like Carrollton finally exposed a vulnerability in the Cardinals, instead Jonesboro drilled No. 8 St. Pius in the Sweet 16. Last year the Golden Lions fell 67-57 in round two, this year the Cardinals left no doubt by doubling their margin of victory, winning 57-37. No. 3 Grady was the next Region 6 team to test the Cardinals in the Final Four powered by Bucknell-commit Avi Toomer averaging 23.6 points per game but again it was Jonesboro beating Grady at their own game by outscoring them 77-49, holding Toomer to 17. Walker and Tariq Jenkins both pumped in 22 points while Eric Lovett added 10.

R3 #1 Liberty County (27-1)

The Panthers were one of the many teams that fell at the hands of Jonesboro last season, losing 71-43 in the Final Four. This time, it’s No. 2 Liberty County trying to turn the tables and break No. 1 Jonesboro’s spell over the rest of Class AAAA. Coach Julian Stokes sees Coach Daniel Maehlman’s MJ Walker Jr. and he raises him with a star junior of his own, Davion Mitchell. Mitchell, an Auburn-commit, is an electrifying guard netting over 24 points per game and more than seven assists. He and junior Richard LeCounte, a five-star UGA football-commit, power a devastating Panther offense that jumped out on No. 4 Lithonia 16-0 in their 81-68 Final Four victory. Mitchell dropped game-high 33 points while LeCounte tacked on 19. A key to their evolution from being a good team to a great team has been the development of Will Richardson as a reliable third option. He scores 13 points per game as a sophomore, leaving the future looking extremely bright for Liberty County. They have won 25-straight games including playoff wins over Columbia (78-60) and Monroe (71-61) in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. Their only loss came back on Dec. 5, the third game of the season losing to Statesboro 75-74 in double overtime. Last year in their semifinal loss to Jonesboro, the Panthers held a 19-18 lead after one but were outscored 53-24 the rest of the way. Mitchell was kept in check by the stifling Cardinal defense. He finished with 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting while committing four turnovers. LeCounte didn’t fare much better, tacking on 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting. On the other side, Walker torched the Panthers for 30 points and five assists. Coach Stokes is in his first year as the head man after Coach Willie Graham resigned following last season. He will need to devise a game plan to get Mitchell open looks while slowing down Walker on the other end.

Class AAAAA Championship Preview: Miller Grove vs. Allatoona


Did you Know: Miller Grove hasn’t lost a region game in four years, while it has been five years since Allatoona last lost.

R6 #1 Miller Grove (29-2)

Be careful what you wish for. Even though their string of six straight titles was snapped last year with an Elite Eight loss at Warner Robins, the No. 1 ranked Wolverines are still the team to beat and have held onto the No. 1 ranking in Class AAAAA the entire year. Miller Grove hasn’t lost to an in-state opponent all year long and are on a mission to grab their seventh title in eight years. Overseeing the Wolverines is none other than Sharman White who has compiled a 243-41 record over his last nine seasons. The catalyst for the Wolverine offense is McDonalds All-American and UConn signee Alterique Gilbert. From his point guard position he is averaging over 20 points, five rebounds, six assists and four steals per game. He finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds in their 66-41 Elite Eight win over No. 8 South Paulding and stepped up even more when the light shined the brightest. In the Final Four against No. 3 McIntosh, Gilbert got the best of Will Washington putting together 21 points, eight rebounds, three assists and four steals. The X-factor however was 6-foot-7 UAB football signee Raylon Richardson who tacked on 17 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. Miller Grove’s depth wore down the Chiefs like so many teams before them. Aaron Augustin, Tae Hardy, Colin Young and Joshua Jackmon all played their roles to perfection as Augustin poured in 18 points alongside Gilbert in the backcourt. So far, Richmond Academy in the Sweet 16 has given the Wolverines their toughest test, holding a 47-44 lead heading into the fourth quarter before bowing out 64-57. Illinois State signee Madison Williams gave the Wolverines fits with a team-high 22. Not to be outdone, Gilbert netted a game-high 24 to go with his nine rebounds. Measuring up to No. 2 Allatoona, both teams have played Southwest DeKalb and South Paulding as like opponents. The Wolverines beat Southwest DeKalb three times: 76-69, 53-45 and 86-68 in the Region 6 championship, while Allatoona eliminated them in the Elite Eight 56-44. The Buccaneers beat South Paulding three times: 65-46, 53-44 and 63-49 in the Region 5 title game.

R5 #1 Allatoona (31-0)

At a perfect 31-0, No. 2 Allatoona is the only undefeated team left in the state looking to put an exclamation point on a fairy tale season. The Bucs are back after losing to Brunswick in the state championship last year 49-32 and are hoping for a better shooting performance this time in Macon. Allatoona’s calling card is defense led by Coach Markus Hood. The Buccaneers won’t have the sex-appeal or flying acts like Miller Grove does. Instead they look to grind teams to a halt and hold them under 50 points, a feat they have accomplished 24 times. Even more impressive, five times they have held opponents to under 40 points, highlighted by holding 1A-Private No. 3 North Cobb Christian to a season low 30 points in a 20-point victory at the Lake City Classic. Allatoona will play steady defense regardless of its opponent, the question is whether they will be able to score enough. Sophomore Trey Doomes and senior Ephraim Tshimanga make up one of the most underrated backcourts in the state, but even they have never seen the likes of Alterique Gilbert and Aaron Augustin. Doomes is the team’s leading scorer at over 14 points per game and holds a Kennesaw State offer while Tshimanga is good for 12 a night. The two are known more for their defensive prowess, collecting seven steals combined to lead the team’s 13 in their 48-46 Final Four victory over No. 4 Cedar Shoals. In that game Coastal Georgia signee Kevin Perry scored a game-high 15 points while Michael Johnson added 10 off the bench including the game-winning free throws with five seconds left. If the Bucs can keep the game in the 40’s, it will be towards their advantage. Even though they are undefeated, Allatoona enters their championship game with the most dominant program of the past decade as underdogs, which could play into their favor if Miller Grove isn’t ready for a grueling and methodical defensive war.

Class AAAAAA Championship Preview: Westlake vs. Pebblebrook


Did You Know: Three teams from Region 3 advanced to the Elite Eight this year (Westlake, Pebblebrook, Campbell).

R3 #1 Westlake (26-4)

New faces littered Coach Darron Rogers’ roster this season and has helped turn a 13-15 team a year ago into a statewide power contending for its first state title since winning in 1999 and 2002. In 2009-10 the Marcus Thornton-led Lions fell to Milton in the championship 56-46 after Thornton, a recent UGA graduate, injured his ankle in warmups and had to sit out after the pain was too much to bear. This year’s version of No. 2 Westlake is anchored by another forward who has made an impact in his first year as a Lion, Chuma Okeke. The talented junior forward scored 22 points in their win over No. 8 Newton in the Final Four, 64-59. The Lions have been tested all year long coming out of Region 3, the state’s best. They will attempt one of the hardest feats in sports, beating a team not three times but four times in a single season. They have beaten No. 7 Pebblebrook 76-70, 82-72 and 79-57 in the Region 3 championship. Outside of the region, the Lions peppered their schedule with some of the nation’s best. Two of their four losses have come to teams out of state, No. 3 in the country Montverde Academy (FL) 76-54 and Memphis East 69-58. The road to Macon has been a treacherous one and the most difficult in Class AAAAAA. Westlake has had to survive No. 3 Norcross (61-50), No. 6 Shiloh (44-43) and No. 8 Newton (64-59) in rounds two through four. Throughout the tournament Westlake’s superior guard play and size has worn on opponents. Jamie Lewis is one of the best sophomore guards in the country while Danny Lewis is no slouch himself. Ronald Bell has brought a toughness inside to pair with 6-foot-9 Michael Durr and 6-foot-6 Raquan Wilkins. Jamie scored 18 points and hit clutch free throws down the stretch to beat Newton. He and Danny will have their hands full trying to slow down the highest scoring backcourt in the state.

R3 #2 Pebblebrook (23-9)

Coach George Washington hopes the fourth time is a charm and that they can soothe the fresh wounds from a year ago when a controversial call went in Wheeler’s favor to help the Wildcats win the state title 59-58 after two Jaylen Brown (Cal) free throws with 0.6 seconds left stunned the Falcons. Though they lost standouts Derek Ogbeide (UGA), Ty Hudson (Clemson) and Trhae Mitchell (South Alabama), the dynamic duo of Collin Sexton and Jared Harper (Auburn) have the No. 7 ranked Falcons back on the attack in Macon. The two form the highest scoring backcourt in the state. The diminutive Harper is a fearless flamethrower willing to shoot threes from anywhere on the court which has helped him average close to 28 points and even 10 assists per game. Sexton, a junior, has been a key addition and has seen his recruitment sky rocket as he too averages over 28 points a night.  As explosive as Coach Washington’s backcourt is, others have stepped up their play as of late to take some pressure off their shoulders. Junior JJ Smith is a new face to the Georgia circuit and is an Ole Miss-commit. His high-flying aerial maneuvers makes him one of the state’s most entertaining players to watch whether he is catching alley-oops from Harper and Sexton, or grabbing rebounds and blocking shots. In their 77-70 win over Milton in the Final Four it was Smith who scored nine of his 20 points in the fourth quarter. Sexton hung 35 on the Eagles and enters the state championship red-hot. Uncharacteristically, Harper has been slowed down, held to 11 points in each of his last two games. Stepping up has been sophomore Dwight Murray who scored a career-high 23 in a 78-71 Elite Eight victory over No. 5 McEachern.  The Falcons took their lumps early in the year going 8-6 with a national schedule, but have found their footing in-state winning 15 of their last 18 games.

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