- Miller Grove
- Warner Robins
- Jones County
- Cedar Shoals
Honorable Mention: Apalachee, Northside-Columbus, South Paulding, Riverwood, Southwest DeKalb
Likely to nobody’s surprise, Miller Grove comes in ranked No. 1 for the 2015-16 season. The Wolverines were denied a shot at a seventh straight state championship when they were unceremoniously dispatched by Warner Robins in the quarterfinals in overtime, 63-57. It was a rematch of the 2013-14 championship game in which the Wolverines routed the Demons 70-43. Even though last season was a disappointment in terms of Coach Sherman White’s lofty standards, Miller Grove still managed a 27-4 record. This year’s edition of Miller Grove might not have a true go-to post presence, but they will have one of the deepest backcourts in the state. UConn-commit and First Team All-State selection Alterique Gilbert runs the show after averaging 17.7 points, 6.0 assists and 5.4 steals his junior campaign. Joining him will be transfers Aaron Augustin (Peachtree Ridge), Tae Hardy (Southwest DeKalb) and Colin Young (Laney), three highly talented guards. Augustin averaged 16.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists as a junior and has committed to play college ball at East Tennessee State. Hardy jumps across the county after pouring in 16.5 points a night as a sophomore. Young, a 6-foot-3 guard, was named Region 3-AAA Second Team after pitching in 11 points per game. The senior is a knockdown shooter who led the Laney Wildcats with 49 threes, connecting at a 46% clip. He will get plenty of opportunities to spot up with Gilbert and Augustin running the show up top. Senior forwards Raylon Richardson and Aidan Saunders bring length and versatility to the table. A potential game-changer may be junior Joshua Jackmon, a big-bodied guard who turned heads with his physical defense this summer.
Balance. That is what you get with No. 2 McIntosh. The Chiefs are ready to challenge for a state championship after finishing 29-1 with their only loss coming to M.L. King 66-65 in the Sweet Sixteen after point guard Will Washington broke his wrist after having a layup blocked and coming down hard on it. With Washington healthy and every key piece returning, Coach Jason Eisele’s bunch is in great shape, loaded with experienced seniors. Washington is one of the best passers in the state and runs the high-powered Chief offense to perfection. He averaged 12.7 points, 9.3 assists and 1.9 steals in 2014. The go-to guy on offense is Furman-commit Jordan Lyons, a lethal shooter and more importantly scorer. Lyons shot an absurd 66% from inside the arc (127-of-193), 87% from the line (203-of-234) and 45% from distance (95-of-211) en route to averaging 24.7 points. The Chiefs have the size inside as well to pair with the potent outside duo. Seniors Chase Walter and Dishon Lowery are dynamic inside. At 6-foot-6, 215 pounds, Walter carves space down low and finishes at the rim (69%). He averaged 10.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks a season ago. Lowery, another 6-foot-6 forward, has a non-stop motor and a great afro. He averaged 10.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks to anchor a stingy interior defense. Sliding into the three-spot will be senior forward Isaac Kellum, who comes over from Fayette County where he chipped in 13.8 points per game. His 6-foot-4 length should thrive in McIntosh’s efficient offense and tough defense.
No. 3 Gainesville had a disappointing end to the 2014 season. The Red Elephants entered the Region 8-AAAAA tournament at 23-2 but lost to Cedar Shoals in the semifinals and then were blown out by Apalachee 78-44, giving Gainesville the No. 4 seed in the state playoffs after winning the regular season region title at 12-1. In round one of the playoffs Gainesville slipped by North Atlanta by two but lost to Jones County 65-64 in round two. This experienced squad should improve upon last year’s 25-5 record and contend deep into the playoffs. Senior forward D’Marcus Simonds decommitted from Mississippi State and will head to Georgia State following his senior season. Coach Benjie Wood has a nice blend of youth and veterans for this year. KJ Buffen is an extremely talented sophomore forward, who had a great offseason whereas Messiah Dorsey is a reliable senior guard. Sophomore guard Xavier Bledson had some big games as a freshman and will help round out a talented lineup. Gainesville will need to replace 6-foot-10 center Tyler Scott in the middle.
No. 4 Allatoona enjoyed a 29-3 season and an appearance in the state championship game, but struggled to get anything going against the bigger Brunswick Pirates. The Buccaneers lose top offensive threats Bradley Brevet and All-State Second Teamer Rodney Brown, but return an extremely talented and savvy backcourt in senior guards Kevin Perry and Ephraim Tshimanga along with sophomore Trey Doomes. Tshimanga’s recruitment has heated up over the summer as defensive playmaker who makes all the right decisions on offense. Perry is another good decision maker who can hit an open shot while Doomes has the upside to be special in Coach Markus Hood’s system. Senior Dylon Ramsey is another player to keep an eye on. The 6-foot-1 guard can do a little bit of everything on the floor. The Bucs have been as dominant as they come in the regular season, compiling a 95-10 record and a perfect 57-0 mark in region play since 2011-12.
Brunswick finally got the respect it deserved as the Pirates captured the state title last season over Allatoona, 49-32. This year they will open at No. 5 after losing three big components to their 29-2 title team. Double-double machine and AJC Class 5A Player of the Year Roger Davis, Jabril Heck and Darius Lampkin have all graduated, but centerpiece junior Kymani Dunham returns. The unmovable 6-foot-7, 240-pound center dominated in the state championship, scoring 14 points and grabbing 9 rebounds while shooting 7-of-8 from the field. Dunham’s recruitment will begin to heat up this year as he takes the next step into becoming one of the state’s best big men. Coach Chris Turner will need to find consistency to add around Dunham. Depth is an issue as only five players scored in the state championship. Of those five players, only Dunham and senior guard Zach Moore are back for 2015.
Mike Pauley has stepped down as head coach, but former LaGrange assistant Mark Veal slides over a chair and inherits the No. 6 ranked team in the state. The Grangers burst onto the scene back in 2010 when LaGrange went 31-0 before falling to Columbia 54-46 in the state championship. Last season’s team finished 22-8 and fell 47-45 to Allatoona in the quarterfinals. Coach Veal will have one of the best backcourts in the classification to rely on in seniors Rico Smith, Qua Epps and Mike Hardy to go along with the dangerous Laperion Perry, who is only a junior. Smith garnered AJC All-State Second Team honors and has sights set on going out with a bang his senior year. If the Grangers can find steady production inside to pair with their outstanding guard play, Coach Veal might be in-line for a very successful first season.
Ding-dong the witch is dead. No. 7 Warner Robins slayed the mighty dragon that is Miller Grove in a stunning quarterfinal overtime victory. The Demons finished 25-5 before faltering against Allatoona in the semifinals, 63-39. Some important pieces have graduated, but postseason hero and two-sport star Marquez Callaway is back for one last run. Callaway, an AJC All-State Second Team selection, sank 17-of-17 freethrows en route to 24 points to knock off the Wolverines. Donovan Brown, a 6-foot-8 forward, also returns for his final season and is a key cog in Coach Jamaal Garman’s defensive and offensive scheme. Garman still needs to replace Nate Curtis, Stephon Raybon and 6-foot-7 center Donald Watkins if the Demons want to have another magical postseason run.
If for some reason you were sleeping on No. 8 Heritage-Conyers last season, you won’t this season. Coach Vernon Denmark’s team finished 20-10 and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs before losing at LaGrange 65-52. A 56-53 win over Tucker (29-3) to usher in the New Year should have alerted the rest of the state of the Patriots’ presence. A trio of playmaking juniors lift Heritage into the top 10. Isaiah Banks is a 6-foot-4 guard that averaged 12.3 points and 5.6 rebounds last year. Banks is prime to explode this season and see his recruitment take off. Running mate Jordan Thomas pitched in 10.6 points while Byron Abrams filled the stat sheet week-in and week-out with 7.1 points, 3.4 assists and 3.5 rebounds a night. Senior Makyle Wilkerson can be a game changer with his size at 6-foot-6. He averaged 9.8 points and 7.7 rebounds and still has room to grow defensively.
Coach Dennis Woolfolk has a very good bunch returning for No. 9 Jones County. The Greyhounds’ top six scorers all return, with five of them now seniors. Jones County ended the season 21-10 and showed their guts and guile in the postseason, picking up wins over Harris County 75-73 in overtime and Gainesville 65-64, before falling to eventual state champ Brunswick in the quarterfinals, 59-49. Senior guard Devin Wooten can fill it up from deep and led the Hounds in scoring with 14.8 points a night while chipping in 3.3 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals. Junior Nick Singleton was the team’s second leading scorer at 10.3 points and also dished out 4.2 assists and collected 2.3 steals. Landrevius Bowden, Jayvaugn Patterson, Jerry Stephens and Anthony Parker give Coach Woolfolk a plethora of options to turn to. One achilles heel however might be the Hounds’ lack of true size.
After just a 14-win season in 2013, the No. 10 Cedar Shoals Jaguars made a deep run into the state tournament before bowing out in the semifinals to Brunswick, 44-43. D’andre Mahaffey came up with big shot after big shot, but has since graduated. In his place it will be Phlandrous Fleming to take the final shot. Only a junior, Fleming has seen his recruitment pick up after a strong season playing shooting guard. At 6-foot-3, his athleticism and length gives him the ability to guard any position one through three. Florida A&M is the first team to offer Coach L’Dreco Thomas’ top cat. Cedar Shoals will be in the hunt to make state again depending on the growth of senior guard Jerrick Mitchell and junior forward Stavion Stevenson, who both played big roles in the Jags’ Cinderella run.