St. Pius looks golden behind Kerney Lane and brothers

“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 crowd’s big, his game rises.”

That is what St. Pius X Head Coach Aaron Parr said at DeKalb County Media Day of senior forward Kerney Lane. The Golden Lions, coming off of a school-record 25-win season and a Sweet 16 appearance, have relied heavily on the southpaw since he moved to town for his junior season.

Born in San Luis Obispo, California, his mother elected to move the family to the East coast to be closer to relatives. It turned out to be a good decision and a blessing for the Golden Lions as Lane earned First Team All-Region honors last year and now has St. Pius at 17-2 and ranked No. 3 in Class AAAA.

Windermere Prep Rock Holiday Classic All-Tournament Team
Windermere Prep Rock Holiday Classic All-Tournament Team

Going from California to possibly the toughest region in the state, Lane explained that the competition in Georgia is a bit fiercer.

“In California I went to a small catholic school with like 400 kids and we played other catholic schools that were around the same size,” said Kerney. “So I’d say that the competition here is a little more competitive just because of people being taller and more athletic. Just the skill of play is probably a lot higher because Atlanta is obviously a big city.”

King of the Jungle

Playing in Region 6 means there are no days off. Entering the season, four teams were ranked among the top ten. Fast forward to Week 9 and the Region boasts No. 2 Lithonia, No. 3 St. Pius and No. 4 Grady, with Lithonia and Grady both holding the No. 1 spot in the state for multiple weeks.

The Golden Lions have never been known as a high-flying act or a power plant for Division-I talent, so how have they been able to compete with the likes of Lithonia and Grady with Bucknell-commit Avi Toomer and even a prestigious program such as Columbia?

“Focusing on details has put us in a great position,” said Lane of the Golden Lions’ current 42-7 two-year span. “I think we’re a very respectful team because of our defense and how we shoot the ball and how we play well in big moments. Last year we had the most wins Pius has ever had because we did the small things.”

Simply put, with all the success St. Pius has had, it all boils down to one thing.

“It has a lot to do with our coaches and our players all wanting the same thing, which is to win. I think that Coach Parr has set us up for each of us to succeed in the right moment.”

The smooth lefty has averaged 18.5 points and 7 rebounds per game this season, meaning he is St. Pius’ go-to guy on offense; a role Kerney embraces.

“I’m a really big competitor. I just think that when my team needs me, I’ll step up for them. I’ll do whatever it takes to win. So if that means me scoring a lot, I’ll do that. If it means me passing or making big plays for someone else or finding someone else then I’ll do that. I think it’s just whatever my team needs me to do, I’ll do.”



Overcoming Adversity

A player with the right size and versatile skillset to score either inside or outside is something college programs crave. So why is one of the Peach state’s best unsigned seniors still available? During the travel season with the Atlanta All-Stars Lane tore his meniscus in June which caused him to miss some time during the hotly recruited summer months. The adversity of the slight setback did not hinder Lane’s ability to stay positive and work his knee back into shape. With the numbers he is producing his senior year, no one can question that Kerney is back to 100 percent.


Programs such as Elon, Holy Cross and UNC-Asheville have remained in touch with Lane and have shown interest while Georgia College and North Georgia have put forth offers for the 6-foot-6 forward’s services.

“It’s been difficult at times but I think that by working hard and playing well, coaches will remain in contact,” said Kerney of his recruitment process which has slowly began to heat up.

Parr’s Purpose

One person Lane has leaned heavily on during the recruitment process and who has helped guide Kerney into becoming a better player is Coach Aaron Parr. A Class of ‘06 graduate from St. Pius and the school’s all-time leading scorer, Parr is a young head coach who already is in year five at his Alma Mater after finishing his playing career at Birmingham-Southern.

Coach Parr on stage with Kerney and Christian Merrill
Coach Parr on stage with Kerney and Christian Merrill

His youth and relatability has helped form a close bond between him and his players.

“He has helped me a lot,” said Kerney. “He’s taught me a lot because he’s a younger coach and he’s went through the same thing I have. He’s familiar with AAU and that whole situation, so he’s kind of helped me with getting coaches in the gym and how to react to coaches and respond to them.”

Lane and the entire St. Pius team has a chance to make a statement and gain some exposure as they travel to Norcross High School this Saturday to take part in the Peachtree Corners Invitational (formerly Hilton Invitational). The Golden Lions meet Mountain Brook High School out of Birmingham, Alabama.  The Spartans boast 6-foot-7 freshman Trendon Watford, a five-star prospect and younger brother of former Indiana University standout, Christian Watford. The younger Watford averages 24.5 points and 11.1 rebounds and will likely be locked up with Lane all game long.

With countless college coaches on hand for the day long tournament, Kerney and the rest of the Golden Lions remain focused on getting better each day and not letting the potential pressure of hundreds of eyes watching get to them.

“It’s a non-region game so we kind of look at it more as an opportunity to get better. At every game there could be a lot of coaches, but I think we have to just treat every game like the last one and play hard and try to win every game. I don’t focus on the other stuff.”

Family Ties

Kerney is not the only Lane on the St. Pius roster. Young brother Everett is a 6-foot-2 sophomore who has seen his role and playing time grow each week. At first the idea of playing with his brother was a little different, but now the elder Lane has come to embrace it.

Everett pictured in middle
Everett pictured in middle

“It’s actually been a lot of fun. I was kind of expecting it to be a little annoying at first just because he’s a brother and I’ve been playing with him since I was a little kid, but it’s always been not fun and games, it’s been extremely competitive,” explained Kerney.  “It’s actually been a really big help because we both know each other’s strengths and weaknesses to a point. I think we are both really good when we are on the floor together and he’s having a great year so far. He’s a really good teammate so it’s been a fun experience having us both out there.”

Kerney actually isn’t the oldest brother, the eldest being 22-year-old Arthur who resides in Charleston, South Carolina. Arthur is as proud an older brother as they come, always watching St. Pius games on his computer and supporting his two siblings from over 300 miles away.

“It’s been great,” said Kerney. “He watches all the games online. He’s been an incredible supporter and extremely helpful with things that he sees on film. He is very good with making sure my image is right. He’s very committed to it and I really appreciate that.”

Kerney, with the support of his family along with his teammates and Coach Parr, has put St. Pius into the limelight as a state title contender.  Battling past his minor summer setback, Lane looks to be a lock to follow in his coach’s footsteps and become a gem for any college program that offers him a scholarship.

Class AAAAAA Region Run Down


Region 1

         Team                            Overall      Region
   No. 4 Tift County          17-2            3-0     
Lee County                       8-11             2-2
Colquitt County            3-12             2-2
Valdosta                             8-11            1-2 
Lowndes                             12-9             1-3  

No. 4 Tift County will likely go undefeated in South Georgia and wrap up the No. 1 seed out of Region 1. Bad news came down earlier this week as leading scorer, 6-foot-6 junior forward Preston Horne went down with an ACL injury and is having surgery. The big man averaged 16.9 points and 8.1 rebounds. Senior point guard Tyrie “Pig” Jackson is still in the fold and will be enough to keep the Blue Devils undefeated in region play. He’s posting 15.7 points a night. 6-foot-4 junior Fred Lloyd has filled in for Horne and will be an important piece moving forward.

Region 2

    Team                         Overall             Region
Tucker                         16-4                 6-0
No. 6 Newton             17-2                 5-1
Rockdale County   10-10               3-3
Lakeside                      13-6                 4-4
Lovejoy                       6-12                 2-4
Alcovy                          3-16                 0-6

Region 2 will come down to No. 6 Newton and perennial power Tucker. Newton hosts the Tigers this Friday in a critical rematch. The Rams shot 7-of-18 from the line in a 57-56 loss at Tucker earlier in the season. Coach Rick Rasmussen’s three-headed backcourt consisting of leading scorer junior JD Notate, senior Jaquan Simms and freshman Ashton Hagans has the Rams off to one of their best starts in school history, while 6-foot-5 sophomore DeAndrae Butler has given the perimeter oriented Rams legitimacy inside. Tucker has survived a potentially down-year thanks to junior Kenton Eskridge. The bowling ball guard has been the heart and soul of the team, getting every big bucket the Tigers need. Norcross transfer Amir Butcher and power forward Adonis Green have helped carry the load. Rockdale County likely won’t win the region, but they can play spoiler. They lost 61-58 at home vs Tucker and last week 64-63 at Tucker. Newton survived the Bulldogs in overtime, 99-94.

Region 3

          Team                          Overall             Region
No. 1 Westlake             13-2                 8-0
No. 7 Pebblebrook      13-7                 8-1
Douglas County            10-9                 5-4
Campbell                          13-5                 4-4
South Cobb                     12-7                 3-5
Langston Hughes        10-8                 3-5
Newnan                             9-10                 2-6
East Coweta                    4-15                 0-8

Thought to be the state’s most talented region, Region 2 hasn’t disappointed. No. 1 Westlake has fended off all challengers and hasn’t suffered an in-state loss yet. The transfer of Chuma Okeke to Westlake from Langston Hughes has successfully shifted the balance of power along with Ronald Bell jumping aboard from North Atlanta. No. 7 Pebblebrook started off the season shaky with defensive issues, but Coach George Washington has tightened the screws and the Falcons have begun getting stops when needed. Hillgrove transfer junior Collin Sexton and Auburn signee Jared Harper have formed one of the most explosive backcourts in years with both players averaging over 27 points per game. UNC signee Brandon Robinson has had a monstrous year pouring in over 25 points a night, but aside from an upset of 5A power McIntosh at Holiday Hoopsgiving in November, the Tigers have struggled against top tier competition. South Cobb and Campbell are both extremely dangerous with their abilities to score while Langston Hughes looks to control tempo and work for good shots as Khalil Cuffee and Derrick Cook power a talented backcourt.

Region 4

               Team                                Overall             Region
No. 8 McEachern                     16-3                 9-0
North Cobb                                 11-9                 7-2
Kennesaw Mountain                10-8               4-4
Osborne                                               4-9              4-4
Marietta                                          10-9                 4-5
Harrison                                          10-10               3-6
Hillgrove                                           9-10                 3-6
North Paulding                              7-13                 1-8

With Hillgrove’s downfall after the departure of Collin Sexton, Region 4 has become watered down and statistically the worst region in the state with no team looking like they can challenge No. 8 McEachern for the No. 1 seed. Length, athleticism and youth have propelled the Indians. Bryce Smith is quick inside and physical on the glass. Isaac Okoro, a 6-foot-5 freshman, has designs on going D1 and has displayed a diverse skillset that helps McEachern all over the floor. Isaac Martin is another freshman that has cut his teeth this year, sinking huge three-pointers late in the fourth quarter to help the Indians snag a signature win over McIntosh at the Lake City Classic. Seniors AJ Jones and Darius Jones give opposing guards fits with their speed and decision making. North Cobb is McEachern’s biggest threat with Kenny Ume and DJ Render, but the Warriors already suffered a 61-43 loss at McEachern on Dec. 14.

Region 5

           Team                        Overall           Region
No. 3 Wheeler             14-5                 10-0
Milton                         12-6                 9-1
Etowah                        10-9                 6-5
Pope                            9-9                   5-5
Woodstock                  10-9                 6-6
Cherokee                     9-11                 5-6
Roswell                       9-12                 5-7
Walton                         7-12                 3-9
Lassiter                         2-16                 0-10

The once proud Region 5 has drooped this season. Milton, with its slew of transfers, has been among the state’s biggest disappointments. The talent is there for Milton to be a top 10 team, but for some reason it just hasn’t come together. If the Eagles can’t get it together, No. 3 Wheeler will waltz into the state tournament with a No. 1 seed, looking to repeat as state champs. One storyline to keep an eye on is Woodstock’s vast improvement. Head Coach Kingston Clark is in his first season at the helm after stops at Pierce County, Lowndes and Cross Keys. Since the program began in 1996, the Wolverines have never made the state playoffs and their last winning record came in 2010, a 16-10 mark. A big part of Woodstock’s improvement has been the play of 6-foot-4 junior guard Tyreke Johnson, who gives the Wolverines their first true go-to player since 2012-13 when 6-foot-7 power forward Matt Scott roamed the paint.

Region 6

       Team                      Overall            Region
Lambert                       18-2                 13-0
Johns Creek               18-2                 12-1
Centennial                  11-10               9-4    
Alpharetta                   7-12                 7-5
Chattahoochee          11-8                 6-7
North Forsyth             6-11                 5-7
South Forsyth             9-11                 5-8
West Forsyth               5-15                 3-10
Northview                     6-14                 3-10
Habersham Central     3-17                 1-12     

In years past, Region 6 has come into question whether its top teams are legitimate title contenders or not. When Lambert fell from the top ten after a 73-37 spanking at the hands of No. 8 McEachern at the Lake City Classic, I thought I had my answer. But a 93-67 bounce back win over a struggling, yet talented Milton team, made me change my mind again. The Longhorns might not win the state championship, but Head Coach Scott Bracco has a deep team with a ton of options that can compete with anyone in the state. 6-foot-7 twin towers Connor Mannion (Navy) and Ross Morkem (North Georgia) are tough to handle inside and can manhandle opposing teams on the glass. Shooting guard Tanner Hall and point guard Andrew Melms are both threats to go off any night and the improvement of sophomore Austin Deckard from deep gives Bracco five sturdy options. It is no doubt a two horse race in this region with Johns Creek emerging as one of the state’s best turnarounds, improving from 14-15 last year to 18-2 this season, the school’s most wins in a season by far. The Gladiators’ only losses have come to Brookwood 65-62 in overtime in the Deep South Classic and at Lambert 64-53. Coach Pete Goggin’s roster is heavy on upperclassmen. Seniors Mark Lancaster (15.1), Mason Henkel (13.3) and Ian Joseph (9.6) lead the way for Johns Creek. Another senior, Miles Clay, also averages over nine a night.

Region 7

          Team                     Overall           Region
No. 2 Norcross            17-2                 9-0
Duluth                              13-6                 7-1
No. 10 Collins Hill      16-3                 6-3
Peachtree Ridge          11-8                 5-3
Mountain View           12-8                 3-6
Mill Creek                       10-9                 3-6
Meadowcreek              6-13                 1-8
North Gwinnett          4-14                 1-8

No. 2 Norcross edged No. 10 Collins Hill 50-48 last night at home to all but eliminate the Eagles from taking the top seed in the region unless both Norcross and Duluth falter. Speaking of Duluth, Coach Eddie Hood preached “addition by subtraction” after losing Anthony Showell (St. Francis) and AJ Cheeseman (Collins Hill) to transfers in the offseason. Only three seniors are now on the roster. Javis Diaz leads the team in scoring with over 15 points per game while Obinna Ofodile has continued to control the paint both on the boards and with his shot blocking ability. Sophomores Will Huzzie, Adam Flagler and mid-season addition Lamont Smith have provided fire power. 6-foot-10 freshman Alex Powell has continued to improve and gives Hood possibly the best inside length in the state. The Wildcats lost to Norcross 69-53 on Jan. 8 and get their next crack on Feb. 2 at Norcross. Mountain View, coming off a 6-20 year, has been a pleasant surprise with 12 wins and a nucleus of young players that will only improve. Peachtree Ridge has been sneaky good behind Markel McCollum, Jeremiah Starks and Milz Tatum.

Region 8

      Team                          Overall          Region
No. 5 Shiloh                 14-4                 8-2
No. 9 Dacula                14-4                 7-2
Berkmar                         12-7                 7-3
Grayson                         16-3                 7-3
Brookwood                 14-5                 6-4
Central Gwinnett     8-8                   5-5
Parkview                       8-10                 2-7
Archer                           6-13                1-9
South Gwinnett        5-13                 1-9

Last night’s 61-58 Central Gwinnett upset of No. 2 Shiloh has shaken the region and even the state picture to its core as the balance of power in Gwinnett County has shifted from Region 7 last year to Region 8 this year. Shiloh has now lost two straight region games, the first coming on Jan. 16 at No. 9 Dacula, 66-57. Before the Dacula loss Shiloh’s last in-state regular season defeat was on Feb. 7, 2014 at Archer. The last time the Generals lost back-to-back region games? It’s been over five years. There is now a log jam atop the standings with all four teams in the mix, with Brookwood waiting in the weeds as one of the most dangerous teams in the region. Shiloh (Josh Okogie – GT), Dacula (Kevon Tucker – Wofford) and Berkmar (Al Durham – Indiana) all have D1 star power. Grayson relies on Alphonso Willis and Austin Dukes, two tough as nails guards, while Brookwood has a mixture of youth and upperclassmen making contributions. Bubba Parham, a junior, leads the Broncos in scoring at 16 per. Senior point guard Micah Kinsey is the engine for Coach Daniel Bowles, posting 11.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 7.4 assists and 4.3 steals per contest. Sean Agnant, Trae Higginbotham and 6-foot-7 sophomore Amari Kelly round out the Brookwood balance.

Double-tech does in No. 4 Gainesville at No. 3 Wheeler

No. 3 Wheeler 82, No. 4 Gainesville 69

D'Marcus Simonds was TwoSpicee at times for Wheeler
D’Marcus Simonds was TwoSpicee at times for Wheeler

A controversial double-technical spoiled what was an outstanding game on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as No. 3 Wheeler held off No. 4 Gainesville 82-69.

Gainesville (11-4) entered with just one actual loss and two via forfeit at Lanierland while Wheeler (14-5) strolled in with five straight wins. The litmus test that followed was as stiff as any in the state could face; the feisty Red Elephants at the six-time state champs, highlighted by last season’s 6A title team.

Wheeler entered the game without Cam Jordan at forward, leaving much work to do for the supporting cast. The Wildcats got everything and more from Makhai Eastmond and Kenny Aninye. Eastmond scored 13 points – nine in the first half – while Aninye netted 14 and grabbed six rebounds in his new found starting role. The 13-point final score was not a reflection of how the game unfolded however.

Georgia State signee D’Marcus Simonds started the three-point barrage by hitting Messiah Dorsey to open the game. The Red Elephants sank five threes in the opening period, two apiece via Michael White and Dorsey. Gainesville would finish with seven triples in the first half, but only added one more to the tally in the second half.

While the Elephants were bombing from deep, Darius Perry and unsung hero Makhai Eastmond kept the Wildcats afloat. Perry scored seven of his game-high 21 in the opening period while Eastmond hit two threes to help the ‘Cats head into the second quarter down 19-18.

Darius Perry made all the big plays when Wheeler needed them
Darius Perry made all the big plays when Wheeler needed them

Wheeler opened the second quarter on a quick 7-0 spurt and at the 6:12 mark now up 25-19 after taking their first lead of the game with 7:11 to play, Simonds picked up his third foul. The Wildcats extended their run to 16-to-4 before Simonds checked back in, the Elephants now trailing 34-23 with 3:50 remaining in the first half. Everything seemed to click whenever Simonds was on the floor and while Georgia Tech signee Romello White took a breather on the bench, Gainesville began to attack the basket. Tae Turner, who scored all 10 of his points in the first half, drove for an And-1 and cut the Wildcat lead to 36-30 with 2:06 left.

Momentum swung back into Wheeler’s favor when Perry drilled a straight away three at the buzzer to give the host Wildcats a 43-36 edge heading into the half.

With Simonds back on the floor, Gainesville made another push. He threw down a dunk in transition then added another bucket in the open floor to make it 47-44 before picking up his fourth foul 30 seconds later at the 4:31 mark.

The pesky Eastmond hit a jumper to stabilize things for Wheeler and would spark an 11-5 run to open up a 58-49 lead with 1:29 to play in the third. Then Simonds checked in. The 6-foot-4 guard willed his team back into the game. Within seconds of re-entering, Simonds picked up an assist, hitting Dorsey for a three and then picked Eastmond’s pocket for a layup to bring the score to 60-54. With seconds remaining and Wheeler holding for a last shot, Simonds played the passing lane, picked off a pass and exploded for a thunderous two-handed jam right before the horn to close the gap to 60-58 entering the fourth. His return to the floor ignited an 11-0 run and gave the Red Elephants all the momentum early in the final period as Gainesville had finally caught up to the Wildcats after Simonds came away with another theft up front and boomed home another slam.

On the next possession, Wheeler was sent to the line. The crowd and Simonds still amped up about the dunk, during the free throw attempts on the other side of the court Eastmond and Simonds were jawing. Simonds, known for his fiery play and emotions, finished the back-and-forth with Eastmond and began walking up to the other side of the floor to get ready for the second free throw. While Simonds approached the play, Eastmond followed close behind… a little too close for the referees as they blew a double-technical. With the game tied at 60 with 7:30 remaining and in the midst of an 11-0 run, Simonds was fouled out on the tech.

Simonds’ final line in limited action read: 14 points, four rebounds, six assists and five steals. With the playmaker fouling out, Gainesville had to turn to Dorsey and Michael White. The two combined for nine points in the quarter, but Gainesville would be outscored 22-to-9 with Simonds fouled out.

Anyine scored five consecutive points to push Wheeler’s lead to 71-67 with 2:54 remaining before Romello White finally began to wear down the smaller Elephant frontline. He scored back-to-back And-1s and sparked a 14-2 run to end the game.

My Take: Gainesville looked as if it were going to live and die by the three-pointer early on in the game but the Red Elephants kept coming even with D’Marcus Simonds saddled with foul trouble. A lack of elite size inside hurt Gainesville, who used a frontline of 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6 to try and counter Romello White’s legit 6-foot-8. Sophomore KJ Buffen, who is more of a three, battled valiantly alongside fellow sophomore Bailey Minor against White. Buffen showed flashes offensively with his 12 points, but struggled from the line going 4-of-11 including 0-for-4 in the fourth quarter. Michael White and Messiah Dorsey stretched the defense with their shooting and are great pieces around Simonds. Tae Turner played well with 10 points in the first half, but went scoreless in the second half. Minor blocked four shots, but was never able to establish himself offensively on the low block. Simonds was the best player on the floor today with his explosiveness and quick hands. His plus/minus numbers were through the roof. You take the good with the bad with the caliber of player he is. Some people might classify him as a hot-head with his demeanor on the court, but I liked his emotion and didn’t think any of it was over the top. To be blunt, the referees really botched the double-technical. It didn’t look as if any stern warnings were given and they blew the whistle on a costly interaction which took place in the heat of the moment. Gainesville deserves its top five ranking and will be a scary team to deal with in the AAAAA state tournament.

Wheeler found a way to win without Cam Jordan. As good as Simonds was, Perry was just as good but without the flash. He consistently got big buckets for the Wildcats and went 8-of-8 from the line. Game-ball might have to go to Makhai Eastmond. He is the weakest link for Wheeler but he stepped up big time and played one of his best games, hitting two big threes in the first quarter while Gainesville was on fire and later on baiting Simonds into his fifth foul. Kenny Aninye also played a great game and picked his spots when to attack. His 5-point spurt in the fourth helped give the Wildcats the lead for good. Romello White slammed the door shut with his size as Wheeler began to pound it down low. White posted back-to-back And-1s in the fourth, with the first coming the hard way, cleaning up a miss and powering up strong. He scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter and finished 5-of-8 from the line for the game. Al-Wajid Aminu didn’t have a ton of jaw dropping plays, but boy does the North Florida signee have a motor that doesn’t quit. He is always around the ball when it comes off the rim and is a glue guy that does the little things on defense. He finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Top Performers

Darius Perry – 21 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists
Romello White – 15 points, 15 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 2 blocks
Kenny Aninye – 14 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal
Makhai Eastmond – 13 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist
Al-Wajid Aminu – 11 points, 10 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block

D’Marcus Simonds – 14 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 steals
Michael White – 14 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block
Messiah Dorsey – 14 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists
KJ Buffen – 12 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block
Tae Turner – 10 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists, 1 steal
Bailey Minor – 5 points, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, 4 blocks

Week 9 Rankings


  1. Westlake (13-2)
  2. Norcross (16-2)
  3. Wheeler (13-5)
  4. Tift County (17-2)
  5. Shiloh (14-3)
  6. Newton (16-2)
  7. Pebblebrook (12-7)
  8. McEachern (15-3)
  9. Dacula (13-4)
  10. Collins Hill (16-2)


  1. Miller Grove (17-2)
  2. Allatoona (18-0)
  3. McIntosh (16-2)
  4. Gainesville (11-3)
  5. Cedar Shoals (19-2)
  6. Riverwood (19-1)
  7. South Paulding (15-3)
  8. Warner Robins (12-2)
  9. Southwest DeKalb (16-3)
  10. Effingham County (15-3)

Class AAAA

  1. Jonesboro (16-3)
  2. Lithonia (14-4)
  3. St. Pius (16-2)
  4. Grady (16-2)
  5. Liberty County (15-1)
  6. Eagle’s Landing (18-1)
  7. Upson-Lee (15-3)
  8. Walnut Grove (17-2)
  9. Thomson (14-3)
  10. Worth County (12-3)

Class AAA

  1. Morgan County (15-3)
  2. Jenkins (15-2)
  3. Calhoun (16-0)
  4. South Atlanta (14-4)
  5. Laney (15-2)
  6. Central-Macon (16-2)
  7. Westminster (17-2)
  8. Callaway (9-3)
  9. Westside-Augusta (10-2)
  10. Banks County (17-2)

Class AA

  1. Thomasville (18-1)
  2. Seminole County (13-4)
  3. Vidalia (16-2)
  4. Crawford County (14-2)
  5. Pace Academy (7-8)
  6. Lovett (12-4)
  7. Chattooga (18-1)
  8. GAC (12-7)
  9. Dublin (14-3)
  10. Holy Innocents’ (13-5)

Class A-Private

  1. Greenforest (17-1)
  2. St. Francis (13-5)
  3. North Cobb Christian (14-3)
  4. SWAC (11-8)
  5. Lakeview Academy (15-4)
  6. Our Lady of Mercy (13-3)
  7. Whitefield Academy (11-7)
  8. St. Anne-Pacelli (13-5)
  9. Stratford Academy (12-3)
  10. Hebron Christian Academy (14-4)

Class A-Public

  1. Treutlen (15-1)
  2. Hancock Central (12-4)
  3. Wilkinson County (12-5)
  4. Atkinson County (13-3)
  5. Turner County (12-5)
  6. Taylor County (10-6)
  7. Lincoln County (11-4)
  8. Hawkinsville (9-5)
  9. Randolph-Clay (13-6)
  10. Calhoun County (10-7)

If there was ever any question as to if No. 1 Westlake deserved the top spot in Class AAAAAA, there shouldn’t be anymore. The Lions picked up a 76-70 win at No. 7 Pebblebrook to remain undefeated in Region 3 and more importantly, the state of Georgia. Chuma Okeke and Ronald Bell posted double-doubles with 19 points and 15 rebounds and 18 points and 16 rebounds respectively as they exploited the smaller Falcons. Auburn signee Jared Harper was held in check with just 23 points. Shiloh slips three spots to No. 5 after suffering their first in-state regular season loss since Feb. 7, 2014 (Archer) as No. 9 Dacula scored a huge 66-57 win at home and in the process finds itself back in the top ten. The Generals falling three spots isn’t meant to be a harsh punishment or to say Shiloh isn’t one of the state’s elite teams, it is just a credit to how well Norcross, Wheeler and Tift County are playing, making the slightest of slip ups costly. No. 6 Newton has hung around the bottom of the poll but has never dropped out and now finds itself cracking the glass ceiling and a spot away from being in the top five. Coach Rick Rasmussen’s Rams crushed Alcovy 120-51 behind Jaquan Simms’ career-high 30 points, JD Notae’s 24 and freshman Ashton Hagans’ 16 points and 10 assists. They followed it up on Saturday by spanking North Oconee 75-37. Grayson (15-3) slips out of the rankings due to Dacula’s impressive win and a 69-61 loss to Brookwood (13-5). The Broncos are in fifth-place in Region 8 with a 5-4 mark, but have impressive wins over Berkmar, White County, Johns Creek, 2ANo. 8 GAC, Heritage-Conyers and Grayson, making them one of the most dangerous teams in the state that has yet to hold a top ten ranking. Teams on the bubble of making the poll including Lambert (17-2), Johns Creek (17-2), Brookwood, Grayson and others, will have an eye on what No. 10 Collins Hill does on Tuesday at No. 2 Norcross. The Blue Devils blitzed the Eagles for a 93-72 win earlier in the year and another lopsided loss may knock Collins Hill from their perch in the poll.

Region 5’s finest went at it again in AAAAA and once again it was No. 2 Allatoona coming up big and extending its region dominance to 66-straight wins (now 67 after win over Lithia Springs on Saturday). The Bucs fended off host No. 7 South Paulding 53-44 after blasting them at home on Dec. 18, 65-46. Ephraim Tshimanga and Trey Doomes were too much up top. Tshimanga finished with 15 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals while Doomes went for 12 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals. Kane Williams of South Paulding was held to 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists. 6-foot-7 forward Ja’Cori Wilson scored 21 in the losing effort. No. 4 Gainesville steps into the limelight with a chance to make a statement in the state of Georgia as they play at 6A No. 3 Wheeler, the defending state champs, on MLK Day. The game was an in-season pick up after the Red Elephants lost three games due to their out of state mishap in Kentucky. Gainesville’s record may be 11-3, but they have only lost one game to Brentwood Academy (TN) in the King of the Bluegrass tournament while their other two losses came via forfeit in Lanierland. No. 5 Cedar Shoals won a thrilling game late Friday night against Heritage-Conyers, 54-51, after taking their first lead with just 6:06 left in regulation. Snipe Hall scored a game-high 16 points to lead the way while Phlan Fleming added 11. The loss was Heritage’s third straight. The Patriots (15-4) were ranked as high as No. 5 this year and were No. 7 last week, but losses to Rockdale County in overtime, Brookwood 96-68 and now Cedar Shoals has seen the talented group tumble out. Replacing them is No. 10 Effingham County, who debuts in the rankings. The Rebels have eight wins by six points or less and their three losses have come by a total of 10 points. They are in first-place in Region 3 at 8-0, but have four teams hot on their tracks, highlighted by defending state champion Brunswick (15-4) who has now won eight straight.

Spots 2-4 in Class AAAA belong to Region 6. No. 3 St. Pius jumps two spots after getting revenge against No. 4 Grady, 62-50 at the X-Dome. Christian Merrill scored a game-high 17 points, Jakob Spitzer posted 12 points, seven rebounds and three blocks and Kerney Lane notched 13 points to knock off Grady. Bucknell-commit Avi Toomer was held to 16 points in the loss. With the win, the Golden Lions now have a chance at a region title in the log-jammed standings. As it stands today, Grady is now tied (hold tie-breaker) at 11-1 with No. 2 Lithonia, while St. Pius slides in at 10-2. No. 6 Eagle’s Landing rallied from down 25-7 to edge No. 8 Walnut Grove 69-61. Freshman Chris Hood got hot and scored 23 in the win for the Eagles. No. 7 Upson-Lee has won nine in a row and hosts Perry (10-7, 7-0) on Friday to take first-place from the Panthers, who beat the Knights 68-63 earlier in the year for Upson-Lee’s only Region 2 loss. Sandy Creek (13-5) peaked at No. 5 early in the season but now finds itself on the outside looking in after a loss to Whitewater 56-54 sees them fall from No. 8 to unranked. Replacing the Patriots is No. 10 Worth County. The Rams opened the year at No. 7 but fell from the top ten in Week 4 and hadn’t returned until this week. Unsigned 6-foot-5 forward Brandon Moore has put up beastly numbers next to 6-foot-8 Auburn signee Anfernee McLemore. Moore went for 32 points and 10 rebounds in a 60-59 win over Monroe. He and McLemore make up most likely the toughest post duo in the state as Moore averages 22.4 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks while McLemore posts 15.2 points, 12.8 rebounds and 6.3 blocks through 12 games.

East Jackson (9-8) had a chance to prove it could hang with AAA No. 1 Morgan County, but once again it was the Bulldogs taking a bite out of the Eagles for a 75-56 win. Colin Hubbard recapped the action as Florida Atlantic commits Jailyn Ingram and DeVorious Brown were too much for the young birds. Something you haven’t heard in years: No. 5 Laney has dropped two of its last three games. Josey (7-8) upset the Wildcats 66-55 on Saturday led by Donald Jordan’s 17 points. No. 6 Central-Macon won a classic over Southwest-Macon (13-5) in double overtime, 80-76. Derrick Evans (23 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists) and juniors Kentravious Jones (19 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks) and Anterious McCoy (26 points, 8 rebounds) were too much for the Patriots and have formed possibly the most potent inside-out trio in the classification. The two hottest teams in the state? No. 3 Calhoun and No. 7 Westminster are both riding 16-game winning streaks. The Yellow Jackets buzzed Murray County 74-44 to remain undefeated. Ray Reeves poured in 24 points while Jireh Wilson (12) and Chapin Rierson (11) also scored in double figures for Coach Vince Layson’s always balanced attack.

In Class AA, No. 2 Seminole County swaps places with No. 1 Thomasville after an 82-69 slip to Bainbridge. Expect Seminole County and Thomasville to battle for No. 1 all season long. The two Region 1 foes meet again on Feb. 2, at Thomasville, the second to last game of the season. No. 3 Vidalia rises a spot after No. 4 Crawford County lost 98-80 to Northside-Warner Robins. The Indians also earned their rise by beating Long County 76-65 at Long County, knocking the Blue Tide (14-5) from the rankings temporarily. No. 5 Pace Academy might not be above .500, but they are peaking now that they are in Region 6 play. They dropped No. 6 Lovett 53-40 this past week. No. 10 Holy Innocents’ clings onto the top ten, but barely after taking a 77-37 thrashing at now No. 8 GAC. The Golden Bears have been banged up and the Spartans (7-1 in region) have found a new lease on life after some addition by subtraction, losing two of their best players. Early County instead of Holy Innocents’ drops from the rankings from No. 7 after a bad loss to Brooks County, 68-67. The Trojans are just 7-10 overall this season. No. 9 Dublin debuts in the poll after taking down Swainsboro 65-56 and are riding a seven-game win streak. On Tuesday the Fighting Irish host Houston County, who handed Dublin their first loss of the season 88-77 on Dec. 4.

No. 2 St. Francis is finally hitting its stride in Class A-Private. Kobi Simmons poured in 34 points at the HoopHall Classic to defeat Lone Peak (UT) 94-92 in double overtime. Chance Anderson added 24 in the win. The win is a big one as Lone Peak is one of two out-of-state teams that has handed 5A No. 1 Miller Grove a loss, 73-71 at the Shootout earlier this season. After the game, Simmons announced that he will be heading to Arizona to play college basketball, ending the long courtship of the 5-star guard. He and Alterique Gilbert of Miller Grove both were selected Sunday night to play in the McDonald’s All-American game. Elsewhere in the state, newly minted No. 10 Hebron Christian has a chance to pick up a signature win over No. 5 Lakeview Academy. Lakeview currently is 7-0 in Region 8 while Hebron is 6-0. The two teams meet at Lakeview on Tuesday.

Class A-Public’s hottest team outside of No. 1 Treutlen is No. 2 Hancock Central, who rides an eight-game win streak. No. 5 Turner County is also red-hot, rising five spots on its seven-game winning streak. No. 9 Randolph-Clay has fallen six spots after losses to Stewart County and Early County. Mitchell County (9-6) drops out of the top ten after losses to Westover and Quitman County. No. 10 now belongs to defending state champion Calhoun County. The Cougars have won three in a row and are 8-3 in Region 1.

No. 1 Morgan County handles East Jackson

*Guest contribution from Colin Hubbard (@__Chubs__)

No. 1 Morgan County 75, East Jackson 56

The Morgan County Bulldogs (15-3, 7-0) have been a powerhouse in AAA high school basketball for quite some time now, but their 2015-16 squad could be their best team yet. After knocking off the No.1 ranked Laney Wildcats last week, the Bulldogs moved into the No.1 spot and hosted an up-and-coming East Jackson (9-8, 4-3) team on Friday that was hungry for a statement win. Morgan County and East Jackson have been the class of Region 8 for the past two seasons but the Eagles had never beaten them in that time span.

The Bulldogs are led by Florida Atlantic signees Jailyn Ingram and DeVorious Brown while the Eagles are powered by the sophomore trio of Drue Drinnon, Travis Anderson and Jalen Morgan.

FAU signee DeVorious Brown went for 27 against previously undefeated Laney
FAU signee DeVorious Brown went for 27 against previously undefeated Laney

Ingram, who is also a tremendous football player, elected to take his talents to Boca Raton to continue his basketball career and his decision to do so seems to be playing dividends.

Drinnon on the other hand is the Class of 2018’s No.1 ranked combo guard according to Future 150 and has already eclipsed the 1,000-point mark in less than two seasons. In East Jackson’s 81-58 win over rival Jefferson last week, all three of the Eagles’ trio scored 20 or more points before heading into a much-anticipated rematch with the Bulldogs.

Despite a strong effort to start the game, Morgan County was the better team on the night and picked up a 75-56 win to remain undefeated in Region 8.

“We knew coming in that they (East Jackson) were going to come out with a lot of energy so we knew what to expect,” Morgan County Head Coach Jamond Sims said. “We had our hands full with Drinnon in the first half but in the second half we were able to keep him in front of us and that helped us close out the game.”

“The team goes as Jailyn goes and when he wants to assert himself and be the best player on the floor, the rest of our team’s confidence goes up,” Sims said. “Whenever he catches the ball within 18 feet of the basket, he can pretty much shoot over anyone out there so he’s a big part of our success.”

The start couldn’t have been better for the Eagles after jumping out to a 12-4 lead but costly turnovers gave the Bulldogs a 1-point lead after the first quarter, 16-15.

Drinnon and Anderson combined to score 10 of the Eagles’ 15 while the Bulldogs got nine from Jordan Ford.

Travis Anderson | Photo By Ben Munro
Travis Anderson | Photo By Ben Munro

The second quarter did not start out the way East Jackson would have liked and quickly the Eagles found themselves in an 10-point hole midway through the quarter. However, hot shooting from Drinnon cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 41-35 at the half.

Drinnon scored 15 of the Eagles’ 20 points in the second quarter and led all contestants with 20 points at the half on 8-of-8 shooting while Ford added two more to lead the Bulldogs with 11 points.

The Bulldogs found their rhythm in the third quarter and dominated in all facets of the game. Ingram netted eight points in the period and helped build Morgan County’s lead to 61-46 heading into the fourth.

The Eagles managed to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 10 points midway through the fourth quarter but that was the closest they could get. Ingram proved to be too big for the smaller East Jackson frontline and finished with 20 points on the night.

Drinnon poured in a game-high 28 points on 11-of-13 shooting, dished out seven assists and collected four steals.

“We were doing fine at the start but they (Morgan County) started pressing us and that caused us to have a lot of stupid turnovers,” Drinnon said.

“We didn’t rebound the ball. They out rebounded us just like every other team we play so we need to work on rebounding and be safer with the ball going forward.”

Ingram on the other hand was very pleased with the way they played and is excited to see where the Bulldogs are headed.

“We have a lot of experience in playing in tough games so we knew that we would be ready for this one,” Ingram said. “We use all of our games as a learning experience and playing a team like East Jackson helps us going forward.”

Jailyn Ingram was too much inside for East Jackson
Jailyn Ingram was too much inside for East Jackson

East Jackson head coach David Boyd has spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to beat what has become the Eagles’ biggest thorn in their side but has yet to find an answer.

“They are hard to beat and I haven’t figured it out yet,” Boyd said. “I think they have the best team in AAA right now with the amount of length they have. Some of our newer guys that came out for the second semester got introduced to high-level basketball for the first time but we will keep fighting and hopefully get to play them again in the region tournament.”

Colin’s Take: East Jackson arguably has the best young backcourt in all of AAA but their inability to rebound has really held them back. Jalen Morgan, who has played in just three games after transferring from New Hope Christian Academy (NC), gives them the best option down low to rebound the ball but still needs time to get acclimated to East Jackson’s system. While they might not find a rebounding answer this season, they are well on their way to becoming a well-known AAA powerhouse next season and have a great shot at competing for a state championship in the very near future.

Morgan County doesn’t have a weakness. They have three players over 6-foot-6, they run the floor as good as anyone and they can shoot the basketball with ease. Their size and strength wear teams down late in games which gives them a great chance at getting back to the state championship game later this year. If you haven’t watched Morgan County play, then you’re missing out. They play like a Class AAAAAA team and could easily contend in a division of that magnitude.

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