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Johns Creek Girls Team Camp

By Bre Singleton (@bre_singleton)

Johns Creek hosted a camp Wednesday afternoon in which seven other teams including Buford, Northview, Alpharetta, and Lambert all participated. The camp was strictly held for the purpose of getting reps according to Johns Creek Head Coach Kirk Call. For that reason, scores were not kept and the scrimmages consisted of each team getting 10-minute segments of offense, half-court only.

In my most anticipated matchup of the afternoon, the Buford Wolves and Northview Titans were pitted against each other in a battle of 27+ win teams. The two juggernauts definitely came to play. Northview started with their 10-minute offensive stint first. The Titans had it going early, executing effectively and getting quality possessions. The starting five has a tangible chemistry about them that is a joy to watch. The group is led by senior guard Megan Cistulli, who showed proved to be the vocal presence on the court.

Ashlee Austin

Northview has a solid tandem of 2019 prospects on their hands as well. Ashlee Austin, fresh off her first D1 offer from Ole Miss, shot the ball especially well from deep on Wednesday. Offensive rebounds were there for the 6’1 PF as well as she looks to build on her game.

Maya Richards

Maya Richards, Austin’s fellow junior post presence, also had a strong outing. Richards, the bigger and stronger of the two, had her way with just about anyone in her vicinity. A killer drop step got her to the bucket more times than not.

Rounding out the Titan starting five were Asjah Inniss, an aggressive PG who had about as many assists and as she had threes (and she hit several). Another young guard, Eden Sample, found her stroke from deep as well.

Buford was without its star player Tory Ozment who was out for precautionary reasons, but Coach Gene Durden wasn’t worried about her absence at all. Said Durden, “We know what Tory can do…we want to see about some of the others.”

The others certainly showed what they were made of against a very solid Northview team. A player that I was personally impressed with was young Tate Walters, the Wolves’ sophomore point guard. For the most part, Buford ran a drive and kick offense and on several occasions, Coach Durden had them spread the floor so that Walters could go to work. She did just that, and on several defenders. Her ability to break down defenders and get to the cup was phenomenal. At 5’7” Walters has the vision to see open teammates who drop to the block after she penetrates. It’ll be exciting to see how she progresses in the Buford girls basketball program.

Rising senior Jessica Nelson had the task of guarding Northview’s talented post players. She put as much presence on them as they put on her. Nelson arguably had the best post moves I saw all day.

The Lambert Longhorns looked good coming off of a 26-3 season. The Longhorns were one of the few teams to get up and down the court in their scrimmage with Northview. Senior posts Sidney Chase and Jaleah Greene were a fun duo to watch take on the Northview Titans. M.E. Craven, a long SF, had quite a few nice finishes at the rim to help the Longhorns’ scoring.

Coach David Walden of Alpharetta and Coach Amanda Heil of North Gwinnett brought their respective teams to Johns Creek for some summer work. Both fairly young teams got up and down the floor in hopes of getting some good reps. Coach Heil is entering her first year as the head coach of the Bulldogs, replacing Bryan Sellers who she had previously been an assistant coach for.

Donell Nixon & No. 1 Buford sink No. 3 Cedar Shoals

No. 1 Buford 72, No. 3 Cedar Shoals 66

Coming off of a 59-54 overtime loss at Duluth, two-time defending Region 8 champion No. 3 Cedar Shoals was looking to get back on track. Standing in their way was new Region member, No. 1 Buford who suited up for the first time as the top ranked team in Class AAAAA.

Over the next 32 minutes, the two state powers traded blows until Buford came away victorious after a late mental error by the Jaguars.

A fast pace opened up the action as Alex Jones pushed the Wolves offense down the floor finding open men. He made sure to get powerful forward Marcus Watson in the mix early on, but Charleston Southern-signee Phlan Fleming lifted the Jags in the first quarter, gliding to the basket for six points.

Buford held a 16-11 lead after David Viti worked the glass for an And-1 and helped the Wolves finish the first quarter with a 20-15 lead.

In the second quarter starting point guard Jai’Vanni McDavid and reserve Damarrea Lowe got loose. The two sliced and diced, Lowe scoring all six of his points in the frame and McDavid netting eight of his 14 in the frame for Cedar Shoals.

As the two teams went back and forth, the one constant all night for Buford was Watson. The strong 6-foot-6 forward attacked the basket and punished the slighter of build Jaguars trying to defend him. He posted 12 points and seven rebounds in the first half and finished the game with 25 points and 13 boards.

The heavyweights entered the half deadlocked at 31, but Cedar Shoals had reason for optimism as key pieces Stavion Stevenson, AJ Jones and Snipe Hall combined for just seven points in the opening 16 minutes.

Before the Jaguars could get their footing, Jones hit Donell Nixon for the third of his six threes to open up the third quarter. Nixon, standing only 5-foot-8 on a good day, peppered Cedar Shoals from beyond the arc the entire game, the Jags losing sight of the little man as he floated on the perimeter dropping in 18 of his game-high 26 points in the second half.

Hall began to heat up for the Jaguars after a quiet first half and scored five straight to tie the game at 36, but in the blink of an eye Buford poured in a 12-0 run to take a commanding 53-40 lead, the spurt keyed by a Jones assist to Viti and then Jones and Nixon trading triples.

Up 13, Watson grabbed a rebound and tried to ignite a fast break but threw an errant pass into the chest of Stevenson who laid up an easy hoop, sparking a Jaguar run of their own. Cedar Shoals closed the third quarter on a 7-0 surge and entered the fourth quarter down 53-47.

The Jaguars ripped off 10 straight points to close to within three and eventually took the lead 60-57 as Hall and McDavid attacked Buford’s smaller guards. The 20-4 run had the home crowd in a frenzy as the Jaguars forced turnovers and picked up the tempo.

After Viti split a pair of free throws, the Jaguars somehow left Nixon open for another three, the Wolves regaining a 61-60 lead with 3:53 to play. Fifty-seven seconds later, Watson grabbed a miss and led the break, passing up to Jones. Jones took one dribble before dumping the ball off to Watson for a slam on a 2-on-1 fast break, one of Jones’ dazzling 12 assists on the night making it 63-60.

Hall answered however with an And-1 tying the game at 63 with 1:58 remaining, three of his 14 second half points. Just over 30 seconds later, it was Nixon again supplying a dagger from deep to give Buford a 66-63 lead.

The Jags were able to get a stop and raced down the court for a chance to either tie or cut it to one, but Bobby Miller came out of nowhere to poke the ball away from behind to give possession back to the Wolves.

Having to foul, Cedar Shoals sent Nixon to the line where he sank two attempts to go up five. With time ticking down, AJ Jones put on an array of moves in the corner to get free and splashed a step-back three to breathe life into the Jaguars, cutting the lead to 68-66 with 21.2 seconds left.

Nixon was sent to the line for a 1-and-1, but inexplicably as he attempted his first free throw, the Jaguars had six men on the floor, resulting in a technical foul. Nixon was awarded with four free throws and buried them all as he went 6-for-6 from the line in the fourth quarter and as a team the Wolves finished the game 18-of-22 from the stripe, clinching a wild Region 8 road victory.

My Take

No. 1 vs. No. 3 lived up to the hype albeit a sour ending to the game. Alex Jones was masterful at point guard for the Wolves. Pound-for-pound he is one of the best point guards in the state and I can fully endorse he is the best passer I’ve seen in the state of Georgia over the past two seasons, ranking in the top echelon with Will Washington formerly of McIntosh. Close to the group is also Xavier Bledson of Gainesville. Jones’ court vision is elite. He can drop dimes on the best defenses in the state. Donell Nixon was absolutely lights out from deep. Cedar Shoals had to hold their breath whenever he attempted a shot from beyond the arc. He may have missed one or two tops. Nixon was simply automatic when left open and had ice water in his veins at the line in the fourth.  Of course possibly the most important due to his X-factor ability, is Marcus Watson who moved in from North Carolina. He is a physical presence attacking the hoop but also showed the willingness to attempt threes, hitting one. As exciting as his two-handed flushes were, I was most impressed by the forward’s free throw shooting. He went a perfect 8-of-8 from the line. He has D-I written all over him. He and Nixon are just sophomores. Scary. Even scarier? David Viti and Jones are still juniors and senior Sahil Patel isn’t even playing due to a knee injury. And by the way, the biggest play of the game bar none? Bobby Miller’s chase down steal on the fast break. That was HUGE.

Cedar Shoals could have laid over and died when Buford stunned them with a lightning quick 12-0 run, but the heart of a winner can’t be taken for granted. The Jaguars are some junkyard dogs that don’t fold when games get tough. Last year it was Jerrick Mitchell powering the offense at the point and now this year it was Jai’Vanni McDavid, a junior, that did it all for Coach L’Dreco Thomas. The Jags don’t have the D-I sex appeal that other programs have, but their players play hard. McDavid finished with 14 points, 5 rebounds and 5 steals. Damarrea Lowe, who I loved at the Miller Grove Shot Clock League, gave the Jaguars a spark in the second quarter and is an exceptional guard off the bench that could start for most teams. AJ Jones and Snipe Hall were quiet in the first half but loud in the second. Jones scored nine of his 12 points in the fourth while Hall carried the group throughout the final 16 minutes. Phlan Fleming got off to a quick start, looking smooth getting to the cup but then faded off until he hit a big three late in the third quarter. Stavion Stevenson had a quiet night inside with just four points. The Jags are yet to hit their stride but have all the pieces in place to make another run to the Final Four. Region 8 will be a dog fight between the two statewide powers.

Top Performers

Marcus Watson – 25 points, 13 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal
Donell Nixon – 26 points (6 threes), 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 1 block
Alex Jones – 10 points, 2 rebounds, 12 assists, 1 steal
David Viti – 11 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist

Cedar Shoals
Snipe Hall – 18 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assists, 4 steals
Jai’Vanni McDavid – 14 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 5 steals
AJ Jones – 12 points, 1 rebound
Phlan Fleming – 9 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block
Damarrea Lowe – 6 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist
Stavion Stevenson – 4 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals

Peachtree Ridge Summer League Analysis

I stopped by Peachtree Ridge High School on Saturday to check out Day 2 of their two day summer league. In attendance were: Peachtree Ridge, Statesboro, East Hall, Dacula, Mill Creek, Strom Thurmond (SC), Grayson and Buford. I caught four games on the day and was able to come away with some solid feedback.

Peachtree Ridge 52, Statesboro 47

Peachtree Ridge led for much of the game and was able to close out Statesboro after a late Blue Devil run put a scare into the Lions. Peachtree Ridge finished 19-11 last season and made a trip to the Class AAAAAA Sweet 16 where they fell to semifinalist Newton 63-61. The Lions lose Milz Tatum and Markel McCollum, but return juniors Devin Vassell and Fred Payton. Vassell, a wiry 6-foot-5 wing, netted a game-high 20 points and collected five rebounds in the win. Vassell’s length allows him to play the passing lanes on the perimeter and rebound the ball inside. He will need to add weight to consistently finish inside (which he had no problem doing on Saturday) to get buckets against the state’s more physical teams.

Devin Vassell was in attack mode for Peachtree Ridge
Devin Vassell was in attack mode for Peachtree Ridge

Fred Payton is the quarterback on the football team and a 6-foot-3 scorer on the basketball team. Payton knocked down three three-pointers and finished with 14 points. He is an exceptional athlete that will help on defense and stretch the floor on offense. Another big time football recruit, Connor Heyward, took to the hardwood. Heyward won’t wow you with his scoring, but the 6-foot-2 guard is a physical player that likes to mix it up on defense and on the glass. His strength allows him to body up taller players inside which gives him great value on the defensive side of the ball. On offense, he is a willing passer.

Caleb Holifield, a transfer from Pace Academy, didn’t have a great game but will bring a scoring knack from the outside. He is a good shooter and has experience playing with and against top level competition.

For Statesboro, a 22-9 team from a year ago that fell to quarterfinalist Riverwood 48-47 in the Class AAAAA Sweet 16, senior guard Marcus Kirkland powered the offense.  Kirkland dropped 15 points and collected two blocks. The 6-foot-2 guard hit three of the Blue Devils’ seven threes. Kirkland has a strong build on him. He can get to the basket consistently and should be the leader for Coach Lee Hill’s team. Junior guard Tyler Goodman added eight points and is a scrappy 5-foot-9 guard.

Mill Creek 51, Strom Thurmond (SC) 35

Mill Creek has always been known for its balanced offensive attack. The Hawks snuck into the postseason last year and finished the season 14-15 after a 70-62 loss to Lambert. Key contributors Charles Botchway, Miles Riley and Evan Richardson graduate, leaving the offense to run through rising senior Christian Mancillas. Mancillas is excellent in the classroom (4.0 GPA) and steady on the court as a 6-foot-3 forward. He can affect the game in many ways as proved by his stat line: seven points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals.

Sophomore point guard Jayden Marshall saw varsity minutes as a freshman and will be counted on to orchestrate the offense. He scored nine points in Saturday’s win. Sophomore Brandon Fletcher, a 6-foot-3 forward, led the Hawks with 12 points. Fletcher played on the ninth grade team last season but could help out the varsity due to their lack of size. Junior Noah Kenney made the most of his varsity stint this past weekend, netting 11 points with nine coming via the long ball.

Strom Thurmond was led by 6-foot-1 guard Onesis Brown. The senior scored a game-high 18 points and added five blocks.

Dacula 46, Grayson 44

Dacula has had one of the best summers from the teams I have seen play so far this offseason, consistently racking up wins. Playing a depleted Grayson team without center Kenyon Jackson and other important pieces, Dacula jumped out to a 25-12 halftime lead. Grayson ramped up its defense with great communication out of a 2-3 zone in the second half. The Rams’ intensity ignited a 19-2 run to take a 31-27 lead with 9:33 left. In the end, poor free throw shooting was the difference maker as the Rams ran out of gas.

Dacula’s balanced backcourt did the damage. Junior Arusha Hunter scored 12 points to pace the Falcons while senior Gary Bishop added 10 and five rebounds. Junior 6-foot-4 post Shayne Buckingham ended with eight points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Super sophomore Mekhail Bethea was quiet in the first half with just one basket, but scored six points in the second half including clutch free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.

Grayson’s young backcourt consisted of sophomore Justin Fleming and freshman Deivon Smith, who hope to become as productive as Alphonso Willis and Austin Dukes were over their careers at Grayson. Fleming scored 10 points, grabbed five rebounds and collected two steals, but missed a huge 1-&-1 free throw with 35 seconds left down 42-39. On the day, Fleming was 0-for-4 from the line with a majority of the free throws counting as two-for-one’s due to summer league rules.

Smith is a tiny guard around 5-foot-7 that has the ability to sneak past defenders and draw open looks for teammates. He finished with four points, three rebounds and four assists. Senior Joey Chavez scored a team-high 12 points and added five rebounds and a block from his forward position. He’s a willing three-point shooter that will have a chance to see important varsity minutes this year. Senior Kyle Butts rebounded the ball well. The 6-foot-4 forward totaled six points and 11 rebounds in the loss.

Buford 62, Strom Thurmond (SC) 41

Coach Eddie Martin has not rested on his laurels at Buford. The veteran head coach still teaches non-stop on the sidelines and has the Buford program in good shape heading into Year 2. He has a coach’s dream in rising junior point guard Alex Jones. Jones was named Sandy’s Spiel Class AAAA Best Passer and for good reason. He pitched in 12 points, five rebounds and seven assists in their romp of Strom Thurmond. Diminutive in size, Jones has some of the best court vision in the state. Big men Sahil Patel and David Viti carved up the Rebels inside. Patel, a 6-foot-8 senior, and Viti, a 6-foot-5 junior forward from Lambert, should pair nicely this season. Patel went for 10 points, six rebounds and two blocks while Viti added 11 points, four rebounds and two blocks. Senior forward Austin Panks is an athletic energy swingman. He tallied eight points and six rebounds and should be a nice piece whether coming off the bench or earning some starts. Sophomore Ashton Young looked good with the varsity, leading the way with 13 points, six rebounds and two assists. Veteran guard Dawson Wehunt rounded out the attack with seven points.