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Miller Grove Shot Clock League Analysis

After battling the traffic on 285 for two hours, I arrived at the Miller Grove Shot Clock Summer League on Wednesday. The League plays on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout June. The prestigious event showcases 14 teams throughout the summer. Miller Grove, Hiram, Mays, North Clayton, Jonesboro, Lithonia, Tucker, Sandy Creek, Shiloh, Cedar Shoals and Statesboro all made state tournament runs while Brookwood (17-9), Henry County (15-11) and Druid Hills (14-12) didn’t earn a berth but are as dangerous as any group in the 14-team field.

Cedar Shoals 78, Henry County 63

Cedar Shoals remained undefeated for the summer and scored another impressive win, this time ousting Henry County by 15 in a game that featured high level athletes with true D-I aspirations. Coming off of a 29-3 season with a Final Four run in Class AAAAA where they fell to Allatoona 48-46, Cedar Shoals faces the unenviable task of replacing sparkplug point guard and Sandy’s Spiel Most Underrated award winner, Jerrick Mitchell (Columbia State).

The Jags had no problem with Henry County using a wide open floor to pick apart the Warhawks. Cedar Shoals buried seven first half threes and finished with 10 on the day to gain and maintain their separation. Phlan Fleming was as good as advertised. The long 6-foot-5 senior guard poured in a game-high 29 points and nailed three triples. Fleming also collected 10 rebounds and won his personal matchup with the explosive Damion Rosser. The two even got a double technical in the second half. It did not feel like a preseason game with the amount of intensity in the building.

Snipe Hall, a 6-foot-2 senior shooting guard, was lethal from beyond the arc to open the game. He finished with 23 points and banged in three of his four three-pointers in the first half. He added on three rebounds and three assists as well. Hall was more than just a one-trick pony, scoring in the lane off pull-ups and tallying six points from the line.

AJ Jones, a 5-foot-9 scrappy guard, canned three long balls and finished with 12 points and four assists. Inside, workhorse tight end on the football field Stavion Stevenson chipped in six points and six rebounds.

The common theme for Cedar Shoals on Wednesday? Sharing the ball. The Jaguars collected 17 assists to Henry County’s seven. The engine that made Cedar Shoals go wasn’t Jerrick Mitchell anymore but instead senior Damarrea Lowe.

Damarrea Lowe ran the Cedar Shoals offense expertly
Damarrea Lowe ran the Cedar Shoals offense expertly

With Fleming and Hall already as known commodities, ‘D-Lowe’, a rail thin point guard listed at 5-foot-10, 130 pounds, might play just as important of a role in the Jags’ success in 2016-17. Lowe was inserted into the starting lineup and had the Jaguar offense clicking like it was in mid-season form. Lowe didn’t show the flashy burst of speed like Mitchell or the daringness to knock down pull-up jumpers like his predecessor did when he was on, but Lowe did exactly what Coach L’Dreco Thomas needed of him: make smart decisions with the ball.

He finished with four points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals. Every time I looked up, Lowe was affecting the action on the court in a positive way. If he can contribute the way he did yesterday, finding open shooters on the perimeter and limiting turnovers, this Cedar Shoals offense will be tough to slow down, especially if they can knock down their threes.

Even in the loss for Henry County, positives were taken away. Coach Vincent Rosser often told me last season, they could be a special team if they learned how to defend consistently. Against top level competition like Cedar Shoals who can shoot you out of the gym in a heartbeat, the Warhawks were tested and received a good measuring stick of how much further they need to improve to become a state title contender.

The Warhawks, down double-digits for nearly the entire game, never gave in. Coach Rosser stayed on his group and had them playing hard till the final buzzer, a very welcomed sign. Henry County has one of the best backcourts in Class AAAA, the tandem of seniors Damion Rosser and Javon Greene is good enough to hang with anyone. The 6-foot-4 Rosser plays above the rim and is constantly looking to attack. He scored 15 points and chipped in four rebounds, two steals and a block. Rosser is great at getting to the hole, but he mustn’t forget to keep the defense honest with his jump shot. He knocked down one three yesterday and if he can consistently knock them down, that will open up even more driving lines.

One player who wasn’t shy to let it rip was 6-foot-2 senior Javon Greene. Greene netted a team-high 22 points and ripped off 16 points in the second half. Henry County was in too big of a hole for it to make a difference, but Greene caught fire in the second half. The unconscious Greene was in ultimate heat check mode, drilling four threes in a row, pulling up on a dime and letting them fly. Along with his scoring outburst, he collected three rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks.

Both eligible to play this year, Kovi Tate and Seth Brown should be big difference makers for the Warhawks. The quartet of Rosser, Greene, Tate and Brown have been playing together in the summer with the Atlanta All-Stars and have been building a cohesion towards an exciting senior season. Tate, a stout 6-foot-5, brings power inside and an ability to convert easy buckets. Like seemingly all of his peers, he is also an above the rim finisher that can change games. He finished with a modest six points, six rebounds and one block. Brown was quiet last night with four points and three rebounds, but once he finds his footing, he will round out a very dangerous starting five with senior Sadonta Lindley heading up the point guard position.

Tucker Transfers

The Tucker Tigers breezed past Lithonia after an impressive second half, coasting to a 59-44 victory. Tucker is without last year’s leading scorer, Kenton Eskridge, as he is now at Columbia playing for Dr. Phil McCrary. Eskridge leaves one living legend (James Hartry) for another, but the Tigers will find a way to have some bite as always. Coach Hartry, who has amassed a 317-149 record over his 16 seasons at the helm of Tucker, won’t have a barren cupboard.

Transferring over for his senior season is 6-foot-3 guard Joshua Cammon. Cammon was overshadowed by 25-point-per-game scorer Isaiah Miller at Eastside, but the former team captain can fill it up himself. He averaged 13.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 3.4 steals per game as a junior. Cammon looked good yesterday, showcasing tight handles in traffic and the ability to get and create his own shot. He is a strong athlete with a muscular frame that will help him attack the hoop. Cammon attempted 92 free throws last year and knocked down 51 threes. He will have to raise his shooting percentage on both (64% & 27%), but Cammon looks like he can provide some instant offense for the Tigers, a team looking for a new go-to guy for the second straight year.

Jackmon on the Mend

Miller Grove senior Joshua Jackmon was on-hand at the summer league. Jackmon suffered a torn ACL on the adidas Uprising circuit and is eager to get back on the court. He expects teammate Tae Hardy and himself to have big senior seasons under new head coach Rasul Chester.

No. 5 Cedar Shoals steals win at No. 7 Heritage-Conyers

No. 5 Cedar Shoals 54, No. 7 Heritage 51

Basketball is a 32-minute game. For 26 minutes, host No. 7 Heritage was the better team, crushing the offensive glass and sinking four first quarter threes, but as all good teams do, No. 5 Cedar Shoals was able to weather the storm and in the end found a way to pull out another Region 8 victory and move to 18-2 overall and 9-1 in region play after edging the Patriots 54-51.

The Jaguars brought a great crowd as both lineups were greeted with smears of boos and cheers echoing throughout the gym as if it were a neutral site. Coach L’Dreco Thomas said before the game that their goal was to keep the slashing Patriots out of the lane and force them to hit open jumpers – they did. Heritage buried four three-pointers in the first quarter paced by Jordan Thomas, who would sink five on the night en route to a team-high 15 points, giving the Patriots a 22-11 lead at the end of one.

With Heritage nailing nearly every open look it had, the Jaguars had to search for the light at the end of the tunnel. It was hard to find any positives in the first quarter however as the Patriots pounded Cedar Shoals on the glass to take a 17-5 rebounding advantage after eight minutes. The Jaguars would lose the rebounding battle on the night 34 to 21, but through quarters two through four, sewed up the tally, 17-16.

Heritage’s 6-foot-6 center Makyle Wilkerson sat with foul trouble for most of the half meaning 6-foot-2, 200-pound Marquis Davis had to step in. Davis, who looks more like a linebacker, gave the Patriots a spark inside collecting five points off the bench in the second quarter and finishing the game with seven points and seven rebounds.

Makyle Wilkerson played well when he was on the floor
Makyle Wilkerson played well when he was on the floor
Marquis Davis played great for Coach Vernon Denmark
Marquis Davis played great for Coach Vernon Denmark

The second quarter belonged to Phlan Fleming and the Jaguars. Held scoreless in the first, the junior swingman hotly recruited by SOCON schools got going. He led an 18-9 Cedar Shoals second quarter with nine of his 11 points. Coach Thomas elected to come out of their zone and extend into a press that began to rattle the Heritage ball handlers while switching the tempo and momentum into the road team’s favor, leading to a 31-29 halftime score; the Jaguars never holding the lead.

While it was Fleming’s second quarter, the third belonged to Cedar Shoals’ Snipe Hall. The junior poured in 11 of the Jaguars’ 15 third quarter points, the other four being scored by point guard Jerrick Mitchell. As Hall worked his way to a game-high 16 points, the Jags still never captured the lead and Davis would make sure the Patriots had the advantage heading into the fourth, scoring off a tip-in as the clock expired, giving Heritage a narrow 46-44 lead entering the final period.

Seen so many times before, teams in an early hole usually spend all of their energy just trying to claw back into the game and in the end fall short. Not Cedar Shoals. When the going got tough, the Jaguars sank their teeth into the Patriots, clamping down and allowing just five fourth quarter points. Senior guard Greg Smith, who was held scoreless through the first 25 minutes of the game, scored back-to-back buckets to give Cedar Shoals their first lead of the game, 48-46 with 6:06 left.

The Jags had finally climbed the mountain top, but would they be able to place their flag atop it? Nearly three full minutes passed without the score changing. With just over three minutes to play, Cedar Shoals took its largest lead of the game at 50-46. Having no momentum to speak of and no baskets coming easy, Byron Abrams took it upon himself to score two of his 11 points on the night to draw back within two. Twenty-two seconds later, Isaiah Banks hit Thomas in the corner for his fifth and final three of the night to make it 51-50 in favor of Heritage with 2:16 to play.

That bucket proved to not only be Thomas’ final points of the night, but the Patriots’ as well. Stavion Stevenson gave the Jaguars the lead back on a jumper. Banks was fouled with 1:36 to play but missed the front-end of the one-and-one. With 24.4 seconds remaining, it was Hall’s turn to miss a one-and-one, giving Heritage another breath. The Patriots went to Banks who drove to the rim but was swallowed up by two defenders, both Fleming and Hall blocking his shot. Banks retrieved it and tried to gather himself to go back up for two, but was denied again by Fleming and now Smith. A jump-ball was called with 7.9 left and the possession arrow pointing in Heritage’s direction. The Jags weren’t out of the woods yet.

Abrams burned two timeouts trying to inbound the ball and on the third try, Mitchell was called for a hold on Wilkerson, sending the big man to the line with a one-and-one opportunity to tie or potentially win the game.

Wilkerson’s free throw bounced on the rim three times before falling into Fleming’s hands. Fleming coolly sank both free throws with 6.2 seconds. Charles Moore raced up the court and pulled up for a clean look to send the game to overtime, but his shot rimmed out.

Cedar Shoals went 2-of-3 from the line in the fourth quarter and finished the night 7-of-12, while the Patriots went 0-of-2 in the fourth, and made just 3-of-9 during the game. The loss drops Heritage to 15-4 overall and 7-2 in region play; both losses to teams ahead of them with No. 4 Gainesville (11-3, 9-0) in first-place.

It was standing room only for the final possession
It was standing room only for the final possession

My Take: The already late 8:30 start time was pushed back to 9:40 after JV games ran late. This classic wasn’t finished until after 11 P.M., but boy was it a good one. It played out how I expected: two evenly matched teams with great balance, not giving an inch to the opponent. Cedar Shoals started off slow and Heritage, coming off a 96-68 inexplicable blowout loss to Brookwood, looked hungry and ready to blow the doors off of whoever stepped foot on the court. Jordan Thomas was cooking early on from deep and helped the Patriots race to a 15-6 lead. After Heritage’s four three-pointer barrage in the first eight minutes, they hit only two the rest of the game. Byron Abrams showed good court vision throughout the game and attacked when needed. Senior Charles Moore did a steady job handling the ball. To open the third quarter Heritage really looked to play at their pace and decided to slow down the offense a bit, hitting the high post and looking opposite. Makyle Wilkerson didn’t get much burn in the first half due to fouls, but he is a nice athletic piece inside, finishing with eight points and five rebounds. Marquis Davis played great off the bench and was a main reason why Heritage wrecked the smaller Jaguars on the boards to open the game.

Cedar Shoals did what good teams do: find a way to win. Jerrick Mitchell is a speedy guard that was able to attack the rim and set up his teammates. His only flaw is that opponents don’t respect his jumper. Abrams literally shooed him off when he had the ball in the corner and told him to shoot it. Credit to Mitchell, knowing his game, he didn’t play into Abrams’ head-games and passed it off instead of forcing a bad shot. Both Snipe Hall and Phlan Fleming carried Cedar Shoals at times. Both teams have 3-4 guys that can go out and lead the team in scoring with 15+ any night, which makes it difficult to slow them down. Fleming got going in the second quarter showing off a nice feathery touch from the mid-range baseline. Even though he is the most recruited player on his team, he never forced the issue and played within himself while playing team ball. Stavion Stevenson didn’t have a huge game, but he battled inside and came away with two big buckets in the fourth quarter. When Cedar Shoals really needed stops, it got them. The Jags started in a 2-3 zone, but moved into a press that really got them back into the game. Both teams went about 7-8 deep. I envision both squads being extremely tough outs in the state playoffs. They might not have the true go-to guy like Gainesville has in D’Marcus Simonds (Georgia State) or Apalachee in Kamar Baldwin (Butler), but their balance is extremely tough to handle when they are clicking on all cylinders.

Top Performers

Cedar Shoals
Snipe Hall – 16 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block
Phlan Fleming – 11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks
Jerrick Mitchell – 10 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals
Stavion Stevenson – 10 points, 2 rebounds, 1 block

Jordan Thomas – 15 points (five 3’s), 4 rebounds, 2 assists
Byron Abrams – 11 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists
Makyle Wilkerson – 8 points, 5 rebounds
Charles Moore – 7 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists
Marquis Davis – 7 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists
Isaiah Banks – 3 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists

12-8 Top Games Preview

Norcross-CHillNo. 4 Norcross (4-1) at No. 6 Collins Hill (4-0)
The power struggle atop Region 7-AAAAAA officially begins as two early favorites to win the crown do battle. The Eagles nipped Norcross in their first meeting early last year 70-68 before the Blue Devils went on a rampage and finished 13-1 in the region. Size has always been a crucial advantage for Norcross with 6-foot-8 towers Rayshaun Hammonds and Lance Thomas, who can score inside and out. But this year, the Eagles have added some imposing size of their own down low. AJ Cheeseman is a 6-foot-6 power forward that has signed to play at New Orleans. Chris Parks is only a sophomore, but he is a big active body at 6-foot-5 and can mix it up with the longer Blue Devils. Kai Lambert, JD Ozoh and TeShaun Hightower must be X-factors and hit open shots for Collins Hill if they want to slow down Norcross, who features strong guard play of their own in Kyle Sturdivant, Jordan Goldwire and Chris Curlett.

Gaines-CedarNo. 2 Gainesville (3-0) at No. 5 Cedar Shoals (7-0)
Region 8-AAAAA has quietly blossomed into one of the best regions in the entire state behind Gainesville, Cedar Shoals and No. 6 Heritage, not to mention the always ready to take over a game, Butler signee Kamar Baldwin of Apalachee. This matchup will be the Jaguars first major test of the season. Gainesville has defeated 2A No. 2 St. Francis (without Kobi Simmons) 70-58 at the Jared Cook Classic and rallied from down 11 at the half to knock off Heritage, 85-79 last week. Georgia State signee D’Marcus Simonds poured in 26 points in the comeback while Bailey Minor added 20. The Red Elephants have plenty of pieces and can beat teams in a variety of ways. KJ Buffen is a blossoming star forward, Tae Turner is a Lakeview Academy transfer and Messiah Dorsey and Xavier Bledson have both hit big shots over their career. Phlan Fleming is usually the focal point of the offense for Cedar Shoals from his wing position, but Snipe Hall, Jerrick Mitchell and big man Stavion Stevenson have brought the Jags to the next level with their balanced play.

Pace-GACNo. 5 GAC (4-3) at No. 2 Pace Academy (0-2)
Don’t let the record fool you. Pace may be winless but they have held on tight to their No. 2 ranking for good reason. A 7-point loss to 6A No. 1 Westlake and a 56-44 loss this past weekend at Adidas Xplosion to 1A No. 1 Greenforest are as good of losses as you can get. Class of 2017 No. 1 overall player according to many pundits, Wendell Carter Jr., is a beast inside at 6-foot-10. He can handle the ball, shoot from the outside, protect the paint and may be the state’s best rebounder. Shooters Zack Kaminsky and Caleb Holifield are lethal from the outside while Isaiah Kelly brings an active 6-foot-8 body inside to pair with Carter. GAC is working its way back to full strength. Leading scorer Brian Coffey Jr. will try to give it a go at point guard after injuring his knee last week. Garrett Covington can do everything with the basketball and causes matchup problems from his off-guard position. Jacob Hoffman came down with an ankle injury in a 75-67 overtime win over rival No. 6 Holy Innocents, but when healthy, he is one of the best shooters in the state. Freshman guard Hunter McIntosh is tough to rattle as shown when he poured in 27 points in Coffey’s absence. Charlie O’Briant stands 6-foot-8 and will be a game-time decision after a severe laceration to his lip. He and big man Chris Hinton, 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, will need to put a body on Carter the entire game and try to push him outside like Greenforest did successfully.

Grayson-BerkmarGrayson (5-0) at Berkmar (3-3)
There is a long line of talented teams waiting to crack the top ten in Class AAAAAA. Berkmar opened there, but quickly dropped out. Grayson now might be the next in line to seize the opportunity. Some of the best guards in the state will be going head-to-head in this Gwinnett County Region 8 slugfest. Austin Dukes and Alphonso Willis is a pair of lethal senior guards for Coach Geoffrey Pierce’s team. Dukes scored 23 points and handed out five assists in a 58-52 win over Centennial. There also is some balance behind these two guards. Trey Sconiers, Kenyon Jackson and Hafeez Anifowoshe are all important contributors scoring and rebounding the ball. Berkmar relies of Indiana-commit Al Durham to cook up offense. The lanky yet smooth southpaw can drive the lane and burry deep threes. Running mates Jay Estime, Darius Harrison, Josh Faulkner, Leroy Jones IV and Lane Foster make the Patriots extremely deep on the perimeter.

Hughes-PebblePebblebrook (3-4) at Langston Hughes (6-1)
Make no bones about it, Region 3-AAAAAA is the most athletic and exciting region in the state bar none. Expect the points to drop at a neck breaking pace and get your popcorn ready because there will be highlights galore night in and night out, especially when Pebblebrook rolls into town. At 3-4, the Falcons are much better than their record shows and are loaded with D-1 talent in Auburn signee Jared Harper, Collin Sexton and JJ Smith. Those three are the straws that stir the drink. They like to run-and-gun and pull up for deep threes, but they can be susceptible to breakdowns on defense. Harper averages over 30 points per game and Sexton went for 40 points in a 96-94 heartbreaking loss to 2A No. 2 St. Francis at Adidas Xplosion, in which the guards forgot to rotate back on Harper’s shot with 8 seconds left, allowing St. Francis to pitch the ball ahead for an uncontested Kobi Simmons dunk with 1.1 seconds remaining. Coach Rory Welsh likes to run his inverted flex offense which can pick teams apart if they aren’t fundamentally sound on defense. Junior guard Khalil Cuffee has D-1 written all over him. He may not be as flashy as his counterparts, but his steady game and his pure three-point stroke make him hard to stop. He is averaging 18.4 points per game and gets help from Derrick Cook (16.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists) and Justin Jones (10.6 points). Isaiah Green can be an X-factor with his toughness inside and his knack for doing the dirty work.