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Georgia Tech team camp analysis

I made it out to Georgia Tech Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. Here are the camp’s biggest takeaways.

The Return of the Messiah

Messiah Thompson was one of the top performers at camp. The 5-foot-9 2019 point guard started his career at North Atlanta before transferring to Pebblebrook for his sophomore season. Now back home at North Atlanta, Thompson resumes the role as lead dog. Thompson plays with a chip on his shoulder and is the unquestioned engine for the Warriors. He posted 18 points, five assists and three steals in a blowout win over Harrison and followed up with a 17-point showing against Dacula. Thompson has a good feel for the game and court vision which allows him to make his teammates better. He scored from beyond the arc and when attacking the basket.

North Atlanta should be much improved from their 7-18 mark not just because of the return of Thompson, but the addition of fellow Pebblebrook transfer Andrew Robinson, who brings energy at 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-4 junior Joshua Johnson who was mightily impressive in his first impression. Josh is extremely active and athletic which helps him finish around the basket and rebound. He had 11 points and eight rebounds against Harrison. The nucleus of 2019 players could have North Atlanta competing in Region 7-AAAAAA sooner rather than later.

Fitting In

Quincy Ademokoya suited up for Dacula after recently transferring in as a highly touted 2020 prospect from Illinois, but it was easy to see that Ademokoya is not yet a finished product, though he showed flashes of a solid skillset. He was passive in Dacula’s 54-53 win over North Atlanta. The 6-foot-6 wing finished with three points, seven rebounds and two assists. Both Dacula and Ademokoya are still in the feeling out process as to where he best fits in. Once he finds his role and synergy with his new teammates, Ademokoya should be able to gel. He is in good hands with Dr. Russ Triaga and an established core of Falcons.

Arusha Hunter

One player who had no trouble taking charge was 2018 shooting guard Arusha Hunter. Hunter has continued to rise his game to the next level. After averaging just 4.2 points per game as a sophomore, Hunter turned in 17.3 a night his junior season leading to Class AAAAAA Most Improved honors. Against North Atlanta the 6-foot-2 scorer poured in 26 points, assaulting the basket. Hunter went 16-of-18 from the foul line, crafting his way into the paint at will. With Mekhail Bethea sidelined with a leg injury, Hunter shined and got buckets when needed.

See Ya Seniors
Coach Eugene Brown addressing the Panthers after a win over St. Pius

Four seniors with major experience and a combined 29.8 points per game between them have left the Southwest DeKalb program. The mass exodus is quite ponderous, but Southwest has more than enough to be competitive with talent dripping from the Class of 2020.

Point guard KD Johnson is a fierce competitor that makes all the plays down the stretch. Johnson seemingly has a magnetic pull to the rim, always finding a way to slice and dice his way to the cup and finish strong. Johnson has the chance to be one of Georgia’s best finishers by the time he’s a senior. While he is a respectable three-point shooter, if he can improve his stroke even more, it will be tough to stop him.

Eugene Brown III is still a gazelle on the floor and looks taller every time I see him. Brown is about 6-foot-3 and has a chance to squeeze at least two more inches out of his frame. Brown can handle the ball in transition and covers ground quickly with his long strides. Playing key minutes as a freshman alongside Johnson will bode extremely well over the course of the twosome’s career.

6-foot-6 rising junior James Glisson III showed promise in the Panthers’ 47-44 comeback victory over St. Pius. Glisson finished with 13 points and six rebounds. Senior Demarion Johnson will be asked to provide leadership on a young team. He was active against St. Pius, using his 6-foot-3 build to snag nine points and five rebounds.

Same old St. Pius

With nearly everyone back from last year’s Class AAAA state runner-up roster, St. Pius is still one of Georgia’s most efficient offenses that maneuver with precision cuts and passes. Everett Lane looks ready to grab ahold of the No. 1 option title if there is one in St. Pius’ balanced attack. Lane has thrust his way into the discussion as one of the best shooters in the Class of 2018.

Floor general Matt Gonzalo enters his junior season and continues to orchestrate the offense at a high clip and handle opposing ball pressure. He is the type of player who won’t wow you with big numbers, but if you see him in person you will truly be able to appreciate what he brings to the table.

The Golden Lion forwards had a nice weekend. Zach Ranson played above the rim and finished around the hoop. Rising junior Patrick Snipes caught my eye with his work out of the post, facing up and using his quickness to get by defenders and create advantages.

Milton Maturing
Donaven Hairston

Milton is looking to restore their momentum after an interesting season resulted in just a 14-14 record, but good enough to steal a Region 5 title away from Lambert. Gone is Duke-signee Alex O’Connell, meaning the keys to the car officially belong to rising sophomore point guard Christian Wright. Wright had just six points against St. Pius, but he showed he could turn the corner and get in the lane when he felt like it. Teams will surely key in on slowing him down this year meaning Donaven Hairston will have to step up. The 2019 point guard is slight of frame but still can sneak past defenders and score in traffic. He turned it on in the second half against St. Pius, scoring 17 of his game-high 18 in the frame.

Cherokee County’s Finest
Adrian Cohen lines up a foul shot

Etowah is now the team to beat in Cherokee County after peaking at the right time and capturing a Region 4-AAAAAAA championship and a Sweet 16 berth. Coach Jason Dasinger takes over as head coach and will look to continue to ride the momentum that Milton head man Allen Whitehart put in motion. Dasinger inherits a very good group headed by Jaxon Etter, Adrian Cohen and Julian Baldwin.

Etter, a late blooming 2019 who really came out of nowhere last year, is a steady 6-foot-3 guard with deceptive quickness. He works all levels of the floor and can score the ball. Etter uses controlled dribbles, backdowns and head fakes to ensure he gets clean looks. He poured in 23 points and five rebounds in a 52-51 loss vs. Tri-Cities.

Cohen is a 6-foot-5 wing that has been putting it all together and has a chance to stamp himself as a Low Major prospect with a good senior season. His three-point shot is now a weapon after diversifying his game from just being a slasher.

Baldwin was not in attendance at camp meaning Carter Ingersoll took his minutes. The rising senior is an old school post that uses positioning and body control to score inside. He takes his time and is methodical while working the pivot and showcases some nifty post moves. He finished with 11 points and nine rebounds against Tri-Cities.

Tri-Cities Impresses
Jon Young

Tri-Cities can shoot the ball when they are on. The surprise Class AAAAAA quarterfinalist used a difficult Region 5 to prepare themselves for the state tourney. The Bulldogs have some firepower coming back and see some new faces join the roster as well.

DaMarcus Johnson is a microwave scorer at point guard. The 2019 shooter can catch fire from deep. He is 6-foot on a good day but makes the most out of his size with his quick burst and ability to create his own shot. To play at the next level, Johnson will need to continue to work on making his teammates better.

One teammate who should easily benefit is 6-foot-4 senior Eli Lawrence. The lanky lefty is lights out when he gets going. He dropped in 15 points in a win over Etowah. Lawrence will be joined by Jon Young, who was fabulous in the first half, scoring 16 of his 18 points. Young was on fire, drilling threes and scoring off the bounce. He will benefit from Johnson and Lawrence’s scoring threat. Young is now on his third school entering his senior year. He began at Westlake and bounced to New Manchester for his junior season before coming to Tri-Cities.

6-foot-7 Zachary Morgan brings an interesting dynamic to the Bulldogs. He is a grown man inside strapped with muscle. He didn’t get many opportunities to score the ball, but he showed he could face up and attack the hoop. Defensively, he can alter shots and clean the glass.

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.

Impressions from the Georgia Cup Finals

HoopSeen hosted its final installment of the Georgia Cup series this past weekend. As always, present and future standouts of the GHSA were on display. With summer team camps getting under way, players will begin to transition back into their respective school’s system of play but will be bringing with them an invaluable measure of experience from earlier in the offseason.

Two high school teams took to the Georgia Cup Finals as Riverwood (29-2) and Dacula (19-7) both began their 2016-17 journeys without some of their best players in school history. Riverwood, who set a school record in wins last year and made a trip to the Elite Eight, gave us a first look at life after Kohl Roberts (GCSU). Dacula flaunted its new-look lineup without Kevon Tucker (Wofford) and Derek St. Hilaire (Gordon State).

Riverwood went 2-2 this weekend while Dacula finished 5-0, rolling to the championship. The Raiders lost to Dacula 63-45 in the semifinals. Rising seniors Elijah Jenkins, Charnchai Chantha and Amir Smith played well in the backcourt, but they didn’t have enough fire power to contend with Dacula after jumping out to an early lead. Riverwood was among the state’s leaders in points allowed last season, relying on a stingy defense, but the Raiders’ bugaboo has always been can they score enough? When Jenkins and Chantha are hot from deep, they are a tough duo to stop, but if they aren’t hitting, Riverwood is susceptible to offensive lulls. Springy 6-foot-6 senior forward Josh Brown along with the play of rising juniors Christian Sutton, Lamin Williams and 6-foot-6 and still growing Nassir Mohammed will determine how well the Raiders cope with the loss of such an important senior class.

Dacula Falcons Taking Flight

Dacula escapes one of the toughest regions in the state and will be one of only two Gwinnett County schools (Lanier) in Region 8-AAAAAA, avoiding the state’s highest classification as well. With such a young group, growing pains could be an issue early on in the season, but the harmonious syncing of the backcourt could offset the loss of the school’s leading scorer (Kevon Tucker).

Sophomore Mekhail Bethea, junior Arusha Hunter and senior Justin Goodson create a backcourt that compliments each other well. Bethea earned more playing time as the season went on last year and will be inserted into a starting role from Game 1 his sophomore season. Bethea was masterful in Dacula’s 80-63 win over Active Elite for the 17U Georgia Cup Finals championship. He finished with 22 points, three assists and four steals. Bethea will need to get stronger, but he already has great composure with the ball in his hands and can create open shots for teammates when diving the lane.

Hunter poured in 19 points in the second half and netted a game-high 23. He was an X-Factor with his ability to knock down threes (3) and attack the boards (8). Hunter even added three assists from his small forward position.  Goodson didn’t get much burn as a junior, but the streaky three-point shooter looks poised for a breakout senior season along with senior Gary Bishop after a strong summer and a few transfers helping open the way. Goodson banged home four deep balls and scored 21 points in the championship.

Once again, the Falcons won’t have much elite size with their tallest player standing 6-foot-4 last season, but that player, Shayne Buckingham, returns for his junior season. Buckingham has seen varsity playing time since he was a freshman and is continuing to gain confidence in his game and become more and more of a consistent contributor. He scored 24 points in a win over Sports Academy South. If Buckingham can run the floor, rebound well and play with a high-motor, he can improve vastly on his 4.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

Other Standouts

Lambert won’t have big men Connor Mannion (Navy) and Ross Morkem (North Georgia), but they should have more than enough to be a team that opponents don’t want to face. Andrew Melms will be running the show again at point guard and will enter the 2016-17 season as one of the state’s most underrated tenacious point guards. Musa Thompson enters his senior year as well. Thompson looked impressive with Melms in the Atlanta Warriors backcourt. Thompson has good length at 6-foot-4 and is a fluid athlete that can stretch defenses. Rising juniors Austin Deckard, Damon Stoudamire and Jordan McIlwain all provide depth along a talented backcourt.

BJ Millard, a recent Dunwoody graduate that averaged 16 points and 7.9 rebounds his senior season, played well for the Atlanta Warriors. The 6-foot-5 forward’s work at Dunwoody might have gone unnoticed by those outside of the region, but he is a good player that works hard in the paint.

Shamar Barrett put up big numbers his senior season at Grovetown (17.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.0 apg, 3.1 spg, 2.0 bpg) and is nearing a college decision. Barrett has been a stalwart for Sports Academy South, pitching in 26 points in a loss to Dacula this past weekend.

Keep an eye on Discovery High School. The second-year program returns an interesting cast of talent highlighted by guard DJ Young, 6-foot-5 forward Jaden Stanley and 6-foot-7 forward Kalu Ezikpe, who is only a rising junior. Travis McDaniel also joins the fold as an assistant after coaching at Lanier.

Grayson Holds Off No. 9 Dacula

Grayson 73, No. 9 Dacula 69

A rare Wednesday night game between two Region 8 contenders set up for a fantastic finish as host Grayson (13-1, 4-1) was able to hold off an offensive onslaught from Wofford signee Kevon Tucker and Derek St. Hilaire in the fourth quarter for a 73-69 win over No. 9 Dacula (10-3, 3-1).

Tre Sconiers and freshman 6-foot-5 center Kenyon Jackson got the Rams off to a quick start in the first quarter. Sconiers scored eight of his 14 points in the opening eight minutes by finding baskets inside. He finished with a double-double, grabbing 15 rebounds and blocking four shots. Jackson, who suffered foul trouble, was also a menace inside, posting six points, eight rebounds and three blocks in the first quarter to give Grayson a 22-14 lead after one.

Alphonso Willis, one of Grayson’s leading scorers on the year, sat the entire second quarter due to foul trouble. While the senior combo guard was out, it was time for his shifty running mate to take over. Austin Dukes had a quiet first quarter, but banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer to ignite an important second quarter. Dukes began attacking the basket, sinking all four free throw attempts and netting eight points to give him 14 at the break.

As Dukes was carrying the load offensively with Willis out, St. Hilaire began to go to work for Dacula after scoring two points in the first quarter. The aggressive guard scored eight points of his own in the quarter as the Falcons remained in striking distance. Demari Edwards finished with 10 points in the first half for Dacula, but was held scoreless in the second half, putting the pressure on Tucker and St. Hilaire to scrap back from down 38-33 going into the break.

In the third quarter Grayson gradually began to build its lead and pushed its advantage out to 13 before St. Hilaire caught fire. With less than a minute to go, the senior splashed in a stepback three and then buried a deep ball with five seconds left to bring the Falcons back from the dead. After trailing 56-43, Dacula entered the fourth down 56-49.

The run wouldn’t stop there. The Falcons would go on a 13-2 run sparked by 11 St. Hilaire points to make it 58-56 with 5:50 remaining. St. Hilaire, who finished with a game-high 28, combined with Tucker to score 17 points of Dacula’s 20 points in the fourth quarter. Tucker, who finished with 24 points, scored nine points but Dacula was never able to get over the hump and never grabbed a second half lead.

With 4:52 to play, down 60-56, the Falcons drove to the basket and tried to draw contact but didn’t get the whistle. Dr. Triaga erupted after the no-call and was slapped with a technical which sent Dukes to the line to sink two free throws.

The T looked like it would stem the tide of Dacula’s momentum, but the Falcons kept coming. A 5-0 run drew them within 62-61 with 3:44 left. Dukes and St. Hilaire traded bucket for bucket down the stretch. Dukes sank 14-of-17 free throws including 7-of-9 in the fourth to score a team-high 27 points and give Grayson 69-66 lead with 47.8 to play. Dacula had opportunities to tie, but fumbled them away as Grayson got the stops they needed down the stretch and finished 23-of-31 from the foul line to ice the game.

My Take: The stars shined in this Gwinnett County battle. With Alphonso Willis and Kenyon Jackson hardly playing in the second quarter, it was impressive to see Grayson with a 5-point halftime lead. Austin Dukes showed he could carry the load. The svelte guard was able to shake his way to the basket and draw contact to live at the line. Willis came away with some big rebounds down the stretch in the fourth and scored six in the fourth. Freshman big man Kenyon Jackson is a player to keep an eye on. He was disruptive on defense and finished with 11 rebounds and three blocks. If he has another inch or two left in him to grow, he could become a dominant defensive presence. With that being said, he is already averaging 10 rebounds and nearly four blocks a game. Tre Sconiers was a player that always found himself in the right place at the right time. His 14 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks were all from effort. It looked as if the Rams were running out of gas in the fourth, taking body blow after body blow from Kevon Tucker and Derek St. Hilaire, but the freshness of Willis in the fourth helped mightily after sitting in the second.

Speaking of Tucker and St. Hilaire, they went into ultimate attack mode in the final quarter. St. Hilaire single handedly pulled them back in the game with two late threes in the third. Tucker opened the game taking some bad contested jumpers but as the game wore on he began to attack the hoop and overpower defenders with his body control and size. The question surrounding the Falcons however, is who will be that third option? Demari Edwards played very well in the first half but disappeared in the second and didn’t score. The burden to score rests heavily on Dacula’s two stars, which they can shoulder, but they shouldn’t have had to score 85% of their team’s points in the fourth quarter. Outside of Edwards’ 10 points, the fourth leading scorer was Juwan White with five. Region 8 will end up being one of the most competitive regions in the state. Expect more nail-biters like this one. The two meet again on Jan. 29 in a game that should hold major implications for top four playoff seeding.

Top Performers

Austin Dukes – 27 points (14-of-17 FT), 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal
Tre Sconiers – 14 points, 15 rebounds, 2 steals, 4 blocks
Kenyon Jackson – 9 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks
Alphonso Willis – 10 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists

Derek St. Hilaire – 28 points, 2 rebounds, 3 steals
Kevon Tucker – 24 points, 7 rebounds, 1 steal
Demari Edwards – 10 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block