After releasing my Top Ten for each classification in the state, I now tackle the unenviable task of trying to put together a Top 25 regardless of classification.
A Power Poll of the best teams in the state. There will be no right answer, but I’m sure there will be a couple wrong answers. It never hurts trying to rank the state, and the picture will hopefully clear up a little more as the season goes on.
But without further ado, here is my first crack at the Sandy’s Spiel Top 25:
Honorable Mention: Georgia Military College, Claxton, Mt. Zion, Taylor County, Quitman County
Calhoun County will open up the season at No. 1 after finishing 30-2 with a thrilling 84-82 state championship victory over Greenville. A five-man senior class with plenty of leadership has graduated, leaving sophomore Rashun Williams and senior Jerrek Solite as the two focal points of the offense. Senior center Jalin Gray also has experience and brings some bulk inside for the Cougars. Both Williams and Gray scored 8 points in the title game while Solite chipped in 7. Williams also added 6 rebounds to his ledger. Solite grabbed 9 rebounds and dished 4 assists.
No. 2 Hancock Central went 25-3 and lost to Greenville in the semifinals 75-69. Senior guard Alex Brooks is a big time scorer and a blur on offense. He and Markellus Lamar make up for a quick backcourt that looks to push the tempo and get easy baskets.
No. 3 Treutlen lost only three seniors from last year’s 27-2 unit that fell in the Final Four to Calhoun County 87-67. Gone is Terrance Warren and his 15.4 points and 7 rebounds per game, but back are seniors Titus Benjamin and Elijah Johnson. Johnson is a talented guard and Benjamin is a 6-foot-3 forward that can take his man inside and out.
No. 4 Wilkinson County lost to Hancock Central in round two, 72-71 in double overtime, ending the Warriors’ season at 25-5. Senior guard Ontario Coats, sophomore forward Clarence Jackson, junior guard Larry Jones and junior center Greg Cousin should be a strong nucleus to build around after losing six seniors including All-Middle Georgia Honorable Mention selection Torrico Simmons.
It will be interesting to see how Tasha Kimble does at No. 5 Turner County. Kimble will now be in charge of coaching both the boys and girls teams. Good news for Kimble, talent is aplenty at Turner County. She led the girls team to a 28-3 season and a state runner-up trophy and will take over a Rebels team that went 25-4 last year and lost to Treutlen in round two, 88-81 in overtime. Kimble’s offense will revolve around the exciting Tamorrion Terry. Terry, a junior, is a two-sport star at Turner County and is pegged as a three-star wide receiver. On the hardwood, at 6-foot-3, he is a beast. Terry averaged 17.1 points and 11.5 rebounds for the Rebels. In their final game of the season, Terry saved his best for last and recorded 33 points and 22 rebounds.
No. 6 Randolph-Clay finished 21-6, but saw their season end too soon, getting beat by Dooly County 62-56 in round one of the state playoffs. The Red Devils’ top two leading scorers and rebounders have graduated and Coach Kalvin Baker will now turn to senior Cody Brown to carry the load. Brown averaged 9.8 points and 5.5 rebounds as a 6-foot-2, 225-pound power forward. Nigel Gibson is another senior forward who should be a key contributor.
28-3 No. 7 Greenville suffered a heartbreaking defeat to Calhoun County, 84-82 in the state championship. Coach Walter Jackson loses his top five scorers from a year ago. Senior Josh Walls will have the green light to score after averaging 7.6 points per game. Renault Griffin adds some length and is a good rebounder and shot blocker, blocking 1.5 per game in 2014-15. Griffin showed his upside in the fourth quarter of the state championship, scoring all 9 of his points in the frame including a handful of thunderous dunks.
The Bobcats of No. 8 Dooly County lost to Calhoun County in round two, 72-52. Power forward Antonneous Clayton is a hard worker inside and averaged 6.5 points and a team-high 9.6 rebounds. Fellow senior Adrian Kenny added 6.9 points and 4.9 rebounds and is a nice versatile piece for Coach Towandi King.
No. 9 Portal was upended in round two by Greenville, 87-73. A lot has graduated and the transfer of senior Tyler Budgett hurts. Senior forward Marvin Prescott will be thrust into more of a go-to role after posting 8.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game in 2014-15.
John Davis’ No. 10 Terrell County finished 16-12 after a blowout loss to Hancock Central in the opening round of state. Detravion Bishop is the Greenwave’s leading scorer and will once again be a major playmaker as a junior.
It looks like it will once again be a two-horse race in Class A-Private and with that said, I give No. 1 Greenforest the slight nod over defending repeat state champion St. Francis. The past three titles have been held between Greenforest and St. Francis with the Eagles last knocking off the Knights, 55-41 in 2013. Last season it was Greenforest (27-2) coming up short with a 96-81 loss to the high-powered Knights. Good news for Greenforest is that St. Francis has lost two-thirds of its vaunted three headed monster and the Eagles return everyone except Justin Ravenel and Faisal Abdulmalik. Five-star junior center Ikey Obiagu anchors the paint at 7-foot. The big bodies don’t stop there for first year head coach Larry Thompson. Senior 6-foot-8 forward Precious Ayah has pledged to play at Miami (OH) while 6-foot-9 juniors Victor Enoh and Abayomi Iyiola are uncommitted along with 6-foot-8 sophomore Mohammad Abdulsalam. With all that great size, it will still be guards John Ogwuche and Justin Forrest who will make the offense click. Ogwuche, a senior, has committed to play at New Hampshire. Forrest is a junior and is quickly rising up the recruiting boards. Forrest poured in 19 points as a sophomore in the state championship a year ago while Ogwuche led all scorers with 28.
No. 2 St. Francis attempts to capture a three-peat behind five-star guard Kobi Jordan-Simmons. Simmons poured in 27 points in the state championship and was the youngest out of the big three which featured Malik Beasley (FSU) and Xavier Gates (Xavier). The Knights finished 29-3 and captured the crown in Drew Catlett’s first season as head coach. Catlett has a ton to replace for year two, but Simmons brings back his 21.2 points per game as the centerpiece. Duluth transfer Anthony Showell is a senior guard that poured in 16.6 points per game as a Wildcat and will be a strong running mate alongside Simmons. Senior forward Chance Anderson is expected to see a major up-tick in production and guards Will Richter and Wallace Tucker bring great depth.
No. 3 North Cobb Christian is coming off a 19-10 season and a second round exit thanks to Whitefield Academy, 62-58. Head Coach Greg Matta won’t have center Trey Kalina (UTC) inside this season, but the experienced coach always finds ways to win. Double-digit scorers Will Crumly, Nicholas Flemming and Jalen Dampier all return to power the Eagle offense. Newcomer Demiere Brown has transferred in and gives Matta versatility at the two and three spot. As a sophomore at Hiram, Brown averaged 16.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game. North Cobb Christian will enter 2015-16 as the odds on favorite to win the A-side of Region 6, with terrors St. Francis and Whitefield Academy looming on side B.
No. 4 Whitefield Academy would have made a strong case for being the best team in Class A-Private if it wasn’t for St. Francis. The Knights, like they did everybody else in the classification, had the Wolfpack’s number, beating Whitefield all four times and ending their season in the semifinals, 63-40. Whitefield finished 22-10 in 2014-15 and senior Brendon Myles will try to power the Pack over the hump and make some noise this year. Myles averaged 12.5 points and 8.9 rebounds as a 6-foot-3 guard last season. Junior Isaiah Hart doesn’t have Myles’ size (5’9”) and instead plays the role of distributor, dishing out 4.1 assists per game to go along with his 11.4 points. Sophomore Myles Belyeu has a chance to see major minutes in the backcourt while Jimmy McCarthy is relied upon to rebound and find east buckets inside.
The Warriors of No. 5 Southwest Atlanta Christian boast one of the nation’s most coveted scorers. DeAndre Ballard, a four-star 6-foot-6 wing, was unstoppable at times last year, scoring 23.3 points per night while grabbing 5.8 rebounds. He will need some help if SWAC wants to improve on their 17-11 finish. The Warriors’ season came to a rude and abrupt end in the round one of the state tournament, losing to Greenforest 103-31. SWAC should have more balance in 2015-16 with Malik Baisden returning to flank Ballard. A strong junior class is also expected to make waves with Ballard at the head. Johnathan King and Isiah Cotton are two names to keep an ear out for as they will be crucial in helping the Warriors regain their status as one of the elite programs in A-Private.
One of the funnest teams to watch in the state a year ago was the fast-paced offense of Chip McAllister at No. 6 Landmark Christian. The War Eagles ran up 76.3 points per game on their way to a 21-9 season and a trip to the Elite Eight. Athens Christian crashed Landmark’s party with a 73-46 win. Leading scorer Zack Allen is set to return after averaging 18.6 points and 6 rebounds. The War Eagles took a whopping 1,053 three-pointers (35.1 per game), meaning everybody has the green light in McAllister’s offense. Allen was the team’s most efficient shooter, drilling 77 attempts and connecting at a 40% clip. Junior Collier Schultz is expected to take on a bigger role this year as are seniors Stockton McGuire, Eddie Windsor and Nathan Burdette.
Looking for a bit of a sleeper? Search no further than No. 7 St. Anne-Pacelli. The Vikings did go 17-9 and made it to the playoffs where they fell to Landmark Christian 83-75, but that might have just been the beginning. If there was no major shakeup that I missed this offseason, the Vikes will be returning their top five leading scorers making them an experienced team that could be dangerous come playoff time. Senior guards Tre Sudberry (19.7 ppg), Triston Wells (14.5 ppg), Armon Prophet (12.5 ppg) and Deandre Bowman (10.7 ppg) are all capable scorers. Sudberry also chips in 5.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 3.4 steals while Prophet leads the Vikings with 5.9 assists. Junior Trevor Rice is another valuable piece after adding 5.3 points per game. Coach Alan Griffin’s team is a very unselfish group that has become one of the state’s most efficient offenses, shooting 67% from inside the arc as a team last season.
Two powerful guards propel No. 8 Stratford Academy. Senior Quintez Cephus is set to play at Furman but also has a solid offer from Wisconsin in football. Cephus is the school’s all-time leading scorer (1,960) and will eclipse the 2,000-point barrier early in the season. He also is the school record holder in assists and steals. As a junior, Cephus poured in 22.7 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game to help Coach Jamie Dickey’s Eagles go 18-7 and make it to the second round of state before being banished by Greenforest, 66-23. O’Showen Williams is the perfect complement to Cephus. Williams also plays football and on the basketball court he can score from deep but also find the open man. In 2013-14 Williams scored over 17 points per game at First Presbyterian Day before transferring over to Stratford at Christmas and helping lead the Eagles to a GISA AAA state title.
For No. 9 Lakeview Academy, Coach Todd Cottrell returns a strong core that should compete for a Region 8 top seed. Tae Turner averaged 14 points, 3.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists as a junior and was selected to the All-Area Second Team. He and Honorable Mention selections Tre Gober and Josh Randolph can push the pace and get easy buckets in transition. Both Randolph and Gober played big roles in the Lions success as sophomores and return even more seasoned. Lakeview should be an odds on favorite to reach the state playoffs for a second straight season after finishing 17-11 in 2014-15, ending their season with a 103-59 loss to St. Francis in round one.
No. 10 Tattnall Square finished 20-9 with a first round exit after losing to Aquinas, 55-39. Only two seniors have graduated from last year’s team, but Will Trevitt was a strong interior presence. Junior Calvin Slaughter will once again be asked to lead the charge for the Trojans. Slaughter was among the team leaders in scoring in 2014-15. Fellow junior Sean Brown saw quality playing time and should have a strong rapport with Slaughter in the backcourt.