Following an unpredictable opening season ofClass AAAAAAAbasketball, No. 1 McEachern will hope for calmer waters as Georgia’s top classification’s front-runner. The Indians won 29-straight games only to fall to eventual state champion Tift County in the Final Four 56-49. The 2019 class adds 6-foot-8 Jared Jones of Pebblebrook to pair with Isaac Okoro and Babatunde Akingbola – the GHSA’s best frontcourt – with Sharife Cooper now in Year 2 and Brandon Suggs a senior in the backcourt. The Indians are the cream of the crop on paper and the closest thing resembling a “super team” which was all the rage last year. State Runner-Up Norcross holds the No. 2 ranking. It has now been four years since the Blue Devils’ last state title in 2013. The development of senior JoJo Toppin, junior Lakeside-DeKalb transfer Issa Muhammad and sophomore Brandon Boston will determine how far Norcross goes, with Kyle Sturdivant and Dalvin White as savvy veteran locks in the backcourt. Kevon Eskridge provides a microwave three-point shooter from Columbia, strengthening Norcross’ 2020 class. Though last year didn’t go as planned, No. 3 Wheeler has reason for optimism with Coach Larry Thompson taking control of the program. Region 2 will still be ultra-competitive, but it is no doubt depleted compared to last year’s star power. The Wildcats have a chance to seize control of the region with their frontcourt of Brandon Younger, Austin Johnson and EJ Montgomery. The middle of the rankings should be a jumbled mess all year long as the playing field looks extremely even with Gwinnett County squeezing a host of teams into the picture. Grayson gets the early nod at No. 4 due to the amount they return, most notably Gwinnett’s second leading scorer, Travis Anderson (Charleston Southern). Much like last year, it might take a little while for the Rams to hit their stride with 6-foot-6 double-double man Kenyon Jackson likely to miss the beginning of the season with football, but once he returns, the Rams have a chance to snatch Region 8, but it won’t be easy with No. 5 Shiloh and No. 7 Newton still in the picture. Shiloh might have the most next-level talent with the additions of Class AAAAAAA Freshman of the Year Toneari Lane and the return of 6-foot-7 guard Elias King. Newton benefits from Ashton Hagans’ change of heart to stay in Covington, but he will be without top running mate Colby Rogers who transfers to New Jersey, leaving the Rams looking for a No. 2 scoring option. No. 6 Mountain View continues to trend in the right direction after winning Region 6, Class 7A’s most balanced region. Nahiem Alleyne’s transfer may be what the Bears need to take their statewide legitimacy to the next level as he now joins an extremely experienced roster headed by Troy-commit Spencer Rodgers. Fellow Region 6’ers No. 8 Duluth and No. 10 Collins Hill have plenty of fire-power to make it a season-long tug-o-war with Discovery and Peachtree Ridge also looming. The Wildcats bring back their top three scorers highlighted by one of the state’s best pure shooters, Adam Flagler. Collins Hill has picked up some new faces to go along with 6-foot-7 wing Justin Lee (Northern Illinois) and 6-foot-5 bruising stretch-forward Chris Parks (Queens). Mandarius Dickerson and Quincy Carter should provide an instant lift offensively, both coming from Southwest DeKalb. Building depth behind these four will be crucial to the Eagles’ longevity. 2019 wing Elijah Wilson has impressed and sophomore Alec Oglesby looks ready to contribute on the perimeter at 6-foot-4. No. 9 Meadowcreek was hampered by the injury bug all year. A full season of a healthy Jamir Chaplin along with bigs Amari Kelly (Duquesne) and Cory Hightower sets up for a potential dark horse to make some noise in the state tournament. Consistent guard play around Chaplin will be extremely important. Dequarious Nichols has proven he can be counted on at point guard.
Class AAAAAA is up for grabs, but it feels like the Top 2 are the most complete teams and they just so happen to be in the same Region, Region 8. No. 1 Gainesville has unfinished business. The Red Elephants return everyone but backup center Ross Tipton and swingman Mike White. They romped their way to a 28-2 record, but saw a lead at home in the Elite Eight slip away against No. 3 Langston Hughes, who avenged a season opening 74-57 loss, winning 72-69 and going on to win the state championship. While Gainesville returns everything, highlighted by KJ Buffen (MTSU), the Rosser twins, Bailey Minor and Xavier Bledson, Langston Hughes loses all top contributors outside of Landers Nolley (Virginia Tech) and Jaylen McCluney. Nolley has proven he can carry a team by himself, but will have all targets on his back this season. Tyler Smith, 6-foot-6 225 pounds, brings a toughness to the Langston Hughes interior and will be asked to score to take some of the load off Nolley. Junior guard Tyrel Morgan could play a factor this year in balancing the Panthers backcourt. Sandwiched in between Gainesville and Langston Hughes is No. 2 Dacula. The Falcons went 0-3 vs. Gainesville, losing 79-53, 63-59 and 89-84, but much like the Red Elephants, Dacula has nearly everyone back, plus a few new toys. Joining junior Mekhail Bethea and Class AAAAAA Most Improved Player Arusha Hunter (Clayton State), is 6-foot-6 sophomore Quincy Ademokoya and electric scoring guard Brenden Tucker. Once the two mesh into Dr. Russ Triaga’s system, the sky could be the limit for the Falcons and also give them enough ballhandlers to weather Gainesville’s stifling press. Coming in at No. 4 is Region 5’s second team, Tri-Cities. The Bulldogs had an up and down season last year but peaked at the right moment, taking a trip to the Elite Eight where Allatoona ended their Cinderella run. Known for their extensive offensive sets and stingy defense, Tri-Cities has a high-powered backcourt in 6-foot-4 senior Eli Lawrence and junior microwave DaMarcus Johnson. Jon Young, a transfer from New Manchester, will help in the backcourt as well if eligible. Powerful 6-foot-7 center Zachary Morgan is an intimidating presence that can clear opponents out of the paint. Region 1 boasts No. 5 Coffee, a team that could take off this year. The Trojans finished an unspectacular 16-10 (6-3) last season but turned it on in the state playoffs, upsetting Heritage-Conyers 77-71 in overtime and losing at South Paulding in overtime 90-82. Junior Jayce Moore might be one of the best players in South Georgia as he leads an athletic and scrappy Trojans group which is slated to return its top five scorers. Senior Dalrone Donaldson and 6-foot-6 junior MacKenzie McFatten are two X-factors. After two slim years according to their standards, No. 6 Tucker could be poised to regain their mojo. A core of senior Trevon Flowers along with juniors Nicholas Watson, Jevon Tatum and 6-foot-5 post Nathaniel Ogbu, could be good enough to take the region over from Stephenson and No. 8 Jonesboro. The Cardinals won’t go down without a fight however as a healthy Miles Black and Jamari Smith have a chance to finish their high school careers on a high note with another Region title. No. 7 Alpharetta dominated Region 7 outside of a few costly slipups which saw the Raiders go 2-3 to finish their 25-4 season. Eric Blair takes over as head coach and has a strong nucleus in place with Brandon Barron, RJ Pass and Ryan Jenei. While they should open up as a slight favorite over No. 10 Cambridge to win the region, the Raiders will see more out of region tests, most notable in the Lake City Classic. The Bears of Cambridge come off a 19-10 record and return their top dogs. High motor do-everything guard Kamar Robertson enters his junior season along with David Banks and Bryce Boutelle, giving Coach Chip Flemmer a versatile backcourt. Anchoring the paint is shot-blocker Kyler Ingram. The coast will debut No. 9 Bradwell Institute in the rankings. 2019 guards Isaiah Scott and Simon Steele join senior Khalyn Weekley in their move from First Presbyterian Christian Academy to Bradwell to join JaVonte LeCounte. LeCounte has experience playing with both Scott, a wiry All-State 6-foot-4 GISA guard, and Steele, a ball-handler. Weekley is the straw that stirs the drink, a physical 6-foot-3 point guard who also earned GISA All-State honors.
With the beginning of the state’s newest dynasty potentially on the horizon, No. 1 Buford holds the top spot in Class AAAAAas their quest to repeat tips off. Georgia’s best true point guard, Lipscomb-commit Alex Jones, orchestrates one of the state’s most efficient offenses with Marcus Watson as the centerpiece and Donell Nixon and David Viti as lethal options. Chasing the Wolves are Georgia State-commit Nelson Phillips and No. 2 Warner Robins, who Buford disposed of in the Elite Eight, 94-72. The rise of Phillips to the elite level and the aggressive play of Jacolbey Owens makes for a team that plays with a chip on their shoulder. The entire roster played together over the summer with the Warner Robins All-Stars and slayed shoe-team after shoe-team. The importance of Jaydon Norman, Jaron Zanders and Jam’l Dillard inside can’t be overstated, while Champ Dawson handles the ball-handling duties. State Runner-Up No. 3 Cedar Shoals has retooled their roster with three talented sophomores. Standouts as freshmen at Athens Christian, 6-foot-5 forward Quincy Canty and point guard Tyler Johnson, are two of the best young prospects in Athens, while Demeterius Glenn brings his scoring touch over from Clarke Central. Veteran sparkplug Jai’vanni McDavid will bring energy on both sides of the ball from his guard position. No. 4 Miller Grove hasn’t gone back-to-back years without winning a state title since the 2007 & 2008 seasons; the school’s third and fourth years of existence. To raise another banner, the Wolverines will diversify their scoring attack to rely on more than just one option. 2019 guard Maurice Harvey looks like the next Division-I recruit out of the DeKalb County powerplant, while seniors Lorenzo Anderson and Shiloh-transfer TJ Stargell provide stability in the backcourt. Big men Jermon Clark and Kevin Paige have a chance to establish themselves as the premier low post tandem in Class AAAAA. No. 5 Columbia didn’t quite live up to expectations in Dr. Phil McCrary’s return to the sidelines and now will bank on some addition by subtraction to compete for a Region 5 title with Miller Grove, Southwest DeKalb and Lithonia. The Eagles lose 2020 volume shooter Kevon Eskridge (Norcross) and 6-foot-7 senior TJ Boykin (Maynard Jackson) to transfer but return a healthy and hungry Lorenzo McGhee along with 6-foot-7 sophomore Josh Taylor. Shooting guard Keondre Kennedy has transferred in from North Clayton for his senior season to provide perimeter scoring. No. 7 Southwest DeKalb and No. 9 Lithonia are both young but have playmakers. The Panthers will turn KD Johnson loose his sophomore season at point guard after four rising seniors transfer out. Johnson is arguably the state’s best 2020 point guard and one of the most tenacious competitors. Fellow sophomore Eugene Brown III continues to grow physically and with his skillset. James Glisson stands 6-foot-7 in the post and welcome addition DJ Brittian comes in from Grady, giving Coach Eugene Brown an uber-athletic backcourt. Lithonia came of age in the postseason and took a surprise trip to the Elite Eight at 13-17 where they fell at Cedar Shoals 59-52. Brison Rockcliffe heads into his junior season as a crafty point guard with Sydarius Stinson and Tasim Sams flanking him. Slotting in at No. 6 is Eagle’s Landing. The Eagles’ Sweet 16 exit was a premature elimination for a talented team. Now that Mohammed Abubakkar has graduated, Coach Elliott Montgomery can focus on letting his guards run the show. Christopher Hood and Tarrence Evans are versatile wings that support leading scorer Mercer-commit Brandon Thomas. No. 8 McIntosh is back in the state-wide picture with Cole Guenther and Starr’s Mill transfer Zach Pina leading the way. With another guard in the fold, the 6-foot-7 Guenther should find more open looks along the perimeter. Junior Bruce Carpenter and senior Chaz Hardin, who led the team in scoring last year, return exponentially more seasoned. The Battle of the Bubble intensifies even more as Peachtree City rival No. 10 Starr’s Mill joins McIntosh in the Top 10. The Panthers have a dynamic frontcourt with senior Drew Hudson and junior Nate Allison, who both could see upticks in production with Pina across town. The void at point guard however, will need to be filled.
Georgia’s heaviest favorite to repeat as state champs is Class AAAA’sNo. 1 Upson-Lee. The Knights emerged from the pack last year in an unpredictable Class AAAA season and finished as the state’s lone undefeated team at 32-0. Every key piece returns outside of Mikey Smith (Albany State), who is replaced by sharpshooter Cameron Traylor. Tye Fagan (MTSU), the Class AAAA Player of the Year, is flanked by Zyrice Scott while 6-foot-5 Travon Walker, possibly the most important player to the team’s defensive success, is back for his junior season to anchor the paint. The addition of 6-foot-3 wing Jarrett Adderton should pay dividends. The junior from West Orange, Florida is an athletic piece. The Knights play a much tougher non-region schedule this season and will receive everyone’s best shot year-round. State Runner-Up No. 2 St. Pius brings nearly everything back as well, as they search for another crack at the Knights, who held on 53-48 in front of a capacity crowd at McCamish Pavilion. Junior point guard Matt Gonzalo has run Coach Aaron Parr’s offense and defense to a T, but now may be able to hunt his own shot more frequently throughout the season. Everett Lane canned seven three-pointers in the state title game and can catch fire at any moment. The inside play of Zach Ranson and Kennedy Willis will be crucial. Ranson, a 6-foot-3 junior, is the team’s best rebounder and most physical player while the 6-foot-8 Willis has looked good over the summer and may develop into a sleeper for Low Majors. Troy Stephens is a scoring guard to keep tabs on as well. The Golden Lions blitzed No. 3 Sandy Creek last year in the Final Four 87-68 and the Patriots have turned the reigns over to former Kennesaw State Owl Jon-Michael Nickerson, who has seen previous success at the high school level with Excel Christian. Jarred Godfrey, Chris Porter and Kam Miller all bring their own diverse skillsets to a solid backcourt. The Patriots will lean heavily on prospects TJ Bickerstaff and Xavier Brewer to finally blossom into All-State caliber players. Both 6-foot-7, Brewer, a senior, is a streaky three-point shooter while Bickerstaff holds D-I offers but must assert himself his junior season now that he is the presumed No. 1 scoring option. Now in Year 3, former Laney head coach Buck Harris has No. 4 Baldwin in the title hunt. The backcourt consists of junior Donte Justice and seniors Brenden Robertson and Rodney Walker. Justice was an All-Region First Teamer that led the Braves at 16 points per game. Robertson is a high-motor shooting guard that plays hard and flies all over the court. Juniors Zae Simpson and Justin Webb also enter the fold coming over from Georgia Military College. With the right tutelage, the 6-foot-6 Webb could turn into a college level player. Don’t forget about junior point guard Torez Hicks, a defensive-minded ballhawk that does what it takes to win. To live up to their potential and high billing, No. 5 Cartersville must find a way to beat teams outside of North Georgia. A First Round exit at Marist soured what should have been a sweet season. Furman-commit Jaylon Pugh is a Top 3 2018 point guard in Georgia and a threat to launch from two steps over half court. TJ Horton and Perignon Dyer have to take pressure off Pugh and unorthodox forward Isaac Gridley has to battle in the paint. Region 4 was a revolving door of front runners but this year it looks like No. 6 Salem might be able to take a hold of the group. Point guard Montez Swann and 6-foot-6 forward Tehjuan Powell welcome three important transfers to the program. 6-foot-5 physical small forward Tabias Long comes in from Southwest DeKalb, 6-foot-6 junior Avante Lederer moves from Heritage-Conyers and 6-foot-2 junior Lance Smith makes his way over from Woodland-Henry. They will have to hold off No. 8 Woodward Academy, who got a shot in the arm by landing one of the highest touted 2020 big men in the nation, 6-foot-10 Walker Kessler. The Class A-Private All-State Honorable Mention selection from Landmark Christian averaged 15.1 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3 blocks per game as a freshman. He joins Class AAAA Freshman of the Year 6-foot-5 Jacorrei Turner and 6-foot-8 2019 power forward Kevin Powell to form the classification’s best long-term frontcourt on paper. Coach Anthony Thomas needs to find an answer at point guard to replace Julian Cameron. No. 7 Westover has a potent backcourt in Kris Gardner and Jordan “Snow” Brown. Gardner stuffed stat-sheets as a talented scorer and passer while Brown did his best work from deep beyond the three-point line but has improved his ability to get into the lane and finish. Senior Camryn Weston has had a strong offseason as well. 6-foot-7 freshman Isaac Abidde could make an immediate impact and provide the Patriots with a post presence and shot blocker that the team lacked last year. If Cam Holden can get any sort of quality help throughout the season, No. 9 Mary Persons could make a bid to push Upson-Lee in Region 2. The 6-foot-5 Holden averaged 26 points, 11 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 3.2 steals and 1.9 blocks as a junior. He must keep his emotions in check and not let them get the best of him as he is a trash talker and a hot head with a propensity for collecting technicals. The Bulldogs lose their second-leading scorer but return the rest of their top six scoring options, highlighted by sophomore guard Dee Morton who averaged 7.2 points in his first high school season. The bottom of the Top 10 in Class AAAA last year was a kiss of death, with teams struggling to stay afloat in the rankings from week to week. The first team to get a crack at becoming a mainstay in 2017-18 will be No. 10 Richmond Academy. Region 3-AAAA First Teamer DT Stephens is back to pace the Musketeers in scoring, but will have to get into basketball shape quickly as he has avoided the hardwood this offseason to focus on the gridiron. Big men Vontrez Roberts and Lucas Thomas have the size to crash the glass and score inside. The transfer of sharpshooting sophomore Tyshun Briscoe will hurt, but Second Team All-Region pick Jacobi Wood is a 5-foot-8 spark plug.
Grit and toughness carried No. 1 Morgan County to a Class AAAstate championship appearance last year and three of their five starters return to try and finish the deal this season. The Bulldogs were undersized and finally met their match in the title game against Wendell Carter, but Coach Jamond Sims has a sweet-shooting backcourt with some scrappy defenders. The 2019 trio of Stevin Green, Tyrin Lawrence and Alec Woodard are the straws that stir the drink. Green, 5-foot-9, flies around the floor and has a knack for coming up with big plays defensively while the pair of 6-foot-3 guards can fill it up offensively, especially Woodard from three. No. 2 Johnson-Savannah has the quickness and the size to take a deep run in the state tournament. UGA-commit Amanze Ngumezi is a mismatch nightmare at 6-foot-8 with the ability to knockdown the deep ball. Junior guard Shamar Jones led the Atomsmashers in scoring last season and will team-up with the Bowles: Eleik, E’Maury and Elavian. They will have to hold off No. 6 Jenkins, who has dominated Savannah for the past five seasons. The Warriors retool with the additions of 14.9-point-per-game scorer Matt Sams and 6-foot-7 junior Lamont Sams. The former Savannah Bluejacket and Johnson-Savannah Atomsmasher will join bouncy senior Tyrone Scott and three-point bomber Tre Mays. No. 3 Cedar Grove returns its go-to guys in junior guard Devon Barnes and senior forward Jamari Dean. New to the fold is Maynard Jackson transfer Keshun Byrd, a guard that averaged 10.1 points and 3.4 assists as a junior. Also in is 6-foot-6, 250-pound power forward Tworn Seals. The junior is now at his third high school in three years and might end up sticking to football. The Saints have a chance to seize Region 5 now that No. 8 Pace Academy has graduated Wendell Carter. 6-foot-5 forward Isaiah Kelly (Yale) will have to prove he can lead a team. 6-foot-9, 230-pound soccer player Jonathan Rushton is a mountain of a man in the paint. Junior guard Myles Todd could emerge as an extremely important cog for the Knights’ success. There should be plenty of motivation for a bounce back season for No. 4 Greater Atlanta Christian, who flopped to end the year, losing to East Hall in the Region Championship and then upset by Lovett in the opening round of state. Point guard Hunter McIntosh now enters his junior season with a large 2019 class following his lead including Ben Sheppard, who has grown from 6-foot to 6-foot-4. Roy Dixon is a dangerous shooter and Chris Hinton is a load on the low block with Shawn Ohuabunwa improving his game at 6-foot-7. Khavon Moore gets one final shot at going out with a bang at No. 5 Westside-Macon. The Seminoles tried to load the deck last year with a strong senior class, but an in-season transfer and a double-overtime Elite Eight loss to Pace Academy ended hopes of bringing Macon a championship. The onus will be placed on Greg Holloway and Omar Jones to provide support of Moore from their forward positions. Freshman shooting guard Javian Mosley may be able to carve out some rotational minutes. Coach Joe Dix has No. 7 East Hall in a great position to make some waves in Class AAA with a young group coming to fruition and a couple transfers in to help out. Sedrion Morse will provide senior experience along with Johnson-Gainesville move-ins Qua Butler and junior Kylan Curry, who have seen big minutes. Luke Cooper and Luke Holtzclaw are shooters while Imre Earls may make an impact as a freshman. No. 9 Long County brings back everyone including Reggie Wilkes, who returns to the area after winning a region title at Long County Middle School four years ago before serving a stint as head coach at Adairsville. Henry Blair, Terry Smith, Christian Bass and Ryheim Izzard compose a reliable core for a team in win-now mode in Region 2, that sees Liberty County lose Will Richardson to Oak Hill Academy. Khy Collins is a physical guard that can make plays on the perimeter. One of North Georgia’s most consistent programs, No. 10 Calhoun, will look to keep the ball rolling. The 2016 and 2017 graduating classes leave a massive void but seniors Kaylan Aker and Porter Law have winning in their bloodlines. The late season emergence of 6-foot-5 forward Davis Allen could lead to a breakout junior season.
Class AA was a forgone conclusion last year with South Atlanta racing to the title, but this year, its Swainsboro who will open up at No. 1. The Tigers got pounded by 35 points in the state title game but three crucial starters return in seniors Jaylan McKinney and Eddie Roberts along with junior Jamil Watkins. McKinney, 5-foot-8, averaged 26.8 points per game last year as a First Team All-Stater. Roberts is a blossoming 6-foot-6 forward that plays above the rim and averaged a double-double while lastly, 6-foot-4 Jamil Watkins is a dangerous wing. Swainsboro has one of the best nucleuses in the classification, but they must develop depth behind their starters to go the distance. The Tigers played just six players in their normal rotation a year ago. No. 2 Glenn Hills jumped from 3 wins to 16 last season and may be on the verge of taking the next big leap thanks to a few transfers now sprinkled into the mix. The anchor inside is 6-foot-8 post Timmy Sellers who currently claims a South Carolina State offer. Sophomore Tre Whitehead is an explosive 6-foot-5 wing with one of Augusta’s highest ceilings. Glenn Hills’ guard additions are the most important to the Spartans being able to take the next step. Seniors Isaiah Bauman and Tim Williamson are aggressive on both sides of the ball and will bring a swagger to the Glenn Hills backcourt. No. 3 Banks County will be a dominant force out of Region 8 yet again. Darius Bonds orchestrates an offense that likes to pound the ball inside with 6-foot-7 Dylan Orr and inside-outside scorer Carl Cleveland, Coach Mike Cleveland’s sophomore son. Gabe Martin brings shooting from the perimeter as well. Defending state champion No. 4 South Atlanta gears up for a quick reload but will have to go through some early growing pains as seven seniors graduate. Jalen Stegall and Dondre Barnes give Coach Michael Reddick a savvy backcourt that can score the ball. Freshman power forward Julius Lymon looks to be next in a long line of strong Hornet big men. No. 5 Thomasville has disappointed in back-to-back years in the state playoffs with blowout double digit losses. Mississippi State power forward Reggie Perry has been regarded as a five-star recruit, but he has yet to lead his team to a Final Four appearance in one of Georgia’s classifications with the least amount of Division-I opposition. He along with 6-foot-9 Titus Wright will have to finally get over the hump and live up to their potential. The growth of guard Vonterius Woolbright and swingmen Quindarius Thomas and Luke Wallace may determine whether the Bulldogs can make a deep run or not. No. 6 Dublin will go as far as Kameron Pauldo will carry them. The diminutive guard averaged over 27 points per game last year and helped guide the Irish to the Final Four. Running mate Torian Holder is a reliable ball-handler that may be asked to score some more this season after coming up big in Pauldo’s early round absence during their state playoff run. Coach Paul Williams will need some others to step up around them. Bruising post Bruce Guyton brings his football toughness to the hardwood, but lacks height at 6-foot-2. No. 7 Jeff Davis didn’t crack the rankings at all in 2016-17, finishing behind Swainsboro in the Region 2 regular season standings. Now that Class AA Freshman of the Year Ja’Queze Kirby is year older, the Yellowjackets are a viable option to make some noise. The 6-foot-5 forward led Jeff Davis in scoring (14.8), rebounding (11.7), assists (3.3) and blocks (3.2). He has some help returning as well in second leading scorer senior Kirese Manley along with Chandler Davenport and Tae Thomas. No. 8 Laney’s grasp over the rest of the competition in Augusta may finally be slipping, but their proud tradition won’t let them go down without a fight in Region 4. Donald Henley Jr. is the ring leader at point guard, a true speed merchant that can change games with his ability to create transition opportunities. DJuan Griffin helps pace the backcourt with a nice jumper and blow by ability. PJ Walker gives some scoring punch on the wing as well. Laney’s defensive pressure will still give opponents fits, even if they don’t have a Christian Keeling or a Zep Jasper on the roster as dynamic next level stars. Any team with Ashton Bonner on its squad cannot be counted out, that’s why No. 9 Monticello is still a threat. Bonner sees CJ Adams and Matthew Lawson graduate beside him, meaning Malik Crawford will have to emerge as a consistent scoring option. The physical and athletically gifted 6-foot-5 forward now enters his junior season. If he is able to, the Hurricanes shouldn’t see much of a drop-off from their 20-win campaign. If he isn’t, Monticello could be hovering around .500. Rounding out the trio of Region 4 teams in the Top 10 out of Augusta is No. 10 Butler. Mardrez McBride is a proven downhill scorer with highlight capabilities. Now he will have to prove he can not only lead a team in scoring, but as a floor general and leader of men as well. Keith Littles is a fellow senior guard that should help McBride out in both areas. A breakout season could be in the mix for Jyheem Rollins, a wing that played well over the summer heading into his junior season.
Class A-Privateis as open as it has been in five years as Greenforest and St. Francis have traded winning state titles, St. Francis in 2014 & 2015 and Greenforest in 2013, 2016 & 2017. The upper echelon of the classification is no longer loaded with four to five D-I players on each of the top two rosters, which could lead to some surprise contenders popping up. With that being said, St. Francis opens as the No. 1 contender albeit being one of the youngest teams in the field led by sophomores Dwon Odom and Chase Ellis. Juniors CJ Riley, a knockdown three-point shooter, and Sean Paradise, the ultimate glue guy, round out Coach Drew Catlett talented bunch. 6-foot-4 senior wing Caleb Snyder is a nice shooter while freshman point guard Madison Durr is a highly touted playmaker with size. The only thing the Knights don’t have is a true impactful post presence on the low block. Defending state champion Greenforest earns the No. 2 spot but has question marks surrounding the program like never before. Two-time state championship winning coach Larry Thompson has left for Wheeler and is replaced by understudy Rory Griffin. Four D-I players graduate and battery ram 6-foot-9, 260-pound center Mo Abdulsalem has exhausted his eligibility and will be playing at the next level this year instead of graduating high school in 2018 as originally expected. So who’s left? Rumors have swirled about the latest batch of imports to join the program and last anyone has heard is that the Eagles have two new players from the Senegal. If true, they join junior wing Terrell Sanders, who returns with the most experience after averaging 2.7 points per game. Greenforest does have three other confirmed transfers in Christian Jackson (Fulton Leadership Academy), Cam Chavers (Parkview) and Kaleb Jenkins (Shiloh). It could end up being a boom or bust year for Greenforest with all of the uncertainty. No. 3 Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy is quickly rising onto the state’s radar. In his first year as head coach, Derrick Mason turned the Chargers around from a 4-19 team sputtering to find traction into a 20-7 state playoff squad. Even with all of the success, it was a bit of a revolving door in McDonough this summer as JeKobe Coleman transferred and so did 6-foot-8 junior Malachi Rhodes, but luckily for the Chargers, Rhodes reneged on Langston Hughes and returned to ELCA. KJ Jones and Trevon Reddish have moved in. Jones comes in from Luella while Reddish moves from Carrollton and should instantly become ELCA’s best guard; an explosive junior. The Chargers have a good batch of young players that could help the program solidify itself as one of the best in the evolving landscape of Class A-Private. No. 4 Aquinas finished 26-2 a year ago with their only in-state loss coming against St. Francis in the Elite Eight. The Fightin’ Irish return their entire roster minus All-State Honorable Mention point guard Jelani Shakir. All-State shooting guard Tre Gomillion will see the offense turn to him for big buckets and rebounds. 6-foot-4 guard Daniel Parrish and 6-foot-7 forward Chris Williams bring length on defense. Getting production inside and handling on-ball pressure defense will determine Aquinas’ success. No. 5 Wesleyan began playing their best ball coming down the stretch last year, finishing 11-3 over their final 14 games. Christian McLean led the Wolves from his shooting guard position and has played his way into the Division-I discussion. Junior Grant Summers and Whitefield Academy transfer sophomore Micah Smith will play important roles in Coach Adam Griffin’s backcourt. The team that eliminated Wesleyan in the state playoffs? No. 6 Lakeview Academy. The Lions lose a good chunk of their Final Four team but do return sharpshooting brothers and Coach Todd Cottrell’s sons, Drew and Adam. Evan Pitts is a proven commodity at forward and Jack Blackburn is one of a handful of guards who have heard their number called over the past years. The Lions will need to replace their two most explosive athletes in Tre Gober and Josh Randolph. No. 7 North Cobb Christian loses all of its scoring punch with three crucial seniors graduating, including unstoppable force Demiere Brown (Kilgore College). The reigns are now handed over to point guard Hunter Norman. Norman has improved each season and will now be tested as a leader and a scorer his senior year. Seniors Myles Hamilton and Nate Perrin will have to provide more consistency now that their roles will be increased. Junior Chas Savage and sophomores Myson Lowe and 6-foot-7 forward Caleb Crumly are the future. No. 8 Stratford Academy finished 10-13 a year ago, but should be much improved with Region 7-A First Teamer Nathan Hunt back as a 6-foot-5 senior forward along with 6-foot-3 junior point guard Devin Butts. Butts turned some heads over the summer as a Middle Georgia playmaker to keep an eye on. New to the fold is highly touted freshman point guard Jaden Harris, who decided on staying at Stratford Academy instead of moving north. No. 9 King’s Ridge Christian turns to junior forward Eric Coleman Jr. to lead the Tigers into statewide contention. The 6-foot-6 forward has gotten better every year and now is one of the classification’s elite players. Once just a long wing with a pretty stroke, Coleman has added the ability to handle the rock and get to the basket along with a toughness inside on the low block, making him a threat to score from all over the floor. He has underclassmen help in 6-foot-4 sophomore wing Sterling Johnson and playmaking freshman point guard Sutton Smith. No. 10 Holy Innocents’ will see old players in new roles after graduating the core of Cole Smith, Jules Erving and Richard Surdykowski. Sneaky-productive wing Alex Hyatt heads into his junior season as the team’s leading returning scorer, averaging 8.2 points per game in 2016-17. Fellow junior Todd Ennis is an inside-outside 6-foot-5 forward that can knock in the three-ball while senior point guard Matt Meadows will be tasked with controlling the flow of the game. Josh Smith, 6-foot-4, is a fresh face coming in from Rockdale County. A versatile sophomore, Smith is a forward that can play all over the floor for Coach Adrian Collins. Don’t be surprised if he is among the team’s leading scorers this season.
No. 1 Calhoun County has unfinished business after falling short in the Class A-Public state championship. The Cougars return their entire roster including the classification’s best player, South Florida-commit Rashun Williams, an aggressive 6-foot-6 wing who has improved by leaps and bounds. Juniors Roney Moore and Juwaun Wiley provide scoring and quickness on the perimeter. Freshman Tykevious Curry should inject an instant boost as a 6-foot scoring guard. Coming off a Final Four appearance, No. 2 Macon County has all the pieces in place to challenge for its first state title. Senior Clayton Jenkins is one of the best scorers in the class, pouring in 22.3 points a night as a fearless three-point shooter that can get into the lane off the bounce. Forwards Trey Brown and Makevion Bonner are potential X-Factors. Brown, a 6-foot-4 senior wide receiver, is a tough rebounder and the Bulldogs’ best inside presence. Bonner is a lanky 6-foot-4 junior who possesses a versatile skillset. If he keeps his motor running high, Bonner can wreak havoc on both sides of the ball as a defender and slasher. Sophomore guard Lakeviyon Walker is a tough-nosed 5-foot-11 dynamo that plays bigger than his size. He picked up his play in the second half of the season. Walker rebounds well for his size and can get hot from deep. The best duo in Class A-Public belongs to No. 3 Central-Talbotton. The Hawks are led by All-State seniors JaQuavius Smith, a 6-foot-5 wing, and 6-foot-4 forward ZyTavian Hill. Smith attacks the hoop with a downhill approach, but also can stretch the defense out from deep. Smith might have more polish and skillset than Hill, but it is the rugged man-child that is the engine for Central-Talbotton. Hill has one of the best motors in the entire state of Georgia and plays with extreme toughness and physicality. He churned in double-double after double-double with the Middle Georgia Raptors while playing with Smith. The tandem will have a huge final year together, but to compete for a state title it will come down to the role players. Someone will have to step up as a third scoring option. No. 4 Wilkinson County is in search of a three-peat and their fifth title in six years, dominating the Class A-Public division since it’s split from Private in 2013. The Warriors lose a bevy of their guards meaning the trio of Devin Jones, Brandon Mayes and Jaylen Lamar must step up. Known for their size, Wilkinson County’s strength is still their frontcourt with 6-foot-6 forward Clarence Jackson and 6-foot-6 center Tylan Grable. Jackson isn’t afraid to do the dirty work, rebounding well and chipping in all over the statsheet while Grable is an intimidating force in the paint. No. 5 Treutlen’s only loss came in the Elite Eight against Macon County in overtime, 67-62. The Vikings have gone 101-10 over the past four seasons with two Elite Eight and two Final Four exits to show for it. Six seniors graduate from last year’s 27-win team. Treutlen’s championship window might be shrinking just a bit, but junior guard Arkavious Lovett will be tasked with keeping it open as long as possible. With just three seniors and seven freshmen on their roster, No. 6 Wilcox County finished 20-10 last season. Football standout Desmond Tisdol enters his sophomore season after averaging 15.3 points per game. Fellow 2020’s Jordan Brown and Elijah Howard averaged 12.5 and 11.5 points per game, respectively. No. 7 Montgomery County emerged from the traditionally weak Region 3, taking a trip to the Elite Eight and pushing Treutlen to the brink in their first matchup of the season. The senior trio of big-time scorer Daveaun Coglin, Jahleel Wilson and Shaw Robinson lead the Eagles into battle. No. 8 Pelham was streaky last year, winning their first five games, losing their next seven, then winning eight straight in region play before losing to Terrell County in the Region 1 Tournament and getting shutout of a state playoff spot at 14-9 overall, but 12-3 in region. The Hornets challenged themselves, playing bigger local competition like 7A Lowndes (L: 45-42, 53-32), 6A Valdosta (L: 59-53) and 2A Thomasville (L: 53-34; 62-55). The Hornets return everyone but Cassius Allen. Ke’Monterius Byrd, Dewaun Jones and Jake Delegawl have experience leading the team in scoring while 6-foot-6 senior Willie Kemp is a shot blocker that was named Defensive Player of the Year in Region 1. No. 9 Woodville-Tompkins turns to Lenny Williams as head coach after the young program set a school record in wins last season at 16-11, however for the second straight year Montgomery County ended their season in the Region 3 Tournament. The Wolverines lose just one senior and see Charleston Willingham, Jordan Walker and Deante Green return for their junior seasons after going 1-2-3 in scoring. Senior point guard AJ Hassel had a strong summer while 6-foot-3 junior Preston Crisp is name to familiarize yourself with on the coast. First year head coach Tyler Wright leads No. 10 Mt. Zion-Carroll into the Top 10. The Eagles will be up against it. They play in Region 6, which houses nearly all private schools, meaning there will be hardly any room for error if they want to stay in the rankings and eventually make the state playoffs. The good news is Region 6A-A is down this year with North Cobb Christian rebuilding, Darlington losing star Elijah McKoy and Christian Heritage in need of finding pieces to surround Christian Koneman. Mt. Zion has a lethal one-two punch in the backcourt returning in 1,000-point scorer CJ Ackles and deadly shooter TJ Cagle, both seniors. Both will be counted on to do the heavy lifting and navigate Mt. Zion through Region 6 turbulence with Class A-Private No. 1 St. Francis looming on the B-side of the region. Quality depth and consistent role players will determine whether the Eagles take flight or see their wings clipped as seven seniors have graduated.