2019 6-4 W Riley Costas (St. Pius X) turned heads with his effort and scoring touch for God’s Property. Costas was Johnny on the spot, always in the right place at the right time. The lefty scored on nifty drives and jumpers extending out to the three-point line. To no surprise, he brought his MTXE mentality equipped from the high school season to the travel ball circuit, willing to draw charges and make hustle plays. He had 22 points in a 73-67 win over Team Power and scored 11 points in a tight championship loss.
2019 6-5 F Jaylen Bates (North Atlanta) is a powerful forward that brings his football toughness onto the hardwood. Bates is a physical presence in the paint with a quick explosion when attacking rebounds. His play was consistent and integral in helping the GA Elite Ballers capture the 17U Blue Championship. Throughout the tournament Bates had games of 10 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks and 13 points and 5 rebounds. In the championship with the Baller bigs battling foul trouble, Bates turned in 10 points, 2 rebounds and 2 steals. After averaging just 3.6 points and 2.8 rebounds as a junior, Bates is a huge reason why North Atlanta will be a favorite in Region 7-AAAAAA and a serious threat to take a deep run in the state playoffs.
Mitch Makes His Mark
It’s time for 2019 6-1 PG Mitch Ganote (Lambert) to get his due as being one of the toughest guards in the state of Georgia. Ganote has proven to be a habitual winner with the GA Elite Ballers and Lambert, both in basketball and lacrosse having won a state title during the spring field season. Ganote is one of the craftiest ball handlers in the state with some of the best court vision in the 2019 class. Ganote was the engine that made the GA Elite Ballers go. He punishes defenders that aren’t used to his style of play. He completely controls the tempo of the game, either igniting the fastbreak or slowing it down in the half court. Ganote uses his body to back down defenders like Mark Jackson back in the day. He loves getting to his right, shielding the ball and using a multitude of spins to get to where he wants to go, often finishing with a nifty scoop layup or drawing a foul. In the first round of bracket play, the Ballers defeated a chippy Carolina Pressure team 67-66 behind Ganote’s grit and guile. He posted 21 points – 17 in the second half – 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 steal while going 9-of-15 from the foul line. In the Blue Bracket semifinals, Ganote went for 13 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals in a 69-49 rout. Saving his best for last with Ron Hunter (Georgia State HC), Brian Gregory (South Florida HC) and Josh Pastner (Georgia Tech HC) in attendance, Ganote put on a show in the title game, hanging 17 points – 13 in the second half – 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 1 steal in a 68-64 victory. Ganote has to be regarded as a legitimate D-I option for schools looking for a gritty floor general.
A Strong Cup of Coffee
2019 6-7 F Mackenzie McFatten’s recruitment has skyrocketed since I took the four-hour drive down south in late January. The Coffee lanky lefty fueled Team Power from the interior with his ability to guard multiple positions and rebound out of area. College coaches were swooning over his skillset. McFatten showed the ability to score with his back-to-the-basket and hit the outside shot. He had 12 points, 8 rebounds and 1 block against the Greater NE GA Warriors and 8 points and 7 rebounds against God’s Property.
Hype 2021 played up in the 16U Division and cruised to a 69-64 title over JSI Elite.
2021 6-5 F Cole Middleton (Pace Academy) has all the makings of becoming a powerhouse All-State big man. Middleton did it all. Scoring from the low block with great post moves, hitting baseline jumpers and showing off his handles as he attacked the rim from the three-point line until he bulled his way to wherever he wanted. He had 19 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist and 5 blocks in the championship. Middleton is more than just a stationary lumbering big man. His agility was on full display with his diverse skillset. He picked up a handful of travel calls when wheeling and dealing his way to the basket. He will need to clean up his footwork a little bit, but Middleton looks like a big-time problem over the next three seasons in Class AAA under new head coach Sharman White.
2021 5-9 PG Sutton Smith (Denmark) had the ball on a string as he torched JSI Elite. The little lefty buried 5 threes but was more than just a one-trick pony. He had some devastating crossovers that freed him up and left defenders in the dust while he kissed two pretty floaters off the glass. Smith finished with 19 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists and 1 steal. Smith has flash to his game with his passing and a quiet swagger. He will be the face of the Denmark program as they debut in Class AAAA.
Augusta’s Top Dog
2019 6-3 CG Kalen Williams (Lakeside-Evans) was up to his old tricks with Team Power, scoring in bunches. His unorthodoxed high-release jumper was locked in against God’s Property, drilling 5 three-pointers. At one point in the second half, Williams was unguardable. He hit four threes and no defender could stay in front of him. Williams got in the paint at ease and took over the game before Team Power ran out of steam and lost 73-67. Williams collected 6 rebounds and 2 assists to boot. Williams is a scoring-minded guard who has gotten better at not forcing shots and getting his teammates involved. If Williams has his off the court issues behind him, he is a D-I level talent that could help a program looking for a tough competitor that knows how to get a bucket.
The GA Elite Ballers won the 17U Blue Championship in thrilling fashion 68-64. Four players scored in double digits, but one who didn’t, played just as big a role in hoisting the trophy. 2019 6-4 SG Kalik Brooks (Alpharetta) drew the assignment of defending sharpshooter Devin Butts, who carried Team Georgia Magic to the title game by scorching the nets. Brooks made life for Butts difficult, staying in his chest as much as possible and holding the prolific shooter to 12 points. Brooks does the little things that don’t show up in the box score. He is accepting of his role of being a defensive-minded guard. Brooks can score when called upon, especially slashing to the basket, but he is content with doing the dirty work. His length allows him to guard multiple positions and he should be called on to be Alpharetta’s No. 1 perimeter defender his senior season.