Tag Archives: Rob Grubbs

Gentle giant Derek Miller, more than just a force in the paint

Contributed by Rob Grubbs   (@RCGJr226070)

Sponsored by:   @sportalspace

In a generation of excess, many today are defined by what they don’t have instead of the things they do. While the destination is important, the journey is richer and more rewarding. Apalachee senior 6-foot-7 forward Derek Miller is on a journey as he nears his graduation from high school. Derek is a star for the Wildcat basketball team, but to define him by that fact comes up woefully short, he is so much more. While basketball is a big part and figures to provide the avenue for his journey in the near future, it is just one component of this young man who is extremely comfortable being himself, a trait that can never be taken for granted and refreshing in today’s athletes.

His senior year has been interesting to say the least. Gone is the only high school head coach he knew, Kevin Morris, who moved on to Jefferson High School and in his place, first-year head coach Spencer Bernstein. Add to that he is returning from a season ending injury last year and there were a lot of unknowns coming into the year. While the record is not as strong as they would like (8-10), all of their losses have been by seven points or less including three in overtime; they could easily be 12-6 or better with a few breaks here and there. But there is still a lot of that story to write, as Derek and the Wildcats have improved throughout the season and look to jell at the right time when the Region 8-AAAAAA tournament starts. But again, Derek is so much more than just the leader of an improving basketball team.

A Special Bond

Derek was born in Peoria, Illinois, he says he still prefers the cold and misses it with his easy smile.  He moved here when he was six, his father passed away when he was a youngster and the family moved south. His mom, Tiana and older sister, Saboyce, settled in Winder, Georgia. When talking to Derek and his mom, you can sense the closeness; they finish each other’s sentences at times and even communicate with an unspoken eye language. Tiana works the night shift and does not get to see him play usually. She keeps up with his games via text messages afterwards and even then, “He forgets to tell me, so I have to text him to see how it went,” she said while cutting her eyes towards him.

Derek with his mother Tiana

The special times for them are on her off days, when Derek cooks breakfast for her and they enjoy the opportunity to share the moment. His specialty is waffles, they are good he said.  Tiana almost glows when she talks about Derek, but not just about his athletic prowess, but because of who he is and how he is becoming a man right before her eyes. If success in life for a man is predicated on the amount of love and prayer invested in him by his mother, then Derek is in good shape.

And Derek is there for her as well. When she faced major health scares in the past two years, Derek became the son/nurse, they are family and they stick close, which is all they know. Success is born in the tight knit fabric of family and Tiana and Derek are a testimony to that.

A Legacy at Apalachee  

Derek’s sister, Saboyce, five years his senior, left a great legacy at Apalachee. Quite the basketball player herself, she reached the 1,000-point threshold in her career and signed a scholarship to play college ball at Emanuel College in Franklin Springs, Georgia after she graduated in 2012.  She held the Apalachee High School girls shot-put record with a throw of 34-2.5 until 2016 when current junior Nakia Hooks, another basketball player, took the honors. Derek’s conversation was light-hearted as we talked, but when it came to his sisters’ influence, he suddenly got serious.  “I remember – I was in middle school and was not playing basketball and she would go outside to play and I would go with her. Even though she was with her older friends, she treated me with respect, she treated me like I was someone. That changed me. Her attitude towards me changed how I saw myself. I wanted to be like her.”

Saboyce lives in Illinois now and the gym she starred in is now under her brother’s watch, but as a player who scored often – she once took 50 shots in a game against Clarke Central – her biggest current contribution is the assist she provided by helping the in development of Derek.

Late Bloomer

In today’s microwave environment of developing the basketball talents of youngsters, the norm is for players to enter to the competitive grind of club basketball around age 9 or 10. For those who want to go big time, the prevalent thought is you play year-round at the highest level. From this, skills are honed but more importantly, players become known to the college recruiters before ever entering high school.  While the current stars of the Class of 2018 were spending their summers traveling to gyms all around the state, Derek took a different path; he developed his music. Before Saboyce drug him outside to play hoops, he was at home with his drum set.  Music was his oasis and playing in the praise band at his church was his arena to be seen.

To this day, he still plays the drums at Grace Missionary Baptist Church. The Pastor there, Robert Ballard has been his mentor since he was in the fourth grade. Coincidently, Rev. Ballard is also the PA announcer for Apalachee basketball, so he gets to see both sides of Derek, the music and the basketball.  Ballard shared, “Derek is really an exceptional young man. Whether it is his athletic or musical abilities, it is clear to see he is truly gifted. But his greatest gifts are his ability to connect with people regardless of age, interests or skin color. Everyone loves him and sees him as their own.  The school cafeteria workers adore him because he is one of the few students that give them hugs and tells them thank you.”

Tiana said it best, “He is a well-rounded young man, he has a love for people and people are drawn to him. He lost his father at an early age and I think that is a big reason for him loving people.” It doesn’t take long to be around Derek to sense that about him.

Revisiting a Scare

Last season, the Apalachee Wildcats, led by two senior All-Region guards, were holding onto third-place in the region. On January 20, 2017, Derek scored 21 points as the Wildcats held off rival Winder-Barrow.  In early February, with the tournament coming up, Derek suffered a season-ending knee injury. While there was physical pain for the injury, the mental strain was tough too. His jovial, whimsical demeanor turned very serious during the conversation. He shared, “While I was hurting, it was tough because I felt like I let my teammates down. It took a long time for me to get over that.”

The Wildcats lost their final four games of the 2016-17 season, including twice against Winder-Barrow and came up short in their goal to make the state tournament. It is easy to see that experience left mixed emotions on Derek and he has wrestled with those feelings a lot over the past 12 months.  While the pain is gone, the desire to move past the experience mentally is evident.

Game Day

A tour of the Apalachee High School student parking lot is like many of the affluent schools in the metro-Atlanta area, big trucks and nice cars. But for Derek, game day starts on the school bus. Tiana gets off work around 3:15 a.m. and is asleep when it’s time for him to head to school. But as in all the other aspects of his life, Derek uses the time on the bus to begin preparation for the game, “I start the day with my music,” he offered, “I listen to different things, it always starts my routine and gets me ready.”

After school, when the JV and 9th grade games start, you will find the star forward in the concession stand making fries and hot dogs, he loves serving and being around people, it is where he is most comfortable.

Derek Miller, Rob Grubbs
Even our own Rob Grubbs can not score in the paint on Miller

Once it’s game-time, Derek is mentally at peace, no moment is too big for him. Coach Bernstein says of Derek, “He is a physical specimen, he has unbelievable stamina and he is fast and never shows fatigue on the court.” When asked what he thinks when he gets the ball, he dead-panned, “Four things, in this order; dunk, hook shot, pass or get fouled.”  His dunks are what the fans wants to see.  Against Banks County earlier this season, Derek had an exceptional flush that jolted the crowd. He said, “I could feel the rush of energy from the crowd, it was an exciting moment.” While he may be a late bloomer to the game, he has no problem thinking like a big man.

In terms of the professional game, his favorite player is Russell Westbrook, “I admire the way he runs the floor, but I really like the way he hypes up his teammates. I want to be like that. Everyone on the team is my teammate and I want to make them better. “

Wrapping up a Career

Derek has come back strong from the injury, he is currently averaging 15.1 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. His career field goal percentage sits at 55%, he is a three-year starter and has improved each year. While he may have gotten a late start, his passion for the game burns hotter that any five-star. His immediate goal is to push the Wildcats to the state tournament and finish high, but then the curtain on his high school career will close.

But that will not be the ending, it will just be a new chapter. Derek just wants a chance to play at the next level, he and his coaching staff are working towards that goal. Coach Bernstein summed it up, “I wish I had a team full of Dereks, he is that special. If I am a college coach, I want Derek on my team. I know he can play at the next level, there is no doubt in my mind. We just need to get him the looks, we need coaches to come out and experience Derek’s game firsthand.”

When that goal becomes a reality in Derek’s life, there will be a new chapter to write in this story, but for now, Derek is just happy to be Derek, to spend a few more mornings making waffles for Tiana and being a great friend to those at Apalachee High School.  While many want to move on to the next level, Derek has the unique ability to just enjoy the moment and soak it all in. It’s a lesson that Derek can teach us all.

No. 4 Tri-Cities’ backcourt powers Bulldogs past Mays

Contributed by Rob Grubbs   (@RCGJr226070)

Sponsored by:   @sportalspace

No. 4 Tri-Cities 59, Mays 53

January 9, 2018 (Atlanta, GA): With their matchup Friday night against Class AAAAAA top-ranked Langston Hughes on the horizon, the fourth-ranked Tri-Cities Bulldogs (14-3) faced a potential trap game on the road against their region rival, the always tough Mays Raiders (8-8). Coach Omari Forts has led the Bulldogs on a four-game winning streak, including a victory over the sixth-ranked Jonesboro Cardinals in the Peach State Classic.

Tri-Cities won the previous game between the two schools on their home court back in December 72-55, but this one had all the ingredients for a dangerous game for the Bulldogs and their region title hopes.  Mays has had some tough luck this season; they have two 2-point loses and went toe-to-toe with Langston Hughes in December before losing by nine late. Head Coach William Faulkner has leaned on seniors Kendall Wimberly, Major Weems and Horace Wyatt, who bring somewhat of a football mentality to the court. In a contrast of two different styles, the Bulldogs utilized the quickness of a five-guard lineup to overcome the Mays height advantage for a hard fought 59-53 win.

Mays opened the game in a 2-2-1 zone press that the Bulldogs quickly sliced through for a 6-0 lead. Mays had to call their first time out of the game only two minutes in when Antonio Taylor checked in with a uniform infraction that only the game official noticed. The ensuing designed play saw Wyatt score the first bucket of the night for Mays on a mid-range jumper. Eli’sha King answered on the next possession with a hard work, offensive rebound and put-back. After Coach Forts subbed the entire bench at the half way point, a now proper uniformed Taylor made an excellent pass to Raider Maleak Bryant for a basket that cut the lead down to two. Mays held the ball for the final shot of the first quarter, but Jon Young grabbed the rebound for the Bulldogs and raced down the court for a lay-up at the buzzer to give them a 12-8 lead.

After an Eli Lawrence free throw to start the second quarter, the Bulldogs pressed for the first time in the game and got a quick turnover and an acrobatic reverse layup from Lawrence.  However, the Raider guards quickly steadied themselves and Wimberly would score three baskets in less than three minutes to reel the Bulldogs back in. Lawrence then decided to take the game over as he used his agility to knife through the Mays big men to score 11 of his game-high 21 points which gave the Bulldogs a 29-20 halftime lead.

A quick basket by Young gave Tri-Cities an 11-point lead to start the third. It felt as if they were about to take complete control of the game, but a hard, throw-down dunk by Wyatt seemed to calm the Raiders demeanor and when Weems hit a three, they had cut the lead to five. Mays would outscore the Bulldogs 18-9 over the next nine minutes to pull the game to within two with 6 minutes remaining, punctuated by another Weems three.

Mays had possession and prepared to set up offensively to tie the game when Lawrence got a clutch steal and then a quick basket by DeMarcus Johnson and they slowly began to expand the lead once again. Wyatt would hit two free throws for Mays to bring it back to a three-point game with 2:14 remaining, but Lawrence delivered the dagger with a three-pointer just under two minutes that put it away. Tri-Cities would finish this one out going 7-for-10 from the free throw line over the last minute to seal the 59-53 victory. With the combination of playing on their home court and getting key players back from football, the Raiders made up for the blowout earlier in the season and held their own against the No. 4 Bulldogs.

Coach Forts was very blunt in his post-game assessment, “Our defensive performance was very underwhelming tonight, we came in with a game plan to stop their best scorer and we did not do a good job, that gives us something to work on. On offense, we were very good, I was proud of how we played, I was proud of Jon Young, he was the reason we won tonight.”

When asked about how he coaches his team who is usually at a height disadvantage, he offered a unique perspective, “We play five guards, which is different, it means that two of our opponent’s big men must guard someone quicker than them, we like to exploit this to our advantage. We make up for a lack of height on the boards with overall toughness; we come to outwork you on the glass.”

The outcome sets up the Bulldogs’ showdown with the Langston Hughes Panthers on Friday for the top spot in Region 5-AAAAAA. The two powerhouse teams will play twice in eight days. Forts will need all that quickness and toughness to go up against Landers Nolley and the Panthers front court.  Mays will host Alexander on Friday night in another key region contest, they are trying to claw upward in the region standings.  They have improved and look to continue that going into the tournament.

Rob’s Takeaways

  1. Mays had a strong contingent of players that remained with their football team on their playoff run, which went into the third round. Their last football game was on November 24, 2017, which contributed to their 3-6 start. Since the football players have worked their way into basketball shape, they have gone 5-2. Look for them to continue and improve and perhaps pick up a surprise win along the way.
  2. Tri-Cities got impressive minutes from 6-foot-5 freshman Eli’sha King. He is a player to watch in the upcoming years for the Bulldogs.
  3. The Mays ladies’ basketball team won the AAAAAA state championship last year, but they have not raised their championship banner yet, it is on order and will go up later this season.
  4. Senior 6-foot-4 guard Eli Lawrence has the ability to take over a game, as he did tonight in the second quarter. He has a long, flexible wing span that can cut down quickly on passing lanes. He has a confident air about him and seems to be an extension of Coach Forts on the court.
  5. Going into Friday’s matchup with Langston Hughes, Tri-Cities Coach Forts wanted to point out, “We were the last team to beat them in a region game,” they knocked off the 2016 State Champions last year in the Region semifinals. However, Langston Hughes, playing without a suspended Landers Nolley, lost on Tuesday night at Alexander.
  6. Mays was a good test for Tri-Cities going into the Langston Hughes game, as they are big inside and prepared the Bulldogs for the matchup problems and opportunities that will exist.

Top Performers

Eli Lawrence – 21 points, 5 rebounds
Jon Young – 16 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists
DeMarcus Johnson – 15 points, 5 assists

Kendall Wimberly – 14 points, 5 rebounds
Horace Wyatt – 12 points, 13 rebounds
Major Weems – 12 points, 4 rebounds

TJ Horton sparks No. 10 Cartersville’s rally at LaGrange

Contributed by Rob Grubbs   (@RCGJr226070)

Sponsored by:   @sportalspace

No. 10 Cartersville 64, LaGrange 60

January 6, 2018 (LaGrange, GA): Region 5-AAAA is one of the most competitive regions in the state, two teams are in the current Top 10, with No. 3 Sandy Creek and No. 9 Cartersville while three others are very good; Cedartown, Troup County and LaGrange. It is also one of the most geographically diverse as well, as there are some serious road trips that accompany region play.  The Cartersville Hurricanes had one of the road adventures Saturday afternoon as they drove over 200 miles roundtrip to LaGrange to face the Grangers in their historic gym.

LaGrange (10-6) had gotten off to a slow start to the season, but Head Coach Mark Veal guided them to a five-game winning streak as they prepared to enter the trenches of region play. Cartersville (10-2) is led by senior, Furman-signee Jaylon Pugh and Head Coach Mike Tobin is putting together the pieces to make a serious run for the region crown. The Hurricanes defeated Central-Carrollton on Friday night, which meant his team would spend six of the next 28 hours on yellow buses. LaGrange lost on the road Friday night at Cedartown as well, so both teams came into the game a bit weary from the road. While the extra travel may have sapped some of their energy early, Cartersville overcame a 13-point fourth quarter deficit to get a huge road win and take an early lead in the region.

The Grangers knew that to stop Cartersville, you had to stop Pugh, so they played a box-and-one defense on him and tried to prevent him from getting the ball in open space, they were making things busy for him with relentless pressure. Their strategy was successful, as they held him scoreless in the first half. LaGrange jumped out to a 14-11 lead to end the first quarter, highlighted by a Bo Russell three and solid defense. Perignon Dyer picked up the scoring slack for the Hurricanes, he scored two three-pointers to keep things close.

Russell got help from his supporting cast in the second quarter, Daz Williams and Jordan Ogletree led a balanced attack for LaGrange while Cartersville got two more threes from Dyer to keep it at 34-29 at halftime.

When Russell hit a three-pointer to start the third quarter, it appeared that the Grangers were prepared to deliver the knockout blow and with 3:45 remaining in the third, Russell hit a smooth runner in the lane to put them up 16 points, but the Hurricanes were pesky and would not go away. Senior TJ Horton took it on himself to keep the game close and with 1:38 remaining, he scored on a nice drive to the basket and made a free throw to cut the lead to nine.

The anatomy of a comeback is always interesting to watch and then replay in your mind. In a game that LaGrange had controlled almost throughout, had led once by 16 and now led by nine with a quarter remaining, Earley Sanders committed an offensive foul that seemed to give the Hurricanes renewed energy.  Pugh broke free of the defense set to stop him and scored two baskets early and when Horton hit a three with 6:32 remaining, the Hurricanes were now only down by six. LaGrange called a timeout so Coach Veal could summon renewed energy that had faded in the start of the fourth, but Cartersville had already stolen the momentum.

After Russell hit one of two free throws, the Grangers had a three point lead and tried to ice the game by spreading out to a four corner set at the 2:50 mark. That strategy backfired as the Hurricanes would close the game out with a 12-5 run down the stretch, led by Horton and Pugh going to the free throw line repeatedly, they would go a combined 8-of-11 from the charity stripe as the clock joined the Hurricanes as the Grangers’ biggest enemy.  In the end, the Hurricanes outscored the Grangers 22-9 in the fourth quarter with Pugh contributing 11 of those down the stretch for the 64-60 final.

For the Hurricanes, it was quick turnaround, after a five-minute postgame meeting with Coach Tobin, the team grabbed seven boxes of pizza and scampered back to the buses for the two-hour ride home. Coach Tobin offered, “We had a tough stretch with these two games back-to-back on the road and their defense picked us apart early, but we played our game and caught some momentum in the fourth quarter. This was a huge road, region win for us. TJ picked us up tonight and carried us for that victory. We have another tough game on Tuesday as we get Sandy Creek, but it will be at home. We are looking forward to that.”

It will be a night that LaGrange will look back on as a missed opportunity. It is tough to lose a lead at home, especially when your star player, Russell, scores 27 points. They will try to get back on the winning page on Tuesday against their county rival Troup County, which is just ahead of them in fourth-place in the region. After the loss to Cartersville, it just became a must win for them.

Rob’s Takeaways

  1. Russell is an electric scorer from LaGrange, the guard moves well with or without the ball, has a good outside shot and can drive to the basket as well.
  2. Dyer scored 15 points for the Hurricanes – all on three pointers, making five and all of them were in big spots with his team behind. There is something to be said about the difficulty of making big outside shots when behind, there is so much more pressure involved and less margin of error.
  3. Pugh showed great discipline, he realized the defense was set up to stop him, he didn’t try to force anything, he allowed Horton and Dyer to focus on scoring and then seized the moment in the fourth by scoring eight in their run at the end, including 4-of-4 from the line.
  4. The LaGrange gym is classic, you can hear the echoes of past games there. There is talk of a new auditorium being built off campus by the city, so she may not be around much longer – great place to watch.
  5. Cartersville got to the free throw line 25 times, Horton had 18 of those alone, while LaGrange got there only 10 times. That is not quite the ratio you would expect from the home team, but it reflects how Horton was constantly driving to the basket.
  6. The decision to go four corners completely took LaGrange out of their offensive mindset, they became tentative and stopped looking to score, which cost them in the end.

Top Performers

Bo Russell – 27 points, 6 rebounds
Jordan Ogletree – 12 points, 6 rebounds
Daz Williams – 12 points, 5 assists

TJ Horton – 25 points, 5 assists
Perignon Dyer – 15 points (5 threes), 4 assists
Jaylon Pugh – 13 points, 6 assists

No. 1 Langston Hughes holds off No. 4 Douglas County after losing Landers Nolley to ejection

Contributed by Rob Grubbs   (@RCGJr226070)

Sponsored by:   @sportalspace

No. 1 Langston Hughes 78, No. 4 Douglas County 67

On occasion, a big loss can do more good for a team than harm. Such was the case back on November 28, 2017 when the defending Class AAAAAA state champion Langston Hughes Panthers took the Douglas County Tigers to the woodshed in a 78-43 win on their home court in Fairburn. Since then, Douglas County has reeled of 10 consecutive wins, including the championship of the Tucker Christmas Shootout. Tiger Head Coach Hollis Bethea watched his team grow over the past month and the rematch with the Panthers on their court would be a good barometer of how far the No. 4 ranked team in AAAAAA had come.

Panther Head Coach Rory Welsh knows how to prepare his team for a championship run and has the hardware to prove it from last year’s championship. His team has only lost once since that late November blowout win over the Tigers. The fact the contest was a Region 5 game made it an even juicer matchup. In an evening that would see the Panthers (12-3) best player, Virginia Tech-signee Landers Nolley get ejected for bumping an official, Douglas County (11-3) seized the moment to tie the game only to see the Panthers steady themselves for a late 9-0 run that sealed the 78-67 win. It gave the Panthers a two-game lead over the Tigers in the region standings.

Langston Hughes opened the night in a tight man-to-man, in your face defense, but the Tigers would respond quickly. Guard Rickey Clark hit a jumper for the opening basket and forward Ernest Randle had a big blocked shot to jump out to an 8-5 lead. However, the one-time, brief UGA-commit Nolley scored his first points on a deep NBA distance three-pointer for the tie and then took over, hitting three more threes before the end of the first with the Panthers up 19-14.  Nolley also had a crowd shaking dunk in the first quarter when he stole an inbound pass on a full court press. Coach Welsh utilizes Nolley in the front of the press, his wingspan creates challenges for the offensive team and he got several steals as the game progressed.

Not to be outdone, Tiger Jeremiah Smith got a steal himself and created excitement for the home crowd with a dunk on the other end to start the second quarter. Midway through the second, the Tigers were down by five but Langston Hughes slowly began to expand their lead. With the Tiger defense focusing on Nolley, Tyrel Morgan and Josh Butts contributed to a 17-8 Panther run to close out the half with them up 40-26.

At this point, Coach Bethea began to see answers to how much his team had grown. Down 14, the Tigers could have cashed this one in, but they came back scrappy. Malik Battle hit a three to serve notice this was not the same team that lost by 35.  The game changed suddenly at the 4-minute mark. The Panthers had their largest lead at 15 when Ernest Randle hit a three for Douglas County. After a foul, there were words exchanged between Nolley and a game official which seemed to irritate Nolley, who attempted to walk away but slightly bumped the official as he passed. He was immediately ejected and in the aftermath, Douglas County was awarded six free throws. In a cruel twist of fate, all the free shots were missed, each one to the delight of the visiting Langston Hughes crowd, which were making themselves heard.

After a star player exits, both sides need to recalibrate their game. For Douglas County, the Panther press was not as intimidating without Nolley in the front, so maneuvering the inbound pass was less difficult and that created easier scoring opportunities.  The Tigers jumped at the opportunity and went on to outscore the Panthers 23-11 in the next eight minutes to tie the game up at 62.  A moment that stood out in the Tiger resurgence was a real-man offensive rebound by Clark and the put- back, he seemed to just will himself to the rebound and score.

For the Panthers, the opposite was in effect, their offense revolved around Nolley scoring or distributing from a double team and Coach Welsh suddenly needed someone to step up.  It was almost as if the tie game issued Langston Hughes a wakeup call as Papa Samba led the Panthers on a 11-0 run that would put the game away. Clark finally broke the run for the Tigers with an offensive rebound and put-back, but the damage had been done.  Panther Armani Bolston would hit five consecutive free throws down the stretch for the final 78-67 margin.

Afterwards Coach Welsh was proud of the way his team responded to adversity. “We needed someone to step up and we have a bench full of selfless guys, the ejection caught us off guard, but I am proud of how we responded and how we put them away at the end. This team is full of players who sat and watched last year’s championship run and now they are getting their chance. They are taking advantage of it.” When asked where this year’s team is compared to last year’s team in early January, he said, “we are a better defensive team this year, these guys have been waiting a long time to prove themselves, and now they are.”

The Panthers will have to regroup quickly as they will be without Nolley for the next two games based on GHSA rules. It will provide them more opportunity to jell as a team and development supplemental scoring opportunities. In the long run, it may make them better, which should be a scary proposition for the teams in AAAAAA. Douglas County has improved from earlier in the year and the results prove that. Coach Bethea has stated that he believes they still haven’t played their best basketball yet. While winning the regular season region crown has probably passed, the next potential game between the two teams in the region tournament could be very interesting indeed.

Rob’s Takeaways

  1. Langston Hughes will have to prepare to be without Landers Nolley for the next two games against New Manchester and Alexander because of the ejection.
  2. With Nolley at the point of the Langston Hughes press in the backcourt, he causes in-bounding issues that forced several turnovers for easy baskets.
  3. Langston Hughes should get used to the drive from Fairburn over to Douglasville as they play games there three times in five days.
  4. The Douglas County Gym is a first-class facility, with upper and lower seating, there are great site lines all across the building.
  5. Being in the Douglas County gym reminded me of one of my favorite basketball players of all time – Anthony Barge. A.B. was a high school All-American for the Tigers and a complete basketball player. One night, against top ranked Campbell-Fairburn, he dropped 56 points without the benefit of a three-point shot in an upset victory. He played at South Alabama and eventually West Georgia where he was a Division 2 All-American. Barge was tragically killed in a traffic accident in 2010.
  6. Panther Head Coach Rory Welsh said his coaching mentor was former Lovejoy Head Coach, Rick Francis. Welsh was an assistant on his staff before taking the Langston Hughes opportunity. Welsh has attention to detail, he went and personally thanked each cheerleader after the game for their contribution to the win.
  7. Douglas County is waiting on the return of 6-foot-5 post player Mataio Soli, who is nicked up with a football related injury. His presence underneath will add to an already solid lineup.
  8. Nolley is looking to win this third championship in a row, as a sophomore he won an Illinois State Championship at Curie High School in Chicago, then his family moved back to Fairburn and he led the Panthers on their championship run last year.

Top Performers

Langston Hughes
Landers Nolley – 24 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists
Tyler Smith – 15 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists
Patrick Carter – 10 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists

Douglas County
Rickey Clark – 17 points, 7 rebounds
Malik Battle – 16 points, 4 assists
Jeremiah Smith – 3 points, 10 rebounds


6A No. 2 Harrison controls tempo, but 7A No. 2 Collins Hill grinds out 42-39 win

Contributed by Rob Grubbs  (@RCGJr226070)

Sponsored by:   @sportalspace

7ANo. 2 Collins Hill 42, 6ANo. 2 Harrison 39

Harrison was able to neutralize Collins Hill’s size advantage for most of the game

FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. – In men’s basketball, most games are won with athleticism and skill, the tallest players and those that leap the highest usually determine the outcome.  But the ladies game has more room for diversity of style, it can be more of a tactical match of wits and the ability for the head coach to relate and motivate his team.  In the nightcap of the Queens of the Hardwood Classic, two of the best teams in the state faced off with completely different roster styles. The Harrison Lady Hoyas (7-2), who lost the state championship last season to Mays by one point, are currently ranked No. 2 in Class AAAAAA while Collins Hill (9-1) is ranked No. 2 in Class AAAAAAA. Harrison has a small quick line-up, they start four guards and a forward, while Collins Hill is exactly the opposite, they start four forwards and one guard. The game was a low scoring affair as the Lady Hoyas dictated the pace, but the Lady Eagles held on for the 42-39 win.

Collins Hill has All-State forward 6-foot-2 Jada Rice (NC State) and University of Georgia-commit 6-foot-3 Jayvn Nicholson and as Head Coach Brian Harmon said, “We prefer to work our offense inside and which opens up our outside shots.”

That is how the game started, Nicholson scored the first basket in the paint for Collins Hill to set the tone early. The Lady Hoyas prefer to run a motion offense with multiple passes and controlling the ball for long periods of time. Their typical possession contained up to 15 passes as they looked for the open shot, with the entire team working in orchestrated precision that resembles synchronized swimming in some instances. You could sense that the Lady Eagles’ height inside was affecting Harrison, as most of their shots had a much higher arch than normal and at the halfway mark of the first quarter, the Lady Hoyas still had not scored a point. Senior Harper Vick finally broke the ice with a three at 3:34 mark in opening quarter to tie the game at 3.

The change of pace from Harrison caused frustration for Collins Hill, with the Lady Hoyas controlling offensive possessions for long periods of time, they effectively took away what the Lady Eagles do best. The patience was paying off for Harrison as they jumped out to a 10-8 lead after the initial quarter.

With their post players effectively neutralized, Collins Hill showed that to be a champion you must adapt, and junior guard Bria Harmon (Purdue) took control of the Lady Eagle offense, hitting a runner early in the second quarter to tie the game up. Harmon, who is a Gwinnett Daily Post Super 6 pick (along with Nicholson) and Coach Harmon’s daughter, continued to look for scoring opportunities throughout the game.

Coach Harmon called upon junior Katherine Fourie off the bench to supplement the scoring and she came up big. She entered the game with the Lady Hoyas up 16-14 and scored six points in less than two minutes, including a three to push Collins Hill to a 22-16 halftime lead.

Coach Harmon said, “Katherine can provide instant offense for us, which we needed, I just had to figure the right moments to get her in there.”

When he put her in, she came through, as she led all scorers with 15 points, all of them clutch.

Harrison continued the game plan in the third but behind Harmon, the Lady Eagles were slowly growing the lead behind Harmon and with the clock clicking down in the third quarter, Lady Hoya senior guard Sarah Woghiren hit a three at the buzzer to turn a 9-point deficit into a more manageable 31-25 game entering the fourth.

After a Jaron Stallworth basket, the Lady Eagles were up 37-30 with 4 minutes remaining, but Harrison head coach Steve Lenahan, in his 10th season, saw his plan coming into focus as the Lady Hoyas scored six unanswered to pull within one point with two minutes left.

Harrison had two possessions to take the lead but could not convert on either one and then “instant offense” Fourie hit a three-pointer with 1:13 remaining that seemed to ice the game at 40-36.

The Lady Hoyas didn’t bring the word quit with them on the bus from Kennesaw and when Vick converted a free throw to complete a three-point play to bring the game to 40-39 with 37 seconds, they were just a turnover away from another chance to snatch a win. However, Collins Hill broke the press and Nicholson hit two free throws to ice the game for the 42-39 win.

Coach Harmon was frustrated but pleased with the outcome. He closed with, “We have to do a better job of forcing our tempo instead of just allowing ourselves to play our opponents game, that is the lesson that we learned tonight.”

He had a classroom-style chat with the team on the bench for about ten minutes before they headed home.  Hopefully, it is a lesson his team learned, as the head coach of their next opponent was in the building to observe and scout.

Great teams separate themselves from the good teams by the way they adjust, Collins Hill has the roster, it us up to them to learn from tonight and move forward.

Rob’s Takeaways

  1. Junior Bria Harmon is a three-year starter at point guard and usually has the take of setting up the post players down low, but tonight, she took on more scoring responsibility and kept the Lady Eagles in the game throughout. She played excellent defense, and has extremely quick hands and feet. Being the head coach’s daughter can bring its own set of challenges, but she saw the direction the game took and understood it was her responsibility to score.
  2. I was excited to see Jada Rice and Jayvn Nicholson work inside and was disappointed they were regulated to a spectator role for much of the time. They will need to adapt, as several coaches from other top high school programs were in attendance for the game and took notes on how to neutralize their presence.
  3. The Players of the Game, as determined by the teams’ head coaches were UAB-signee Audrey Jordan for Harrison and Bria Harmon for Collins Hill.
  4. Coach Harmon had excellent utilization of Katherine Fourie, he brought her into situation when the Lady Eagles needed points and she delivered.
  5. As the region slate heats up, Harrison needs to find a consistent scorer to depend on, will that be Harper Vick, Sarah Woghiren, Audrey Jordan? Who will take the shots with the game on the line?
  6. Does Collins Hill get maximum exposure from “instant offense” Katherine Fourie off the bench or would she be better suited for the starting five? Coach Harmon will have to continue playing his hunch here as the region and playoff games get more important down the road.
  7. Up next – for Harrison, they face Lambert on Thursday night at the Hawks-Naismith Classic. Collins Hill plays Buford in the same tournament.

Top Performers

Collins Hill
Katherine Fourie – 15 points, 4 assists, 2 steals
Bria Harmon – 14 points, 4 rebounds
Javyn Nicholson – 6 points, 8 rebounds
Jaron Stallworth – 5 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks

Amara Newsom – 10 points, 2 rebounds
Audrey Jordan – 8 points, 7 rebounds
Harper Vick – 7 points, 3 assists