Tag Archives: Sandy Creek

No. 2 Fayette County sweeps No. 2 Sandy Creek behind 14 threes; Richard second half heroics

5ANo. 2 Fayette County 72, 4ANo. 2 Sandy Creek 71

TJ Bickerstaff free throw

Since picking up their first win of the year back on November 13th at Sandy Creek 74-66, road bumps have been few and far between for Class 5A No. 2 Fayette County (14-2). On Friday night, the Tigers had a chance to earn a season sweep of their cross-town rival Class 4A No. 2 Sandy Creek (10-3) in front of a nearly packed house. The game started and ended with star forward TJ Bickerstaff at the foul line.

The Patriots got off to a quick start, leading before a second even ticked off the clock as Drexel-signee TJ Bickerstaff sank two technical free throws after Fayette County was T’d up during warmups. The Patriots led 8-1 with 6-foot-8 sophomore Jabari Smith using a soft jump hook around the rim, but Fayette County regained their composure with 6-foot-4 senior point guard Terrell Bradley – back from an early season suspension – getting into the paint and finishing.

Coach Jon-Michael Nickerson turned to his bench early and inserted 6-foot-5 sophomore Deshon Proctor into the game, who paid dividends right away with six first quarter points including a slam off a Bickerstaff assist with 1:40 left to play to give Sandy Creek a 16-13 edge.

Twenty seconds later however, Bickerstaff would pick up his second foul and head to the bench.

At the end of one, Sandy Creek led 18-16 after Kingston Calhoun knocked down a three with 37 seconds left from Bradley to slice into the lead.

Bickerstaff checked back into the game at the 6:38 mark before picking up his third foul just 17 seconds later and he would check out with 5:55 on the clock and sit the rest of the half with his Patriots leading 20-19.

Fayette County went on a 5-0 spurt with Bickerstaff benched, JeKobe Coleman drilling his third three of the game as the Tigers picked apart the Patriot zone.

The Tigers had another 6-0 mini-run sparked by Joshua Dupree, who chased down a layup attempt on the fast break to pin it on the backboard then trailed the play heading the other way as Bradley found him open for a transition three to make it 29-25 before Ricky Knight Jr. cashed in on his own three to push the lead to 32-25 with 1:43 left in the second quarter.

Like a game of tug of war, it was Sandy Creek’s turn to pull on the rope as Julian Alexander and Smith scored late to trim the deficit to 34-32 heading into halftime.

The Patriots scored the first four points of the second half to nudge ahead 36-34, but at the 6:23 mark Bickerstaff was whistled for his fourth foul on a charge and was banished back to the bench.

The depth and the well-rounded play of Sandy Creek shined in Bickerstaff’s absence as Proctor continued to pose a problem for the guard-oriented lineup of Fayette County, receiving a dish from Alexander and powering home a two-handed flush to give the Patriots some cushion with 5 minutes to play in the third quarter now up 42-36.

Just when it looked like Sandy Creek would gain separation, Fayette County’s three-point barrage started to bomb from deep. The Tigers went on an 8-0 run with Knight hitting back-to-back threes in the right corner to give Fayette County a 44-42 lead at the 3:34 mark.

With the Patriot zone now concerned about the outside shooting of Fayette County – the Tigers hitting 14 threes on the night – the middle of the zone was wide open for 6-foot-4 sophomore William Richard to score two of his 16 second half points up close.

Sandy Creek responded on offense with Alexander scoring six of his 12 points in the quarter and Keith Williams III breaking loose for eight points, nailing two threes. The Patriots finished with a flurry as Proctor banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer to give Sandy Creek a 57-52 lead after three quarters with their star player having played less than 10 minutes.

Bickerstaff re-entered the game at the 6:50 mark and immediately demanded the ball on a post-up and went to the line where he split a pair of free throws.

Following a scoreless first half, Richard netted eight points including two threes as Fayette County regained the lead with 5:05 to play, 65-63.

Back and forth the two rivals went over the final five minutes.

Sandy Creek got a third dunk from Proctor as the Patriots moved ahead 69-68 at the 3:05 mark.

Trying to nurse a one-point lead with less than two minutes to play, Alexander’s cross court pass was intercepted by Knight and finished on the other end to give the Tigers a 70-69 lead with 1:33 to play.

The Patriots responded by dumping it down low to Bickerstaff who made a strong move toward the middle of the paint to take back a 71-70 lead with 1:12 remaining.

On the other end, Richard scored his 16th and final point off the bench to give Fayette County the lead for good with less than a minute to play.

The Patriots got a bad look at the basket with 28.1 seconds left and had to foul twice to send Coleman to the line. The three-point sniper missed the front end of the one-and-one and gave the ball back to Sandy Creek now with 17.5 left on the clock.

Sandy Creek drove and dropped off to Proctor who was body-checked but no whistle came. The ball squirted loose and in a wild scramble the Patriots temporarily regained possession before a kickball was called and Sandy Creek had the ball out of bounds with 5.6 seconds remaining.

Coach Nickerson got the ball into the hands of Bickerstaff who drew a foul and was sent to the line for two free throws with 1.8 seconds left on the clock. Bickerstaff missed the first and after a timeout, missed the second as the Tigers held on in dramatic fashion to sweep the season series.

My Take

Friday night was one of the best games of the season. The largest lead of the game was seven points for both teams while there were too many lead changes to keep up with. Fayette County is the real deal in Class 5A and a legitimate state title contender with how they shoot the three. They banged in 14 threes and destroyed the Patriots zone. Fayette County’s guards are interchangeable with everyone standing between 6-foot-0 and 6-foot-4 and all able to stroke the deep ball as five players connected from distance. 6-foot-4 senior point guard Terrell Bradley has found his groove after serving his suspension. He’s got great size for the lead guard position and has a nice touch when whipping the ball inside. His length even led to three blocked shots. Fayette County might not have one sure-fire D-I prospect but they have a ton of mouth-watering D-II and JUCO options that can help programs quickly. 6-foot-3 senior Josh Dupree is a bouncy glue guy that can affect the game on both ends, 6-foot junior JeKobe Coleman is a lethal three-point shooter along with 6-foot-2 senior Ricky Knights Jr., both canning five three-pointers. The biggest difference maker however was 6-foot-4 sophomore William Richard who came off the bench and scored all 16 of his points in the second half. Richard doesn’t really have a position, but he plays anywhere from three through five for Coach Andre Flynn. His activity on the glass, his soft touch inside and his ability to step outside and hit the three makes him the perfect compliment in the Tigers’ guard-oriented lineup. Fayette County has the talent to run the table the rest of the regular season and position themselves for a deep run in Class 5A.

In the loss, there were good takeaways for Sandy Creek. Their depth was key with 6-foot-5 sophomore Deshon Proctor leading the way with 15 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. He is a man-child inside with his strength and he looked a lot more comfortable playing around the basket than he did in the summer. Similar to Proctor is 6-foot-8 sophomore Jabari Smith who looked like a completely different player than when I last saw him at Carrollton over the summer months. Smith showed toughness with his slender frame, playing with his back to the basket. He scored on a pretty baby hook to ignite his night and showed that he could put the ball on the floor and hit the three. His five blocked shots around the rim were key as well. Smith has a high ceiling with his skillset and it was nice to see him not fall in love with his guard skills and stand on the three-point line. 6-foot-3 senior Julian Alexander had a nice spurt in the third quarter but went scoreless in the fourth. He’s a solid all-around scorer that should be in the mix for D-II schools. Junior guard Keith Williams III had a quiet first half but he had an important eight-point stretch in the third quarter. It was a nightmarish night for Drexel-signee TJ Bickerstaff who could never find a flow in the game. With foul trouble hampering his play, he had a chance to save the day at the end but it wasn’t in the cards. I was surprised with how much zone Sandy Creek played against such a potent outside shooting team. The Patriots had some weak close outs and a few mental breakdowns on rotations which hurt them.

Top Performers

Fayette County
Ricky Knight Jr. – 22 points (5 threes), 1 rebound, 2 assists, 2 steals, 1 block
JeKobe Coleman – 17 points (5 threes), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal
William Richard – 16 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block
Terrell Bradley – 8 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks

Sandy Creek
Deshon Proctor – 15 points, 12 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block
Jabari Smith – 15 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 5 block
Julian Alexander – 12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal
Keith Williams III – 12 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block
TJ Bickerstaff – 9 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal

Carrollton summer camp notes

Carrollton

South Paulding: 66-53 (W)

Coming off of a 15-11 season with an 8-8 record in Region 7-AAAAA, there is great reason for optimism for a young Carrollton program that loses just two seniors. In their 13-point win over South Paulding, two rising juniors proved to be the best players on the floor.

Marcellious Lockett2020 6-4 SG Marcellious Lockett is a household name in West Georgia for good reason. Lockett should see his name seep deeper into Metro Atlanta and statewide as one of the tougher covers in the junior class. Lockett poured in 24 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal. He exploded for 15 points in the second half, part of a stretch of three three-pointers in succession.  Lockett can slash to the basket and even showed a nice baseline spin out of the post.

Melvin Edwards2020 6-6 F Melvin Edwards drips with intrigue at the combo forward position. It was eye-opening seeing his touch from the outside as he nailed three trifectas en route to 19 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 3 blocks. Edwards floats around from the post to the wing, doing most of his damage working his way from the outside. He caught two lobs, throwing one down with authority on the fast break. While I wouldn’t call him an elite rim protector, Edwards did use his bounce to swat away three shots. His ability to play inside-out paired with the versatile scoring of Marcellious Lockett makes the Trojans look like a future playoff team.

South Paulding

Carrollton: 66-53 (L)

2019 6-1 G Sha’mi Shields never seems to disappoint with his energy. While others’ legs were tired, Shields was the energizer bunny, crashing the glass despite his average height and winning 50/50 balls for the Spartans. Shields finished with 12 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and 1 block. The offense will never run through Shields and he may not average double-digits his senior season, but instead, he is a willing glue-guy that will do a little bit of everything — not needing to be asked – to make plays that win games.

2019 5-10 PG Shane Gibson performed well in the South Paulding backcourt, serving as one of the Spartans’ most reliable ball handlers against an aggressive trapping Carrollton defense. Gibson calmed down the offense and was able to initiate their sets. The lefty netted a team-high 13 points to go with his 2 assists and 2 steals.

Douglas County

Troup County: 46-44 (W/OT)
Sandy Creek: 61-45 (L)

Graduation and the offseason transfer of Malik Battle has left Douglas County searching for a new go-to guy.

2019 6-5 F Jeremiah Smith was the Tigers’ most consistent player on Thursday, finishing with 10 points, 5 rebounds and 1 assist in Game 1 against Troup County before posting 10 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 1 block in a loss to Sandy Creek. Smith is a tweener forward that likes to play on the wing more than on the block. He has good physical tools, but he seems more valuable as a power forward that drifts out to the wing on occasion instead of a small forward that rarely goes to the post. Either way, Smith is an athlete that will compete on the glass and provide a strong presence that opponents will have to account for.

2021 6-5 C Omarion Smith is the spitting physical image of his older brother Jeremiah, both with an enviable frame complete with broad shoulders and long arms. The Lithia Springs transfer is one of the best rim protectors in his class, blocking over 6 shots per game last year. He blocked 4 shots total on the day and grabbed 7 rebounds against Sandy Creek. Smith still has work to do on offense. He needs to develop a go-to post move in order to become more than just a shot blocker. He has the length and explosion to elevate over and finish through defenders, he just has to put in the time to be able to do so.

Troup County

Douglas County: 46-44 (L/OT)

With seven varsity players out because of football, the young and physically immature Tigers had no business sticking with Douglas County, but the scrappy bunch fought tooth and nail and gained valuable experience for the future. Troup County was outsized at every single position, but that did not stop them from playing great team defense and clogging the lane whenever Douglas County attempted to beat their man off the dribble.

2019 5-10 PG Quevo McFarland provided veteran leadership and quick ball handling. The lefty finished with 13 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 steals. His speed kept Douglas County off balance and attacked in the right spots.

2019 5-11 PG Brandon Smith didn’t score much, but he controlled the tempo when he had the ball. Smith had the game-tying assist at the end of regulation after racing the ball up the floor. Smith has a sturdy build and uses his physicality well. He had 2 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals against Douglas County.

2020 6-2 SG Gabriel Cofield has to work on his handle and get stronger, but he flashed in a big way for Troup County, netting a game-high 14 points including drilling back-to-back threes to keep the Tigers in the game. Cofield has a confident jumper that could make an impact in spurts on the varsity level. As he grows into his body and gets more reps with the big boys, Cofield could develop into a nice high school player.

Sandy Creek

Douglas County: 61-45 (W)

Julian Alexander2019 6-4 SG Julian Alexander looks primed for a breakout senior season similar to that of Jarred Godfrey. Alexander was smooth as silk against Douglas County, getting to the rim with finger rolls while also finding the time to drop in four three-pointers. He collected 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. Alexander looks like the No. 2 option behind TJ Bickerstaff heading into the 2019 season. Sandy Creek will have plenty of youngsters play big minutes this upcoming year, but the veteran backcourt of Alexander and Bickerstaff will undoubtedly be the straws that stir the drink.

Peach State Stops of the Week (1/8-1/13)

People always ask me, “What’s the best game in town this week?

Peach State Stops of the Week will highlight some of the best basketball being played in Georgia for the current week. Whether it’s a tournament/showcase, a region rivalry, a Top 10 showdown, or a seldom heard sleeper, Peach State Stops of the Week will let you know what gym you need to get into

TUESDAY

No. 3 Sandy Creek at No. 9 Cartersville

Right now, it looks like Region 5-AAAA will boil down to No. 3 Sandy Creek (11-3) and No. 9 Cartersville (10-2). The two teams had a couple wars last year with the Patriots winning at home 86-80 and in the region tournament 60-53 while Cartersville won a wild game in Bartow County in overtime 94-88. While some faces have changed, especially on the Sandy Creek side, expect this long distance rivalry to continue. Kam Miller, Chris Porter and Jarred Godfrey will have their hands full trying to corral Furman-signee Jaylon Pugh. TJ Horton’s aggressiveness in the backcourt will test the Patriots as well. TJ Bickerstaff will have to be the difference maker for Sandy Creek. The 6-foot-7 junior wing has come on strong this season and will need to hunt his shot and crash the glass to take advantage of a smaller Hurricane lineup.

No. 8 Banks County at No. 4 Rabun County [G]

The Lady Leopards (13-3) and the defending Class AA state runner-up LadyCats (12-2) have blossomed into one of North Georgia’s most heated rivalries on the girls’ side. The two meet for the first time this season after Rabun County beat Banks County in the Region 8 championship 78-67 last year after splitting the regular season series. Banks County has challenged themselves early this year, playing three ranked teams twice apiece, going 4-2 against Hart County, West Hall and Madison County. Jaycie Bowen has led the attack from the paint along with Amber Williams while Maddie Thomas and Allison Smith provide matchup problems with their size on the perimeter. Rabun County already has a region loss in the form of an 82-53 defeat at Putnam County, but the emergence of junior guard Georgia Stockton has helped keep the Cats stay afloat without Brooke Henricks. Stockton has poured in the points averaging upwards of 25 per game while receiving help from Laken Stiles and Kaitlin Coleman. Expect an intense high-action game with Rabun County trying to set the tone with their press and challenge the Leopards’ ball handling.

FRIDAY

No. 2 Manchester at No. 1 Central-Talbotton

Coach Anzy Hardman has turned No. 2 Manchester (11-0) into a Class A-Public contender and now has a chance to take over the mantle as the team to beat if they can stop No. 1 Central-Talbotton (13-0) and its high-powered offense. Defensive pressure keyed by Jah’nile Hill, Kalil Brawner and Carlos Dixon will try to disrupt the powerful trio of Tayne Smith, ZyTavian Hill and Javares Copeland. Inside, the Blue Devils have physicality around the rim to deny any free runs from Hill or Smith in the form of 6-foot-4, 295-pound Jerquavion Mahone, a defensive tackle heading to Kentucky. While the Hawks have the size advantage on the perimeter, they will still have to chase around Hill, a lightning rod of energy that thrives in transition and creates offense from his pesky defense. It will be a sell-out crowd over in West Georgia with the potential for a break-neck pace.

SATURDAY

Creekview at No. 10 Etowah

When was the last time Cherokee County had two boys teams with one loss this late into the season? If someone knows, I’d love to hear the answer. The golden days of boys basketball have been fleeting, but there’s a glimmer of hope between Towne Lake and Owens Store Road. The Eagles (14-1) have hovered around the bottom of the Top 10 in Class AAAAAAA, a great honor after their trip to the Sweet 16 last season. Jaxon Etter has begun to garner D-1 interest with his play on the wing. The junior teams up with Tusculum-signee Adrian Cohen, 6-foot-7 senior Julian Baldwin, D-3 commit Carter Ingersoll and defensive specialist Nick Nagy, who has already clamped down the likes of Devin Vassell (Florida State) and KD Johnson. The Eagles have won 14-straight with their calling card being tough-nosed defense that allows just 44.8 points per game. Creekview (13-1) carries a 12-game winning streak in Class AAAAAA behind KJ Jenkins, the No. 4 senior point guard in the state. Jenkins has proven to be a human torch that can catch fire from deep. Ty Allen along with posts Paxton Nayman and James Wall have helped balance the offense while Barrett Patterson supports from the outside. Etowah will be Creekview’s toughest task since their 68-49 loss to Mt. Bethel Christian.

Young Tigers claw past No. 3 Sandy Creek in white-knuckle tug-o-war at Fayette County

Contributed by Rob Grubbs   (@RCGJr226070)

Fayette County 67, 4ANo. 3 Sandy Creek 65

Fayette County and Sandy Creek went down to the wire

It’s still a week until Thanksgiving, but the menu for early season GHSA basketball games has whetted our appetite for the season ahead.  One such game was the cross-county rivalry between two Final Four teams from last year, the Sandy Creek Patriots from AAAA and Fayette County from AAAAA. Playing before two huge student sections, the game stayed within six points the entire night. The ending was dramatic, as the Tigers would score the winning basket on their last possession for the 67-65 win.

Coach Andre Flynn is back on the Tiger bench, he has coached there for over 20 years, but the players that took them to the Final Four in Columbus have moved on. He is working with a clean slate, but because of his consistency and the system he employs, the new players know exactly how they fit in. This year’s group is built around athleticism and discipline. For Sandy Creek, they brought back much of the talent that took them to Augusta last year for the semifinals but have welcomed a new coach, Jon-Michael Nickerson. Coach Nickerson, who comes with an impressive resume as a player, high school coach and college coach, brings a more defensive mindset than the past. He has a deep, talented roster with height and leadership.

On this night, there was a buzz before the tip that lasted until the final whistle, both coaches and players would say it’s early, this is a non-region game, it is not that important in the grand scheme of things, but actually, it was important to them and their play proved that. In a game that was crisp and full of athleticism and sportsmanship, Sandy Creek took a two-point lead to half. You could tell the defensive energy that both coaches were looking for was there which kept the game low scoring.

The fourth quarter, which started with Fayette County ahead 48-45 was almost a blur. It felt like the first three quarters were warm up and this was for real. Josh Dupree and Rickey Knight would hit back-to-back threes to give the Tigers the largest lead of the night at six, only to see Sandy Creek come back. Jarred Godfrey would hit two threes himself within 15 seconds of each other and with 2:50 remaining, the Patriots were up 60-59.  Ultimately, it came down to a tie game with under a minute. Fayette County point guard JeKobe Coleman, an ELCA transfer, worked from the top of the key as the Tigers waited patiently for their opportunity. With 9 seconds remaining, Coleman found Jordan Brown who had snuck in behind the Patriot zone defense for the game winning shot.

Sandy Creek had eight seconds, but Josh Dupree stole the basketball and ended the night

Afterwards Flynn said, “Our guys are so young, you don’t know how they will compete until the game starts, we did not play well on Saturday in a loss to East Coweta, but I am proud of how they fought tonight. We want to see how they respond when they get beat up because it gives you an indication of the growth. We will need to continue to grow as the year goes on.”

Takeaways

  1. JeKobe Coleman threw the pass to Brown for the winning score just like he did this season for the Fayette County football team as their QB. He was very calm and collected, the moment was not too big for the sophomore.  It is always great to see the two sport athletes play.
  2. Jarred Godfrey has bought into Coach Nickerson’s philosophies on the court. Godfrey has developed into a true leader, the college watching last night loved his performance.
  3. Patriot Kameron Miller has one speed – wide open; he scored, he passed, he rebounded and he was everywhere.
  4. The Tigers are young and are liable to have a bad game from time to time, but they are good and will get better.
  5. The Patriots lineup of Miller, Godfrey, TJ Bickerstaff, Xavier Brewer and Julian Alexander has a good mix of height and quickness.
  6. Look for both teams to make noise in the post season.

Top Performers

Fayette County
Rickey Knight – 20 points, 2 rebounds
Josh Dupree – 15 points, 2 rebounds
Terrell Bradley – 14 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists
JeKobe Coleman – 9 points, 2 assists

Sandy Creek
Jarred Godfrey – 22 points, 3 rebounds
TJ Bickerstaff 22 points, 11 rebounds
Kam Miller – 9 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists

Coweta/Fayette/Spalding County Media Day

Contributed by Rob Grubbs   (@RCGJr226070)

East Coweta Lady Indians

2016-17 Record: 5-19
Head Coach: Karen Frady – 1st Season

Coach Frady sharing the challenges of culture change of East Coweta girls program.

Coach Frady will be the Lady Indians’ third head coach in three years. She is an East Coweta alumni with deep ties to the community. She envisions the beginning of a long process, but is excited about the challenge.

“When we first started, the girls did not know how to play man-to-man defense, they are just so used to losing. We are starting the process, we are challenging the girls to get a little better each day. It’s all about learning fundamentals. We need to stress fundamentals all day, every day. We will set some small goals for the season and try to achieve those first. Honestly, I’m not that concerned about wins and losses — my main thing is I want the girls to be better than they were at the start of the season, and it begins with getting the fundamentals down.”

In terms of this current squad, she said “We have six seniors, we have quickness, and the ladies are quick learners. We are going to focus on defense and on slowing the game down. That will be the best way for us to learn and follow the process.”

They are in one of the toughest regions in the state, Region 2, and the lessons are going to be painful, but look for Coach Frady to add some stability and take a few steps forward in the process. Alex Colton, London Fowler, Aja Manning and Haley Davis will be the players Frady will count on.

East Coweta Indians

2016-17 Record: 14-12
Head Coach: Royal Maxwell — 3rd Season

East Coweta boys looking to continue building a tradition.

Assistant Coach Ty Townsend introduced the Indians team leaders; Derrick Emory, Brandon Stroud, Jamir Williams, Rhet Reynolds and Isaiah Richardson. The challenge for the upcoming season is to replace their big man that graduated last season, Elafayette Stone. Coach Townsend said it would be “a next man up mentality. There are a lot of returning players and we expect to be more disciplined. There is not a whole lot of tradition here, but we are looking to continue to build on last year and our expectations are higher this year.”

With the sting of last year’s season ending loss to Campbell in overtime, the players said, “This year, we have broken the season down into chapters, and we intend to read the whole book.”

Look for the Indians to improve on last seasons’ record and be a factor in the region tournament. They have already started an impressive resume with a solid win against a Fayette County team that made the Final Four last year in their opener.

Starr’s Mill Lady Panthers

2016-17 Record: 12-13
Head Coach: Emily Sweeney – 1st Season

Starr’s Mill first year coach Emily Sweeney and junior leader Alyssa Angelo

At Starr’s Mill, the ladies coach from last season, Shane Ratliff, was promoted and assistant Emily Sweeney has stepped into the top spot; it has been a big year from Sweeney who now has the head coaching job and just got married as well. She has implemented a motion offense and is currently working in more press defense looks. With the graduation of their post player from last season, the team will be built around the guard play of Alyssa Angelo and Alice Anne Hudson. Also key will be senior and returning starter Emily Nieuwstraten and freshman Ali Rumpel, in the middle, who adds height.

Angelo and Nieuwstraten have just made the transfer over from softball and have not missed a beat. Sweeney said, “Alyssa is like having a coach on the floor, she keeps everyone where they are supposed to be, and she is tough as nails.”

Their goal is make it back to the state playoffs, which will depend on how quickly the freshman gets up to speed and how the team jells to the new systems.

Starr’s Mill Panthers

2016-17 Record: 18-11 (Sweet 16)
Head Coach: Brandon Hutchins — 12th Season
Preseason Class AAAAA No. 10

Starr’s Mill Head Coach Brandon Hutchins with Carson Langham, Drew Hudson and Jake Bishop

The Panthers return a large portion of the Sweet 16 team from last year that lost to Miller Grove in the playoffs. With a roster that includes eight seniors, Coach Hutchins says, “This is the best group I have ever been around.”

One omission from the team unfortunately is three-year starter Zach Pina, who transferred before his senior season to arch-rival McIntosh. Hutchins on the loss, “We miss Zach of course, he was a big part of this program, but we have moved on, it is next man up. Fortunately for us, everyone on the roster can handle the ball.” Senior Jake Bishop will take over the point guard duties in the Panther offense.

Starr’s Mill has a lot of height up front in 6-foot-7 Nate Allison, 6-foot-5 Drew Hudson and 6-foot-6 Chase Sands and Coach Hutchins indicted that junior Julian Lynch has opened some eyes in the preseason camp. Senior Drew Hudson said, “We went to a couple of college camps this summer and had success, we are excited.”

If Bishop can run the offense, look for the Panthers to make a state playoff return.

McIntosh Lady Chiefs

2016-17 Record: 20-9 (Sweet 16)
Head Coach: Jessica Carlyle — 1st Season

First-Year coach Jessica Carlyle with Juniors Kennedy Miller and Rylee Calhoun

When longtime McIntosh Lady Chief Head Coach David Dowse left after a successful 2016/17 campaign to take the Lumpkin County job, the Chiefs reached out to former Landmark Christian Head Coach Jessica Carlyle. Her first impression of the team was that the core players were serious about basketball. She said “My philosophy is very much different from what the players are used to. We have a very small roster, very short and we are going to play very serious in your face defense.”

Her leaders include Junior Kennedy Miller and Rylee Calhoun. Per Carlyle, “Kennedy is a phenomenal point guard and in the past her role was to distribute the ball, we will be asking her to take on more of the scoring responsibility this year. And Rylee, she seems to always have a basketball in her hand. She has a nice shot as well.”

At the college summer camps, Miller said “They taught us more about being a leader on the floor.”

You can bet that Carlyle’s new emphasis on defense will catch hold of her quick athletic team and they will be right in the middle of the playoff chase again.

McIntosh Chiefs

2016-17 Record: 12-13
Head Coach: Jason Eisele  — 16th Season
Preseason Class AAAAA No. 7

McIntosh Head Coach Jason Eisele with seniors Zach Pina and Cole Guenther

Head Coach Jason Eisele is the dean of the Coweta/Fayette coaches as he embarks on his 16th season. Of his current edition, he said “We will not impress you off the bus, but our entire roster of 13 players are extremely skilled and we will cause match-up problems because of our speed and depth. We will be very flexible and can play a lot of different groups.”

A roster that includes six seniors includes two potential stars in transfer guard Zach Pina and 6-foot-7 wing player Cole Guenther. Pina is an efficient scorer who can drive to the rim or hit the outside shot. When asked about the whirlwind of his transfer, he said “It just feels good to be wearing green and black.”

Guenther has a deadly outside shot and if he is on, it can be lights out. Eisele said “Cole has worked hard over the summer on his ball handling skills and taking the ball to the rim to compliment his shot.” With the versatility and the leadership of Pina and Guenther, this could turn into a special mix. Eisele summed it by saying “we have a lot of selfless players, and we will play a lot faster than we ever have.”

Spalding Lady Jaguars

2016-17 Record: 22-7 (Elite Eight)
Head Coach: Tykira Gilbert — 3rd Season
Preseason Class AAAA No. 2

Head Coach Tykira Gilbert with seniors Kiana Banks and Kirah Milner

Head Coach Tykira Gilbert and the defending Region 2-AAAA Lady Jaguars are preparing for a special season. Starting her third year, Coach Gilbert said, “We have completely changed the culture of girls basketball here at Spalding in just three years.” As for this year’s team, Gilbert said “We will play fast, in your face defense, we love to press, that is who we are.” A lot of that speed and athleticism comes from Region 2-AAAA player of the year Kiana Banks, who won the state track championship in the 400 meter and just signed a track scholarship with TCU.

Gilbert will look for leadership from the point guard position from senior Kirah Milner. With a deep and talented roster and the star power of Banks and Milner, look for the Lady Jaguars to make a run at the state championship. When asked about the pressure of the high preseason rankings, Gilbert summed it up perfectly, “They don’t mean anything, it only matters how you finish.” Keep your eye on these ladies this year.

Spalding Jaguars

2016-17 Record: 3-22
Head Coach: Joey Wilder — 1st Season

New Jaguar Head Coach Joey Wilder is no stranger to the court. He has coached at Sandy Creek, Fayette County and Westlake. In 12 years of coaching, he won seven region championships, with one state runner-up and two final fours, and was named the assistant coach of the year. He brings that experience to begin to build the same excitement and energy that Coach Gilbert has with the ladies program.

Even with the poor record from last year, Wilder sees the pieces to begin the process. “We have very talented kids, we are learning and implementing accountability and dealing with our egos, we are slowly growing. But our roster has talent and I have seen improvement in all players. We are going from a slow tempo offense to more movement. We need to learn to trust each other and jell as a team.”

Leading the way will be junior leaders G Josh Reddick and 6-foot-8 center Phillip Richards. There are five seniors on the roster for leadership and a very strong junior class, including some incoming freshman and sophomores who will get some playing time. When just starting out, Wilder said, “It is always good to have a big man like PR.” Look for the Jaguars to be much improved and blow past last year’s win total.

Whitewater Lady Wildcats

2016-17 Record: 13-12
Head Coach: Rashad Muhyee — 5th year

Lady Wildcat Head Coach Muhyee with Courtney Smith, Jada Claude and Maya Bryant

After an injury riddled season last year, the Lady Wildcats are once again healthy and look to get back into the playoff conversation. Coach Muhyee said the team goals this year are to win the region and make it out of the first round. To accomplish, the Lady Wildcats will rely on talented juniors Jada Claude, 6-foot with a strong inside game, Courtney Smith, a scoring guard who is coming back from injury and Maya Bryant who also has the size to play inside.

When asked where they had improved the most during the off season, Smith said, “I have worked really hard on my ball handling,” while Claude said “ball handling, it will open up my scoring and passing lanes. In talking about their toughest opponents ahead, Muhyee said, “We don’t look at our opponents, we look at ourselves, we look at how we can improve and get better, and we feel like if we continue to work and improve then the wins will take care of themselves.”

Whitewater Wildcats

2016-17 Record: 9-15
Head Coach: Fred West — 3rd Season

Whitewater assistant and senior Wildcats

The story of the Wildcats last season was close but not close enough, they played well in a lot of games but couldn’t pull them out in the end. They enjoyed a couple of big wins against region rivals and state qualifiers Starr’s Mill and McIntosh, but the losses mounted as the season went along. They bring back a strong core in guards CJ Jackson, K’won Bush and Josh Lanier. Unfortunately, their leading scorer from last season Josh Graham has transferred to Pebblebrook.

After a successful summer at a Georgia State camp, the Wildcats look to add big man 6-foot-5 Isaiah Claude and guard Julian Johnson to the rotation. Playing with a smaller line up – the Wildcats will look to play a pesky full court defense and a motion offense that will allow their guards to get open looks. Expect to see a lot of energy and movement on the court. The Wildcats should inch their way back closer to .500 for the season and give a lot of teams match-up problems with their 4-guard sets.

Sandy Creek Lady Patriots

2016-17 Record: 24-7 (Final Four)
Head Coach: Janie Hodges — 2nd Season

Coach Hodges with Paris Thompson, Daija Powell and Nina Lum

In her first season, Coach Hodges used an excellent senior backcourt to win the Region 5-AAAA Championship and take a run deep into the playoffs that ended against eventual champion Columbus. Graduation hit the Lady Patriots hard and now Coach Hodges is in charge of leading somewhat of a rebuild,  but by no means is the cupboard bare.

While last year’s team was centered around the guard play, this team will strong inside. Returning are inside players junior Paris Thompson and sophomore Daija Powell. Both saw extensive playing time in Coach Hodges’ rotation last year and will be counted on to step up the production this season. Powell has an incredible post game and had several high scoring games last year.

The job of running the offense falls on junior Nina Lum who played significant minutes as a reserve last season. Hodges said, “Nina has been in the program for three years, she is experienced, and she is ready to lead the team.”

The key to the season will be how quickly Coach Hodges can work the new players into the rotations. The Lady Patriots already have a game under their belts against state powerhouse Westlake. Hodges said, “I am glad we played them, it showed us where we are and what we need to work on.” In those early season games, you either win or you learn, the Lady Patriots learned they are in transition, but the future is bright. Look for them to make another run to get into the playoffs.

Sandy Creek Patriots

2016-17 Record: 23-8 (Final Four)
Head Coach: Jon-Michael Nickerson — 1st Season
Preseason Class AAAA No. 3

First-Year head coach Jon-Michael Nickerson with Jarred Godfrey, Xavier Brewer and Chris Porter

The Patriots caught lightning in a bottle late last season and after a disappointing region tournament loss went on a run that took them to the Final Four where they lost to St. Pius. This started a transition within the program as a leadership change brought in Coach Nickerson who brings an impressive college resume. A lot of talent returns with 6-foot-8 wing TJ Bickerstaff, 6-foot-8 stretch forward Xavier Brewer, 6-foot-4 point guard Jarred Godfrey, Chris Porter and spark plug guard Kameron Miller. Coach Nickerson brings a tenacious defensive intensity to the team that was missing in the past.

When asked about the biggest difference between then and now, Miller said, “The practices are more intense and fast paced, there is purpose to everything we do.” Nickerson added, “This was a big change for the players and they bought in, I am proud of where we are, we still have a lot to add in over time, but we are getting there. It takes time to incorporate everything we will do into our game plan, but we are getting there and are ready to play.”

For the players that got a taste of post seasons last year, anything less than a championship with be disappointing. Look for the talented Patriots make a run.

Griffin Bears

2016-17 Record: 6-21
Head Coach: Willie Reese — 2nd Season

Coach Willie Reese with Jacarlin Dennis and Darrell Evans Jr.

Former Georgia Tech star and assistant coach Willie Reese returns to Griffin for his second season with more reason for optimism. Griffin has a rich heritage in all spots and can boast of multiple state championships in basketball. His philosophy is to build and utilize multi-skill players.

Coach Reese said, “For some reason in the city of Griffin, we have a lot of 6’1 to 6’4 young men which is good because it lets us have interchangeable parts. This year, we will play nine or 10 deep, with six of those players returning from playing time last year. We are looking forward to a good season with steady improvement over last year.”

His key returners include two 2nd team all-region players from last year, point guard Jacarlin Dennis and senior guard Darrell Evans Jr. who is a four-year letterman. Coach Reese reminds his players last year when they were up on eventual Class AAAA champion Upson-Lee late in a game by four points only to see it slip away, that the talent is there, they just need to continue to work on the little things and on playing team basketball.

Reese said, “I learned from Coach Cremins and Coach Hewitt at Tech that it was about the little things, working with kids individually to continue to make small steps, that is what we are doing here at Griffin.”

The Bears will continue to improve this year and look to move up in the region standings; look for an upset or two as well.

Fayette County Lady Tigers

2016-17 Record: 21-9 (Sweet 16)
Head Coach: John Strickland — 13th Season

Veteran Coach John Strickland with Maegan Barkley and Trinity Brown

Coach Strickland has been the model of success and consistency at Fayette County as head coach for 12 years and last season was no different. Strickland has gotten to the point of his career that others are envious of, it has now a legacy, not only with wins but with relationships. This is highlighted by one of his former players, Tessa Holt who played at Boston College and later coached in college, returning as an assistant for this season. That consistency builds confidence in his players that success is right there in front of them.

Lost from last year’s playoff team was leader Darryl Langford who plays at Navy now, but there is plenty of talent returning and the seniors on the roster have played together since middle school. They include guards Maegan Barkley, Trinity Brown and Rikkelle Miller. There is also height in 6-foot-2 sophomore Naomi Franco and freshman 6-foot-1 Celine Akande, both whom add a post presence. When you factor in junior guard Sidney Sims, the Tigers have a deep roster with multiple rotation possibilities.

Coach Strickland said, “To win in girls basketball, you have to make free throws and layups, it’s that simple. We know that and understand that, this team could be really good this year, we have a lot of leaders.”

The Lady Tigers will challenge for the region title and be right in the middle of the playoffs again.

Northgate Vikings

2016-17 Record: 7-18
Head Coach: Maurice Smith — 5th season

Coach Smith will lean on a bevy of seniors this season

The Vikings play in one of the toughest regions in the state, where last year both boys and the girls state champions came from, Region 5-AAAAAA. Under Coach Smith – the Vikes have improved their win total over the past three seasons and look to continue that trend this year and attempt to get over the hump and make some noise in the region tournament.

Coach Smith said, “We already know we can win, we just need to start winning those small battles within the game itself. This year’s roster is deep with 12 who will see playing time, including seven seniors. Leaders on the team include 6-foot-2 Jermarki Cunningham, 6-foot-5 Cam Ellis, 6-foot Perez McLaughlin and 6-fot-2 Devontae Johnson.”

The schedule is tough, Smith said, “from a region standpoint, there are no breaks, every game will be a battle. Our goal is to continue to prove and win two games in the region tournament. I know these guys have it in them. We are 12 deep and all of our players are similar, we have the depth to press and play fast. We don’t have a particular game circled on the schedule, we will just take them one game at a time and see where we end up.”

Look for the Vikings to ride the wave of their seniors and continue the trend of improving their win totals each season.

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Fayette County boys
Our Lady of Mercy boys
Our Lady of Mercy girls
Griffin girls
Northgate girls