GHSA disqualifies Tucker girls basketball team for recruiting

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Tucker’s girls basketball team is disqualified from the state tournament a day before its Class AAAAAA quarterfinal game with Harrison, the Georgia High School Association ruled Monday.

Tucker was found guilty of the GHSA’s recruiting and undue influence rules in securing players, the GHSA ruled after an 11-day investigation.

Tucker (21-9) – the Region 4 runner-up and ranked No. 8 overall in the classification – had advanced two rounds in the playoffs with victories over Grovetown and Bradwell Institute and was set to play Harrison on Tuesday.

Now, the GHSA is contacting Grovetown and Bradwell to allow them to play a makeup second-round game on Wednesday, with the winner to face Harrison on Thursday. Saturday’s semifinals at West Georgia will go on as scheduled, the GHSA said.

‘’I have mixed emotions,’’ Harrison coach Steve Lenahan said. “I’m a little disheartened at the fact that these allegations are true and did violate the rules, but at the same time, I’m happy that the GHSA caught it and dealt with it promptly. That typically doesn’t happen.’

This is believed to be the first time that the GHSA has disqualified a basketball team during the state tournament.

Six Tucker players, including its three leading scorers, transferred to Tucker prior to this season. They are Jasani Buchanan (from Stephenson), Kerrigan Johnson (from Redan), Summer Dilwood (from Grayson), Devyn Lockhart (from Banneker), Kayla Blaise (from Dunwoody) and Amia Johnson (from Peachtree Ridge).

Most have played on Georgia Pistols AAU teams coached by Robert Stanard, the father of Tucker player Amariah Stanard, who was on the Tucker team last season.

Rumors of violations had gone on for weeks, but the investigation began when Cobb County, home of Harrison, contacted the GHSA on Feb. 15.  DeKalb County, home of Tucker, assisted with the probe.

Evidence presented included addresses used to register for AAU. None of the six transfers lived in the district at the time. It’s possible that all moved legally into the district, but the GHSA’s ruling came down to recruiting and undue influence, not bona-fide moves.

The GHSA issued this statement Monday afternoon:

‘’Based on information gathered during a recent investigation, GHSA Executive Director Dr. James R. Hines has found Tucker High School to be in violation of GHSA by-law 1.70 concerning Recruiting and Undue Influence. As a result, the Tucker girls basketball team is ruled to have been playing several ineligible players this season and, therefore, must vacate their position in the ongoing state basketball tournament.’’

Asked if this might signal a new crackdown on illegal transfers, Lenahan wasn’t sure. Social media was a catalyst as talk of violations had been spreading.

‘’My guess is, just because if you ask coaches across Georgia and their past experiences, is that this would be an anomaly,’’ he said. ‘’This situation just happened to have a lot of attention drawn to it. I have known of other schools having players on their teams that lived out of district that were recruited, and so does probably every other coach in Georgia, but it’s so rampant a problem that people turn a blind eye to it.’’

Tucker coach J.J. Oliver did not respond immediately for comment.

Tucker is a traditional power in girls basketball. The team was the Class AAAAA champion in 2014 and AAAAAA runner-up to McEachern in 2016. Oliver became Tucker’s head coach in 2017.

The GHSA has not altered the results of the state tournament since 1987, when it forced Rockdale County to vacate a state title after the fact for using ineligible players. No champion was declared.

In the 1930s and 1940s, it was not uncommon for teams to be ousted for failing to show. As recently as 2012, Wilcox County chose to forfeit a boys game because of suspending its own players. But according to Becky Taylor of the Georgia Basketball Project, Tucker is likely the first team ousted mid-tournament by the GHSA in a tournament that dates to 1922.

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