Georgia has its usual complement of big-time boys basketball players, including Thomasville post player Reggie Perry, who has committed to Mississippi State and is rated in the top 20 players nationally, according to multiple recruiting websites.
First, though, how long can these guys keep it going? Four of the eight state champions finished on winning streaks of 15 games or more, topped by Upson-Lee’s 32-0 run to the Class AAAA title. South Atlanta, which claimed the Class AA crown, finished winning 27 straight, while AAAAA titlist Buford won its last 18 games. Pace Academy won the AAA crown by closing with 17 straight wins after a 9-8 start.
And then there’s this: After a one-year absence, the basketball finals are going back to Macon. Well, half of them, anyway. The other half will be at Georgia Tech. At this point it’s to be determined which classes will be held where. More on this later.
Now for a look at the state’s basketball landscape on the boys side:
Class A Private
Semifinalist St. Francis, which finished 25-6, is in the midst of a youth movement. The Knights return three underclassmen who averaged more than 10 points per game last season. Sophomore Dwon Odum, a 6-1 point guard, contributed in a variety of ways beyond his 17 points per game. He averaged 6.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 2.4 steals. Sophomore Chase Ellis scored 12.6 points and averaged 7.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. Junior C.J. Riley scored 10.8 points and averaged two assists and 1.1 steals. The Knights have been to the state semifinals five consecutive years.
Semifinalist Lakeview Academy, which went 25-6 a season ago, returns three key seniors, including 6-4 senior guard Drew Cottrell, who averaged 16 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals. Senior forward Evan Pitts (seven points, four rebounds) provides a complementary piece and excels at the grittier aspects of the game. He drew 47 charges last season.
Class A Public
Semifinalist Macon County returns four starters from a 20-9 club a season ago. Senior shooting guard Clayton Jenkins averaged 22.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists and two steals per game. Forward Trey Brown averaged 14.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.5 blocks. The Bulldogs likely will benefit from the addition of transfers Andrew Stinson from Hawkinsville and Jamaal Rice II, who averaged 18.9 points per game for Southland Academy in Americus.
Finalist Swainsboro, which went 21-11 in 2016-17, gets another year of 5-8 guard Jalen McCinney, who averaged 27 points for the Tigers. Swainsboro also returns senior center Eddie Roberts and junior guard Jamil Watkins.
Calhoun finished 23-5, and according to coach Vince Layson, was a surprise semifinalist. The Yellow Jackets are tasked with replacing perimeter players Chapin Rierson, who signed with Georgia College, and Malik Lawrence. Point guard Porter Law set the school record with 5.7 assists per game to go along with three points and 4.3 rebounds. Davis Allen, a 6-5 junior forward, came off the bench most of last season but was a key component of the Jackets’ run to the final four, averaging 16 points and seven rebounds in the region and state tournaments.
Upson-Lee has to be considered a state title contender from the start, but the Knights will be hard-pressed to top their 2016-17 season, when they rolled to a 32-0 record and the AAAA championship. Tye Fagan, a 6-2 senior guard, averaged 21.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists. The Knights have an experienced inside presence in Travon Walker, a 6-5 junior, and JaCorey Smith, a 6-2 senior forward. Fagan is joined in the backcourt by junior Zyrice Scott.
Finalist St. Pius X returns four starters from a team that went 24-8 a season ago. Senior guard Everett Lane is the teams’ leading returning scorer, averaging 11.3 points and making a total of 77 3-pointers last season. Junior point guard Matthew Gonzalo averaged eight points, 5.2 assists and 2.8 steals. Fellow junior guard Brian Gonzalo averaged 7.3 points per game and made 39 percent of his 3-point attempts.
Semifinalist Sandy Creek is under the direction of new head coach Jon-Michael Nickerson. The Patriots went 23-8 a season ago. Key returning players are Jarred Godfrey (11 points per game), T.J. Bickerstaff (10) and Xavier Brewer (7).
State champion Buford went 29-2 and was unbeaten against teams from Georgia. The Wolves return four players who combined for 53.6 points per game last season. Leading the way is 6-6 junior forward Marcus Watson, who scored 18.6 points and averaged 9.1 rebounds last year. Seniors Alex Jons and David Viti scored 13.4 points and 11.6 points, respectively. Jones, a 5-10 guard, averaged 6.5 assists, and Viti, a 6-5 forward, averaged 4.8 rebounds. Donnell Nixon, a 5-9 junior guard, averaged 9.8 points and 3.4 assist last season.
Finalist Cedar Shoals, which finished 27-5 and made its third straight appearance in the state final four, returns seniors JaiVanni McDavid, KeiVasjay Ball and Darrien Appling. The Jaguars could get a boost from sophomore transfers Quincy Canty and Tyler Johnson, who both played at Athens Christian last season, and Demetrius Glenn, who transferred from cross-town rival Clarke Central.
Champion Langston Hughes finished 25-8 and entered the state tournament as a No. 3 seed from Region 5-AAAAAA before getting hot and winning three games decided by three points or less on the way to the title. The Panthers lost six seniors who all are playing at the next level, according to coach Rory Welsh, but return some potent players for another run, including 6-7 shooting forward Landers Nolley, a Virginia Tech commitment who averaged 25 points and seven rebounds,
Allatoona, a semifinalist last season, lost three starters from a 21-9 club. The Buccaneers return a trio of seniors in 6-4 wing player Rolan Wooden, 6-7 wing Tobi Adeyeye and 6-2 guard John Chester. Juniors Jeremia Sanabria, Devan Dixon and Izaiah Taylor figure to play key roles.
Semifinalist South Cobb, 23-8 last season, graduated six players and lost Trevin Wade, who transferred to Montverde Academy in Florida, according to Eagles coach Greg Moultrie, who said South Cobb will have no players who played on the varsity team a season ago.
Perhaps none of the eight state champions face as many questions as AAAAAAA state champion Tift County, which lost 85 percent of its scoring to graduation. Head coach Eric Holland left to become principal at Rome High School. Chris Wade, who was an associate head coach under Holland and on the bench for the Blue Devils’ state titles in 2014 and 2017, was promoted to the head coaching position. Not all the players on the floor will be new. Senior Montae Terrel, who was the team’s sixth man a season ago, is back at point guard. Third-leading scorer Rashot Bateman, a 6-3 senior guard, is expected to provide strong perimeter shooting. Junior wing Marquavius Johnson, who started every game as a sophomore, is a strong all-around player.
Runner-Up Norcross went 26-6 last season and came up three points shy of a state title. The Blue Devils return four key players, including one of the state’s top prospects in 6-6 senior forward Joseph Toppin, who averaged nine points and four rebounds a year ago. Senior point guard Dalvin White is a three-year starter who made 41 percent of his 3-point attempts last year and averaged nine points and 2.5 steals per game. Junior guard Kyle Sturdivant averaged 12 points, three assists and 1.5 steals last season.
Semifinalist Grayson returns five key players off a team that went 21-10 last season. The Rams figure to rely heavily on 6-0 senior guard Travis Anderson, a Charleston Southern commitment who averaged 21.4 points, four assists and 2.1 steals as a junior. Guard Nick Edwards, a 6-2 senior, averaged 12 points, 3.6 assists and 1.6 steals. Junior power forward Kenyon Jackson averaged 9.8 points and 10.7 rebounds, as well as 1.9 steals and 3.1 blocks.
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