It’s been five seasons since the Wheeler Wildcats last won a state championship. Jaylen Brown and company appear poised to end that drought.
Brown, one of the nation’s premier recruits, led a relentless Wheeler attack, and the Wildcats overwhelmed a quality Douglas County team, 87-68, Saturday in the second round of the AAAAAA state tournament.
Wheeler will host Newton next week. Newton advanced with a 58-54 win over Dacula.
Brown, a 6-7 senior guard wanted by all the big colleges, did a little bit of everything, scoring 32 points, grabbing 17 rebounds and blocking multiple shots. He hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter and helped the Wildcats build a 22-point lead, 45-23, at intermission. He closed out the game with back-to-back highlight dunks.
Wheeler (27-2) put the game away in the third quarter, with Darius Perry knocking down a pair of 3-pointers on his way to a 17-point performance.
The gym was packed and raucous. North Carolina coach Roy William was sitting along the baseline and looked impressed as Brown flipped in one of multiple acrobatic shots. Both coaches, Douglas County’s Hollis Bethea and Wheeler’s Doug Lipscomb, tested the limits of the coaching box, dogging the refs in an intense up-and-down game.
"I think they wanted to get in an up-and-down game with us," Brown said. "I don't think that was really smart."
Douglas County, the No. 2 seed out of Region 3, looked tight from the beginning. Senior Brandon Robinson tried to keep the Tigers in the game, scoring 11 points in the first half en route to 25, but Wheeler was way too much for the Tigers (22-9).
“We played as hard as we could,” Bethea said. “You have to give Wheeler credit, they were hot tonight.”
Douglas County shouldn’t feel bad. The Tigers simply had a tough draw.
"We would have hoped to have been playing Wheeler a little later in the tournament," Bethea said.
Few instate teams have tested Wheeler. The Wildcats’ two losses came against national powerhouses West Linn of Oregon and Bishop O’Dowd of California. Wheeler is ranked fifth in the nation by Max Preps. But it won’t mean much, if the Wildcats can’t finish the deal. They lost to Tift County in the state championship game last season.
“All I remember is that we lost,” said Brown, who signed autographs and took pictures with fans before and after the game. “I took that pretty hard and worked ever since that day to get back to that point. And now, it’s right in front of my face. I get an adrenaline rush every time I think about it.”
Brown has not committed and has said he won't pick a college before April 1.
Corey Tillery added 12 for Douglas County.
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