McEachern’s boys basketball team, ranked No. 1 by MaxPreps and BlueStar Media, has accepted an invitation to a tournament that could make it Georgia’s first national champion in 40 years.
McEachern will play in the GEICO High School Nationals, an eight-team tournament scheduled for April 4-6 in New York, coach Mike Thompson confirmed Saturday evening after his team defeated Meadowcreek, 62-54, to win Class AAAAAAA at the Macon Coliseum.
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‘’Yes, we are going,’’ Thompson said. “We’ll take a little time off. We’ll be going against seven of the other best teams in the country. We’ve never backed away from anybody, and we’re not going to back away from it now. We’re going to see how we do.’’
McEachern could’ve sat on its lead. The Indians are 32-0, the first undefeated boys team in Georgia’s highest classification since Dunwoody in 1995. They are ranked No. 1 by MaxPreps, BlueStar and the Prep Circuit Power 50 but No. 2 in USA Today and in the Ballislife.com Fab 50 behind La Lumiere School, an undefeated team out of Indiana. La Lumiere also is expected to be in New York. The field has not been announced. (See MaxPreps’ projections on the eight-team field.)
McEachern’s state title is the third major championship of the season for the Indians. They also captured the City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers and the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions in Springfield, Mo. McEachern also played and won in Springfield, Mass.
According to MaxPreps, McEachern is 9-0 against teams featured in its Top 25 at some point this season. Those include Norcross and Meadowcreek in Georgia. McEachern has beaten teams from Alabama, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Missouri, Kansas California and Arizona.
Thompson was asked Saturday night, after his team beat Meadowcreek, about the challenges of playing a national schedule.
‘’It’s difficult when the expectations get to the point where if we had lost this game, we would’ve had a disappointing season,’’ Thompson said. “That’s a shame because we beat a lot of good people. That’s the only thing that’s troubling about it. But it’s fun. We had a great time traveling all over the country. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Probably one of the best Georgia high school teams ever.’’
McEachern can thank Wheeler and Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown for the opportunity in New York. The GHSA for decades had barred teams from playing games after Georgia’ season was complete. In 2015, Wheeler got an invitation for the New York event, then sponsored by Dick’s Sporting Goods, because of Brown, its five-star recruit, and its recent Georgia state title. Wheeler challenged the rule in 2015, and the threat of lawsuits and pressure from the state legislature prompted the GHSA to change its bylaws. Most state associations still don’t allow its teams to play.
The tournament was won in 2018 by Montverde Academy of Florida. Oak Hill and Findlay Prep are past winners. No public school has won the title in its 10 years of existence.
The last Georgia boys basketball team to be recognized as a national champion was Southwest-Macon in 1979. That team feature future NBA star Jeff Malone, all-SEC forward Terry Fair and three other future Division I starters. Southwest went 28-0 under the late coach Don Richardson. That team was honored at halftime of the McEachern-Meadowcreek game.
McEachern has similar talent. Sharife Cooper, the junior point guard, is a five-star recruit. Forward Isaac Okoro, who has signed with Auburn, was the Region 3-AAAAAAA player of the year. Both are all-class player-of-the-year candidates.
The state title was McEachern’s first in boys basketball. In 2018, the team was ranked No. 1 entering the state tournament but was upset by Norcross in the quarterfinals.
‘’This is just a really special group of kids,’’ Thompson said. “They’ve worked hard for a long time. To see them be able to get this, the pressure of being undefeated, getting beat last year, dealing with all that disappointment, and knowing that going all the way through this year is lot for kids to handle, and to rise to occasion like that, I’m just really proud of them, proud for our school.’’
Seth Ellerbee contributed to this report.
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