This state’s hoops talent drain must cease

One Saturday in the not-exactly-august annals of Peach State basketball:

  • Georgia Tech blew a 14-point lead and lost at home to Virginia Tech.
  • Georgia lost at home by 34 to Texas A&M, marking the Bulldogs' worst defeat in 6 1/2 seasons under Mark Fox.
  • Georgia State lost at home by 33 to Louisiana-Lafayette, marking the Panthers' worst defeat in 4 1/2 seasons under Ron Hunter.
  • Kennesaw State led North Florida by 14 points in the first half but lost by 15.

The day wasn’t a complete wipeout. Mercer did beat Wofford by a point to rise to 14-4. Georgia Southern, which is 6-10, also won. So did Savannah State, which is 6-9. But here, if you care about college basketball, was Saturday’s truly distressing news:

Kobi Simmons, a five-star point guard from Alpharetta’s St. Francis School, announced he would attend Arizona. Yet again, Georgia’s highest-ranked prep player is leaving.

Since 2010, this state’s Division I programs have won two NCAA tournament games, both being wonders worked by No. 14 seeds. Mercer upset Duke in 2014. Georgia State scored the game’s final 13 points to topple Baylor in March. Georgia is 0-2 in NCAA play over six seasons under Mark Fox. Tech hasn’t graced a postseason event under Brian Gregory, now in his fifth season.

Of the state's seven Division I programs, five play in non-Power Five conferences and lack access to the nation's top recruits. (Hunter's best Georgia State player happened to be his son.) But Michael Hall of the Brunswick Times posted a story Saturday that quoted the disgraced Georgia coach Jim Harrick as saying, "You recruit the best talent in the state of Georgia, and you can win a championship."

A word about that: Harrick never won a championship at Georgia — in 2002, his Bulldogs tied Florida and Kentucky for first in the defunct SEC East — and resigned after president Michael Adams removed the team from the 2003 postseason because of Tony Cole’s ESPN-aired tale of impropriety. Harrick also is a proven fabulist, having been fired by UCLA for lying to superiors. But here, to a point, he has a point.

From 2010 through 2015 — a span of six recruiting classes — 31 players from Georgia ranked among Rivals’ top 100 prospects. Four signed with in-state schools: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (No. 12 in 2011) and Derek Ogbeide (No. 91 in 2015) with Georgia; Robert Carter Jr. (No. 33 in 2012) and Marcus Georges-Hunt (No. 95 the same year) with Tech. Caldwell-Pope left for the NBA after two seasons; Carter transferred to Maryland after two seasons.

Some who exited have since returned to Georgia schools — Ryan Harrow and Kevin Ware to Georgia State; Trae Golden, Nick Jacobs and Charles Mitchell to Tech — but you get the drift. Even if all those departing players weren’t major talents, that’s still a major talent drain.

Granted, the past few years haven’t generated the same yield as the first decade of this century, when Georgia products Kwame Brown and Dwight Howard were drafted No. 1 overall and Louis Williams, Josh Smith, Randolph Morris, Javaris Crittenton, Al-Farouq Aminu and Derrick Favors ranked among the top 10 of their respective recruiting classes. Ten years ago, you could have won a national championship just with Georgia players — but Brown, Howard, Williams and Smith went straight to the NBA.

We move to current events. Rivals rates eight Georgians among this year’s top 100. Two signed with Georgia, one with Tech. Of those three, the highest-ranked is No. 70 Romello White of Wheeler. The state’s three leading prospects are bound for Arizona, Connecticut and Auburn. Last year’s top two Georgians were Jaylen Brown of Wheeler, averaging 14.8 points for California, and Malik Beasley of St. Francis, who leads Florida State in scoring and rebounding.

Georgia’s Fox is a deft tactician who keeps trying to make do with lesser talent. Tech’s Gregory is 20-55 in ACC regular-season play and is clinging to his job only via the kindness of transfers. (Of the seven Jackets who have started games this season, five began their collegiate careers elsewhere.) Neither coach has recruited Georgia half as well as he should have. If either program is to break upward, it has to happen with the 2017 recruiting class.

Three locals rank among Rivals’ top 24 prospects for next season: No. 1 Wendell Carter of Pace Academy, No. 16 Ikey Obiagu of Greenforest Christian Academy and No. 24 M.J. Walker of Jonesboro. A major program cannot allow such players to escape the way Brown and Beasley just did. If big-time basketball is to return to Athens and/or the Flats, the talent drain must cease. Even a surge fueled by a one-and-done beats no surge at all.