Class 1A Private blog: Greenforest battle-tested, ready for title run

Playing well against loaded schedule has Eagles ranked No. 5 overall

For the Greenforest Eagles, the goal is to be one of the state’s top teams, regardless of classification. After a rigorous non-region schedule, they sit as the No. 5 team overall, according to the MaxPreps computer rankings.

The next-closest 1A Private school in those rankings, WD Mohammed, comes in at No. 56. The Eagles beat them 59-41 on Dec. 1 in a Region 2 contest.

The Eagles (12-4), who are ranked No. 1 in 1A Private, have played three of the four teams ranked ahead of them by MaxPreps — No. 1 Newton, No. 2 Pebblebrook and No. 4 Berkmar — and beat Berkmar 56-55 on Nov. 27. They’ve played six of the AJC’s top 10 teams in 7A, including the top four, and went 3-4. Other wins include over 2A defending champions Pace Academy, ranked No. 2, Cross Creek, ranked No. 6 in 3A.

Of their first 15 games, just two — Whitefield Academy in region play and Alabama’s Hueytown in a holiday tournament — were against unranked opponents.

Not only have the Eagles proven they’re one of the state’s best thus far, but their coach, Rory Griffin, knows exactly who he can count on moving forward, because his team has been tested to its limits. Early on, the team suffered a three-game skid at the hands of 7A’s No. 2 Pebblebrook, No. 4 Grayson and No. 9 North Gwinnett.

They rebounded to beat Grayson in a rematch and have lost just once since the skid — to 7A’s No. 1 Newton on Dec. 10.

“That’s what you have to go through to start your season right, because you’re still building chemistry,” said Griffin, who’s served on staff for 15 years, taking over as coach ahead of the 2017-18 season. “As a coach, the best way to start is by playing the toughest opponents because you find out who your guys are early. In that three-game losing streak, I saw that these kids won’t break. One or two things can happen — they can break and fold and things go down hill, or they’ll rally each other with leaders who emerge, who realize it’s on them to perform and get us out of that pattern. We took off from there.

“You don’t want to discover that about your team come playoff time, so that’s why I don’t mind losing games. I’ll play the toughest of the tough every year to find out who our guys are.”

The Eagles’ top three scorers are seniors, led by 6-foot-4 guard Jalen Forrest, who is averaging 17 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.7 steals. His name should sound familiar to basketball fans in the state, because he’s the son of former Georgia Tech basketball star James Forrest. He’s also the younger brother of former Greenforest guard Justin Forrest, who was a senior in 2017 when the Eagles won the program’s third title under Larry Thompson.

They have a pair of 7-foot juniors in DK Manyiel and Gai Chol, and between them they average seven blocks a game. The two are just the latest to be mentored by longtime Eagles assistant Ed Ravenel, who has been with the program for over 25 years.

“(Ravenel) is our mainstay, our glue,” Griffin said. ”He makes sure the Greenforest brand — which is loving kids and helping them on and off the court — stays intact...Hats off to my staff. We have four assistants here who know how to relate to kids, and that’s why they’re so gritty.”

On Tuesday, the Eagles played their first game of 2022, beating Southwest Atlanta Christian 53-32 to improve to 4-0 in region play. They were missing three starters, but Griffin was excited by how his group of underclassmen performed in their absence.

“Our kids found a way to win and I attribute that to our schedule,” Griffin said. “We’re playing good basketball. Really inspired, confident. Last night, I was so proud. They know what they’re doing. It was a dominating win because we were so precise. When you can play basketball with intentional poise, you’re onto something special for a playoff run.”

Though the gap between Greenforest and the rest of the 1A Private field seems considerable, Griffin knows better. Since winning the 2017 title, the Eagles have lost three times in the quarterfinals — including last year — and once in the championship.

“Every year, 2-3 teams (in 1A Private) will surprise us,” Griffin said. “I can say this. There’s a lot of good coaching going on right now in 1A Private. I’m excited to see where we are.”

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