Class 7A blog: New coach has Grayson’s girls hunting 1st state title

Photo illustration of a basketball goal.

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Photo illustration of a basketball goal.

Grayson’s girls basketball team is chasing its first state title with a new coach, a 15-3 record and a No. 2 ranking in Class 7A. The Rams haven’t lost to a 7A opponent this season.

The new coach is Tim Slater, who led another Gwinnett County girls team, Lanier, to a Class 6A title in 2019. Lanier had never gone past the second round until then.

That’s been Grayson’s history to this point. The Rams lost in the second round last season for the fourth straight year, and they’ve never reached a quarterfinal, much less a championship game.

“It’s eerily familiar to what I had at Lanier, a talented group of seniors who needed a fresh voice and vision,’’ Slater said. “It’s year one here, but it doesn’t feel that way in terms of community and school support. The team has really embraced me coming in with a new energy and doing things a little differently.’’

Slater’s Rams employ a freshman point guard, a sophomore phenom, a four-year starter and deep and seasoned bench to out run and wear down its opponents.

“We defend,’’ Slater said. “We defend and play fast. We use our roster as a weapon. We want to believe that our depth is better than the other team’s. We want to lean on you and get you in foul trouble, and we want to play at a tempo that you can’t practice at.’’

Catherine Alben, a 5-foot-8 guard committed to Charleston Southern, is the leader of eight seniors. In her fourth season as a regular, Alben is a 1,000-point scorer. Slater calls her the fastest player he’s ever coached.

Tylia Kemp and Akhaila Horne, both 5-10, are the other senior starters. Kemp is a good shooter, Horne a tough, physical player inside.

Seniors Sariya Henry, Amber Turner and Loretta Parks come off the bench along with juniors Jyanni Smith and Samara Saunders.

Perhaps the striking difference to this season’s team from last year’s 13-13 finisher is a pair of youngsters – freshman point guard Tatum Brown and 6-2 sophomore guard Erin Rodgers.

‘’Tatum is probably the most polished freshman I’ve ever coached,’’ said Slater, who touts her five-to-one assists-to turnovers ratio. “To play point guard for a team as talented as we are is a once-in-a-lifetime player. She’s the engine that makes us go because she plays so fast, and we have the athletes around her to push those lanes.’’

Rodgers is likely a major Division I recruit in two years. “She’s long and athletic and does it all,’’ Slater said. “She dribbles the ball, attacks the paint and defends the other team’s top player.’’

Grayson’s three losses have been by two, three and seven points against Holy Innocents’ (twice) and Mount Paran Christian, the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in Class A Private. Grayson has beaten Class 7A top-10 opponents Norcross and Cherokee.

Grayson’s main rival is No. 1-ranked Brookwood, a Region 4 opponent about nine miles to the east. They haven’t played each other yet but are scheduled for Feb. 4 and Feb. 10 in the regular season, then potentially Feb. 18 in the region championship game.

“Ultimately it’s going to come down to that crosstown rivalry,’’ Slater said. ‘’Those will be big games. It’s kind of like Duke-Carolina. That’s going to be cool for this area to see two teams as good as we are playing for a region and maybe state championship.”

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