Class 7A blog: Wheeler, Brookwood carve special places in history

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

It was the first state title for Brookwood’s girls, the ninth for Wheeler’s boys, and both Class 7A basketball champions lived up to No. 1 rankings that they held virtually every week this season.

Brookwood finished 31-1, its only loss to River Ridge in December, and defeated defending champion Norcross 43-39 in the final Saturday in Macon. Senior guard Diana Collins, a state player-of-the-year candidate, scored 21 points and had six rebounds, two assists and two steals despite playing with foul trouble. She’s headed to Ohio State.

“I’m overwhelmed, relieved and proud of my team, proud of my coaching staff,” Brookwood coach Courtney Mincy said. “It’s just been really hard. It’s been a really long season and it’s hard to get to this spot.”

Mincy, in her fourth Brookwood season, played at nearby Shiloh in the early 2000s (known as Courtney Strauthers in those days), then played at Alabama. She coached seven years in college, most recently at Tennessee Tech.

When hired to Brookwood in 2019, the Broncos had never advanced past the second round at state. Now, they’ve gone to the quarterfinals or better four straight times, and they’re 12-3 in the state tournament under Mincy.

The state title filled a void at Brookwood, which opened in 1981. The Gwinnett County sports powerhouse had won 61 state championships in 15 sports heading into the weekend. Make that 62 titles in 16 sports now.

For Wheeler, basketball state titles are common. The Wildcats have won nine overall, and the eight in the highest class are the most in modern GHSA history (since World War II).

But this one still found a way to make itself special.

While some previous Wheeler teams might’ve finished a little higher nationally, none was any more dominant in state or talented in its senior class.

Wheeler (26-6) was undefeated against Georgia opponents. The Wildcats beat region rival Cherokee 78-58 in the final after vanquishing No. 2 Grayson in the semifinals and No. 3 McEachern in the quarterfinals.

Isaiah Collier is Wheeler’s first Naismith national player of the year. Even Wheeler alumni and NBA all-stars Jaylen Brown and Sharif Abdur-Rahim never claimed that honor.

Wheeler had three of the state’s top 12 senior prospects, another first for the East Cobb school. Joining Collier was Arrinten Page and Jelani Hamilton. Page and Collier have signed with Southern Cal. Hamilton is going to Iowa State.