Georgia 2021 basketball class offers star power

5-stars Smith, Cleveland headline boys’ side
Pace Academy's Matthew Cleveland shoots over a Jefferson defender in the Class AAA boys state basketball championship Thursday, March 5, 2020, in Macon.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Combined ShapeCaption
Pace Academy's Matthew Cleveland shoots over a Jefferson defender in the Class AAA boys state basketball championship Thursday, March 5, 2020, in Macon.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Georgia always has been one of the country’s hotbeds for high school basketball prospects, and this year is no different.

The Peach State’s class of 2021 offers four 5-star prospects — Sandy Creek’s Jabari Smith and Pace Academy’s Matthew Cleveland for the boys; Westlake’s Raven Johnson and Forest Park’s Sania Feagin for the girls — and they are part of 13 players (nine girls, four boys) ranked in the top 100 for their class.

“This year falls in line historically with what Georgia has typically done over the last decade,” said Justin Young, HoopSeen editor-in-chief. “About every year they have two guys on average who are McDonald’s All-American-caliber in the top 25. Jabari Smith is probably one of the 10 best players (from Georgia) of the last 20 years — a tremendous prospect.”

Young considers Smith, who signed with Auburn and is ranked No. 5 overall in the 247Sports Composite, and Cleveland (No. 22 overall; Florida State signee) as strong “one-and-done” candidates who could leave for the NBA after one season in college.

The No. 1 overall pick in last year’s NBA draft was a one-and-done from Georgia. Anthony Edwards, who played in high school for Therrell and Holy Spirit Prep before playing one season at Georgia, was taken by the Minnesota Timberwolves — the first metro Atlanta player selected No. 1 since Dwight Howard made the jump from Southwest Atlanta Christian to the Orlando Magic in 2004.

“I think it’s safe to assume (Smith and Cleveland) are one-and-dones,” Young said. “That’s a fair assumption for most players in the top 25 (of their class). Matthew may not be, only because I know academics are high on his list. So for him to stay a couple of years wouldn’t surprise me. But in general, it’s not shocking for a top-25 player to be a one-and-done.”

Westside’s Kowacie Reeves (Florida signee), ranked No. 37, and McEachern’s Chance Moore (Arkansas), at No. 89, round out the Georgia players ranked inside the 247Sports Composite’s top 100, with St. Francis’ Jusaun Holt (No. 103) and Lovett’s Ryan Mutombo (No. 108) on the fringe.

While Smith and Cleveland are the can’t-miss prospects for the class of ’21, Young sees Moore’s fit at Arkansas as something that could turn him into a superstar, along with Holt, who could see a steady rise to stardom at Alabama.

Others who may not project as NBA prospects could become one at the next level. Young mentions Devin Vassell, a class of 2018 wing for Peachtree Ridge, as an example. Vassell played three seasons at Florida State before the Spurs took him with the 11th pick in last year’s draft.

“He wasn’t a big deal coming out of high school,” Young said. “But he’s an example of a player getting better for going into the right situation.”

Georgia has two girls players in the top five in the 2021 espnW 100 rankings — Johnson (No. 2) and Feagin (No. 4). Both signed with South Carolina, which signed three of the top four players in the class.

Madison County’s Kayla McPherson (No. 17, North Carolina), McEachern’s Jillian Hollingshead (No. 37, Georgia), Early County’s Makayla Timpson (No. 48, Florida State), Carver’s Kionna Gaines (No. 52, Clemson), Parkview’s Sacha Washington (No. 57, Purdue), Westlake’s Brianna Turnage (No. 61, Virginia Tech) and Carrollton’s De’Mauri Flournoy (No. 69, Vanderbilt) are the other Georgia players ranked in espnW’s top 100.

“It’s a deep, talented class,” said Shane Laflin, director of Premier Basketball Report, which powers the espnW rankings. “Georgia is never lacking in talent and hasn’t in a long time.”

Laflin sees Johnson and Feagin signing with South Carolina as a solidification of the arms race among the Gamecocks, Connecticut, Stanford and Oregon — four major powers in women’s college basketball.

“They’ll keep South Carolina in the title discussion for years to come.”

Other players who stand out to Laflin include Flournoy, who set Carrollton’s school record for points in a game with 51 on Jan. 26 against East Paulding, and Hebron Christian’s Malia Fisher (Rice).

“(Fisher) is one of my favorite players this year,” Laflin said. “She’s a really good get for Rice.”

Laflin estimates that roughly 10-12 high-level girls basketball prospects come out of Georgia each year, which he said is a reflection of the overall athletic ability in the state.

“It’s not just women’s basketball,” he said. “It’s football, men’s basketball and more, which makes Georgia one of the highest producing states of elite athletes.”

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