State basketball tournament semifinals preview

Keith Gravitt knows his Forsyth County basketball history. He’s a Forsyth County native who was 5 years old the last time that a girls basketball team from the county made the state semifinals. That was Forsyth County High, Gravitt’s alma mater.

Now 48, Gravitt is head coach of the drought-breaking South Forsyth girls team, which will play No. 1-ranked McEachern on Saturday at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion. South Forsyth has upset third-ranked Parkview and defending champion Norcross along the way.

South Forsyth’s girls are one of 13 Georgia teams in this year’s semifinals for the first time in their programs’ history.

“Having lived here my whole life and invested in our country, I couldn’t feel better about what our county has experienced this year,’’ said Gravitt, who noted that rival North Forsyth’s girls also were a Top 10 team this season but lost in the quarterfinals. “It definitely builds pride within the student body. That’s the best part of it, to see your students and players appreciate that so much, having so many at the game cheering for you.’’

Tech is one of six neutral venues staging state semifinals Saturday. A seventh, Kennesaw State, will be host to the Class A private-school semifinals Monday.

Here is a primer on what else is in store for Saturday.

First-time girls: Claxton High dates to 1921. The Lady Tigers this year made their first girls semifinals. Also making semifinals debuts are Archer, Drew, Greenville, Pike County, South Effingham, South Forsyth and Woodland-Stockbridge. It's also been a long time coming for Tucker (1977) and Darlington (1985).

First-time boys: Hawkinsville High also dates nearly 100 years. The Red Devils made their first boys semifinals. Also making semifinals debuts are Alexander, Calvary Day, Jenkins and Pebblebrook. It's also been a long time coming for Morgan County (1990).

Surprised to be here: Only six of the 56 semifinalists are unranked, and only three of those beat ranked teams to make it. They are Lowndes' girls (defeated No. 4 Hillgrove), Calhoun County's boys (No. 9 Treutlen) and Calvary Day's boys (No. 4 Greenforest Christian, the defending Class A-Private champion).

Surprised not to be here: Washington County's boys and girls teams were ranked No. 1 in AAA entering the state tournament. Both lost to Savannah teams on the road by one point in the quarterfinals, the boys 52-51 to second-ranked Johnson, the defending champion, and the girls to fourth-ranked Beach 53-52.

In the driver's seat: McEachern's girls (AAAAAA) and Greater Atlanta Christian's boys (AA) are nationally ranked. Wesleyan's girls (AA) have won six consecutive state titles. Miller Grove's boys (AAAAA) have won five consecutive. Other No. 1 teams are Wheeler's boys (AAAAAA), Southwest DeKalb's girls (AAAAA), Columbia's boys (AAAA), Redan's girls (AAAA), St. Francis' boys (A) and the girls at Holy Innocents' (A).

Best girls players: St. Pius point guard Asia Durr is the top-rated player nationally in the class of 2015. McEachern point guard Te'a Cooper, committed to North Carolina, ranks fourth, and her teammate Caliya Robinson, a 6-3 forward, is 11th, according to HoopGurlz. Kendrick senior Kahlia Lawrence averages 26.1 points per game for No. 1 Kendrick (27-0).

Best girls game: No. 2 St. Francis plays No. 3 Southwest Atlanta Christian in a rematch of the 2013 Class A-Private title game. They also played in the Region 6-A title game last week. St. Francis won both.

Best boys players: GAC's Isaiah Wilkins is the reigning AA player of the year. Wheeler's Jaylen Brown is the top-rated junior small forward in the country. Tift County's Tadric Jackson will play in the AAAAAA semifinals at Tech, where he will play in college.

Best boys game: Tift County, ranked third in AAAAAA, play defending champion Norcross. Tift County could reach the title game for the first time since 2004 and become the first South Georgia boys champion in the highest class since 1999.