The 2017-18 prep basketball season is upon us in the state of Georgia. While Metro-Atlanta is widely viewed as the “Mecca of high school hoops” in the peach state, Middle-Georgia has reemerged in conversations as an area to reckoned with on the hardwood. Heading into the school ball season, we examine some mid-state teams to watch for this year.
Northside-Warner Robins (15-15)
The Eagles got hot at the right time last season and surprised many around the state with their deep playoff run (AAAAAA Elite 8). Fast forward to this season, Northside will have to replace two 1,000 point scorers in Jaylan Sandifer and Marquaevoius Williams who both graduated. Coach Matthew Simon will look to junior Sammy Mike to step up and fill some of that void. Simply put, it is time for the 6-foot-8 forward to come of age and reach his full potential. Two-sport sophomore Willie Northern is seemingly in line to handle the bulk of the backcourt duties. Fabulous freshman Jordan Brown is a wilcard for Simon’s crew. How fast the 6-foot-7 south-paw catches on to the speed of the game at the varsity level could be key in Northside’s success moving forward. Look for the Eagles to once again take their fair share of early bumps and bruises, but don’t overlook them completely as they have a couple nice pieces in the fold to make some noise if it all comes together.
Warner Robins (26-4)
The defending Region 1-5A champions enter the season with a chip on their shoulders after a disappointing loss in last year’s GHSA playoffs quarterfinals (Elite 8) to eventual state champion Buford. Warner Robins returns its starting five and core group of reserves from a year ago. Ninety-percent of the experienced unit played together on the independent travel circuit with the Warner Robins All-Stars during the spring and summer. Nelson Phillips exploded onto the scene gaining national recognition and picking up over ten Division I offers before inking with Georgia State on November 8, 2017, Jacolbey Owens followed suit earning several low-major offers, and Champ Dawson turned heads snagging two Divison II offers from Columbus State and Texas A&M International. Jam’l Dillard, Jaron Zanders, and Jaydon Norman are all blue-collar workers whose efforts may ultimately be a deciding factor in bringing home a state title. Coach Jamaal Garman explains, “Jaydon and Jam’l will be huge contributors to our team, they will have to control the boards and the paint for us. Jaron will be one of our reserve guards that we’re expecting to get big minutes from. Offensively, he’s another ball handler, and on the defensive end he wants to shut people down.” All the aforementioned players are wily veterans that have been around the block a few times, but newcomer Keshun Houser is a player with little to no experience who will have to learn the ropes on the fly this season. “Keshun is a guy that will be counted on to play a lot of minutes for us and we’re expecting him to be very productive. He’s only a sophomore, so we’ll have to go through some growing pains with him but it’ll be worth it in the long run,” says Garman. Expect Warner Robins to make a serious run at the Class AAAAA state title in 2017-18.
The reigning Quad-A state champions are back to defend their title. Middle Tennessee signee Tye Fagan is as cool, calm, and collected as they come. The 6-foot-3 lefty guard is locked in and ready for new challenges. “We don’t feel any pressure to repeat or go undefeated again. We’re just going to take it one game at a time. We’re not worried about who is on the schedule because nobody is our ‘big game’ and we know that we are everybody elses ‘big game.’ We are up for the challenge and ready to get to work.” Floor general Zyrice Scott enters his junior year with hefty expectations. All eyes will be on the 5-foot-11 lead guard as he looks to duplicate his effort from a season ago. There have been rumblings about how well the three year starter has looked during preseason individual events, so Scott is one that college coaches should put on their boards right now. Travon Walker, a physical specimen, is back to patrol the paint on both ends. The 6-foot-6 bruising forward is a 4-star national football prospect whose list includes the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, and South Carolina. However, don’t sleep on his basketball skill set, last season, Walker averaged a respectable 10-points, eleven rebounds, and two blocks per game. Cameron Traylor and transfer Jarrett Adderton will serve as “glue guys” for Upson-Lee this season. When it is all said and done, expect the Knights to add the label back-to-back champions to their résumé.
If there is a team in Middle-Georgia ready to take that next step, it is Baldwin. After tasting a little bit of success last season, the Braves are hungry for more. Senior guard Brenden Robertson says, “Losing at home in the first round of the playoffs was disappointing, but we have used it as motivation for this season. We don’t want that feeling again. We are ready to go to that next level and compete for a title.” His backcourt mate Donte Justice can score it a high-clip and will more than likely be the go-to-guy again this season. Transfers Justin Webb and Zae Simpson may be the pieces to push Baldwin over the top. “At 6-6, Justin is a kid that can help us a lot. I am going to be tough and demand certain things from him. Zae is another guard that will add depth to our backcourt. We’ll see how those guys fit, but we feel they both can help,” says Coach Buck Harris. The Braves will make a deep playoff run this season and are a darkhorse team to win it all.
Mary Persons (18-10)
The Bulldogs will only go as far as senior standout Cam Holden will carry them. Last year, the do-it-all swingman averaged 26 points, eleven rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks per game and will be tasked with similar duties again this season. Sophomore Dee Morton is an under the radar player that looks to be ready to make a splash this season. As a freshman, the solid-built combo guard averaged 7.2 points per game. Senior Rekia Weaver has a high motor and doesn’t stop until the whistle blows. Everything considered, Mary Persons will be a tough out and one that top seeds will want to avoid come playoff time.
The Seminoles lost a lot, but also return a lot! Nationally ranked forward Khavon Moore will try to right the ship in his final campaign at Westside. The 6-foot-8 phenom is one of the most highly-coveted players in the country. Power Five programs such as Florida, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and UCLA to name a few have all offered the 4-star prospect. 6-foot-6 senior Greg Holloway will be the second option this season after being more of a role player over the past couple seasons. His production must be consistent if the Noles want to have any chance at being respectable playing a national schedule. Junior point guard Desmon Foston will now have the keys to the team. The 6-foot-1 defensive specialist played spot minutes last year and will have to grow up in a hurry. Freshmen Javian Mosley and Kowacie Reeves Jr. are ahead of schedule and will be thrown into the fire right out the gate. Seniors Omar Jones and Brenden Anderson will also be asked to up their production this season. Coach Josh Grube believes that the tough regular season schedule will help Westside in the post season. “We wanted as tough a schedule as possible. Last season, we did not play well in hostile environments. Our kids did not respond well down at Pace Academy in the playoffs.” Westside’s schedule includes appearances in national tournaments, Holiday Hoopsgiving (Atlanta, GA) and the Chick-Fil-A Classic (Columbia, SC), where they will face Montverde Academy, FL. and the No.1 player in the nation RJ Barrett and more. They also have battles set with in-state powers Langston Hughes, Newton High, and Warner Robins. If Westside struggles early against national powerhouses, don’t be fooled. Expect the Noles to repeat as Region 4-AAA champions and be in the mix for a state title by season’s end.
The Fighting Irish will rely heavily on the backcourt duo of Kameron Pauldo and Torian Holder. Pauldo is an undersized point guard that can flat out put the ball in the hole. The 5-foot-9 scoring machine averaged 27 points per game last season. On the other hand, Holder is more of a faciltator, but is more than capable of scoring if he has to. Lack of size and depth may end up being Dublin’s achilles heel this year, but expect the Fighting Irish to continue making noise in the GHSA Class AA division.
Macon County (20-9)
Macon County returns an experienced group that should run like a well-oiled machine this season. Sharpshooter Clayton Jenkins plays with a chip on his shoulders and has something to prove. In a state that is loaded with great guard play, the smooth lefty is often overlooked. Makevion Bonner is a versatile wing that competes at a high level and does a little bit of everything well. 6-foot-4 forward Trey Brown has nice size and will bring that football toughness to the hardwood. Lakeviyon Walker is a 5-foot-11 lead guard that plays way bigger than his measurables indicate. In the past, Macon County has been pretenders, but with a motivated core group, the Bulldogs look to be serious contenders in the A-Public classification this season.
Wilkinson County (25-7)
The defending back-to-back state champions are a little down this year to their standards. 6-foot-6 forward CJ Jackson is a Division I prospect that knows how to win. He has mid-major offers from Eastern Kentucky and Florida Gulf Coast and is one of the top players in the area. 6-foot-7 Tylan Grable is a big physical post player that does the dirty work on the offensive and defensive interiors for the Warriors. With the frontcourt solidified, the productivity from Wilco’s backcourt will need to be respectable in order to be successful on their three-peat quest. As much as it looks like a new champion will be crowned in A-Public, don’t make the mistake of counting out a Wilkinson County team that is battle tested with a championship pedigree.
Stratford Academy (10-13)
6-foot-5 shooting guard Devin Butts is the biggest stock riser in the mid-state heading into the season. The three-point specialist came into his own this summer running with Team Georgia Magic. Solid showings from Butts during the NCAA Live sessions piqued the interest of college coaches and has several programs in hot pursuit. Similarly, incoming freshman Jaden Harris also lit up the travel circuit playing with the Georgia Stars. The 6-foot-4 combo guard recently picked up offers from Georgia State and Georgia Tech respectively. Senior Nathan Hunt returns as the team’s leading scorer from last season. The 6-foot-5 forward is a two-way player that gives it his all every night. If 6-foot-4, 220-pound, Stanford football commit Tobe Umerah decides to play this year, he will give the Eagles another athletic post presence and immediately turn them into a legitimate contender. Entering his second season, Coach Sean Sweeney has a talented enough squad to really sneak up on people in the A-Private classification. Don’t be surprised if Stratford is playing in mid to late March.