Basketball finals primer: Season culminates at UGA, Tech
The high school basketball season culminates with the state finals Wednesday through Saturday at Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum and Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion, where 16 champions will be crowed.
Georgia, site of the Wednesday and Thursday games, hasn’t staged the state basketball tournament since 1941 in old Woodruff Hall.
”It’s a big-time college facility that many young players dream of playing in one day,” said Harrison girls coach Steven Lenahan, whose team plays Mays for the Class AAAAAA title on Thursday at 6 p.m. ”It adds an air of excitement.”
The Friday and Saturday games at Tech will be the first there since 2003.
Here is a look at the final act of the 2016-17 season.
Best boys matchup: The Class AAAAAAA final between Norcross and Tift County pits north and south and a pair of blue-chip forwards. Norcross’s Rayshaun Hammonds averages 18 points and 11 rebounds. Preston Horne averages 23.3 and 7.7. Both are about 6 feet, 7 inches. Both teams moved into the MaxPreps’ national Xcellent 25 this week.
Best girls matchup: Southwest DeKalb has won five state titles and been runner-up twice in the past nine years. Buford has won four titles and made in six finals in that time. They’ve never met in the playoffs. Southwest is the only DeKalb County public school in the finals. At least one has won a title each year since 2004.
Best boys players: Pace Academy’s Wendell Carter, a Duke signee, was named this week the McDonald’s national player of the year. Other top boys players to watch are Greenforest Christian 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu (Florida State) and DeAundrae Ballard (Floida) of Southwest Atlanta Christian. They’ll face off in the Class A private final.
Best girls players: Wesleyan guard Mikayla Coombs is a McDonald’s All-American and UConn signee. She’ll be pressed in the Class A private final by Holy Innocents’ point guard Khayla Pointer, who has signed with LSU. The AAAAAAA final also has a pair of blue-chip guards, both 5-8, in McEachern’s Que Morrison (Georgia) and Norcross’s Taylor Mason (Miami).
First-time boys teams: Langston Hughes (AAAAAA), Cedar Shoals (AAAAA) and Upson-Lee (AAAA) are in their first-ever state basketball finals. Buford (AAAA) and St. Pius (AAAA) have never won titles. Buford is 0-5 in championship games. The other 11 boys finalists have won state titles, nine since 2006. Pace Academy (AAA), Morgan County (AAA), Wilkinson County (A public) and Greenforest Christian (A private) won last year.
First-time girls teams: Playing in their first finals are Harrison (AAAAAA), Carver-Columbus (AAAA), Johnson-Savannah (AAA), Rabun County (AA) and Telfair County (A public). Columbus (AAAA) has never won.
Sweep dreams: Norcross (AAAAAAA) and Buford (AAAAA) have their boys and girls teams in the finals. Norcross won both titles in 2011 and 2013. A sweep occurred 16 times in history, nine times since 2006 and most recently last year with Morgan County.
City rivals: Two finals pit teams from the same town. Those would be Columbus and Carver of Columbus (AAAA) and Beach and Johnson of Savannah (AAA). Neither of the Columbus teams has won a state title. Beach won in 2000, but Johnson is without a championship. This will be the first girls finals between cross-town rivals outside metro Atlanta since Richmond Academy of Augusta beat Josey in 1997.
Master coaches: Aaron Geter of Wilkinson County’s boys can win his ninth title as a coach, all at Wilkinson County. That would put him head of Eric Staples, who won his eighth and last one at Perry in 1964. They trail only Selby Buck, who won his 13th at Lanier of Macon in 1951, for boys titles. Eddie Martin of Buford’s boys can become the second coach in history, first since David Boyd, to win titles at three schools. He won at Norcross and Greater Atlanta Christian. Jan Azar of Wesleyan’s girls can win her 12th title while Angie Hembree of Norcross’ girls can become the second girls coach to win seven.
Misc.: McEachern’s girls can become the first girls team in the highest class to win four straight titles since Lowndes (1977-80). … Norcross’s boys are after their sixth title in the highest class since 2006. … Upson-Lee’s boys (31-0) are the only undefeated boys or girls team in the state. … Brunswick’s boys (AAAAAA), Mays’ girls (AAAAAA) and Swainsboro’s boys (AA) are the only unranked teams in the finals.
Where to find it: For the first time in 20 years, GPB-TV won’t broadcast the games, citing costs and logistics of 16 finals over four days in two arenas. The NFHS Network will stream them online live and on demand.