By Lee Wilson
With the boys state basketball tournament just a little over a month away, now is a good time to look at five teams who have distinguished themselves as legitimate state championship contenders.
Each of the programs experienced success during holiday tournament time, a good sign that they will be battle-tested and prepared for the rigors of postseason basketball.
South Atlanta Hornets (11-1) Region: 4-AAA
Head Coach: Chris Reddick
Player to Watch: Derrick Favors, C/PF
After winning three consecutive tournaments, it is hard not to like South Atlanta's chances. They sit at 11-1 and are ranked No. 10 nationally by MaxPreps.com’s Dave Krider. They won the Atlanta Public Schools Tournament for the eighth straight year and followed that by wins at the T-Mobile Invitational in Indiana where they beat a highly-regarded Duncanville squad from Texas thanks to a huge effort by Derrick Favors who grabbed 30 points and 21 rebounds.
The Hornets’ final tournament victory was 74-73 comeback thriller over McEachern, also 11-1, in the Hoops in Overdrive tournament played at Kennesaw State University. Favors totaled 30 points against the Indians. There is no limit to how far the Hornets, ranked No. 1 in the state in their class, can ride Favors this year.
Centennial Knights (11-1) Region: 6B-AAAAA
Head Coach: Allen Whiteheart
Player to Watch: Lorenzo Brown, G
The Knights lost their first game of the season to South Atlanta but haven't been on the losing side since. Led by North Carolina State-commit Lorenzo Brown, Centennial has come back to an impressive 11-1. They were a busy squad over the holidays as they won both the Prep All-Stars Classic in Gastonia, N.C., and the GlaxoSmithKline Holiday Invitational a week later. Brown was the MVP of both tournaments.
The Knights, eager to get back to the state tournament after being knocked out of the last two years by Norcross, are No. 1 regardless of classification the MaxPreps/National Guard Georgia state rankings.
Walton Raiders (11-4) Region: 6A-AAAAA
Head Coach: Joe Goydish
Player to Watch: Ryan Harrow
The Walton Raiders are an impressive looking squad and finished third in both the Schnucks Holiday Classic in Illinios and the Wachovia Shootout in North Carolina. Fans and prognosticators are still abuzz about the performance Ryan Harrow gave in the Schnucks Holiday Classic. The junior guard, a North Carolina State commit, averaged 30 points per game in the event.
Miller Grove Wolverines (11-2) Region- 6B-AAAA
Head Coach: Sharman White
Player to Watch: Mfon Udofia
Miller Grove’s 11-2 spot has earned a No.1 ranking in Class AAAA. The Wolverines finished second in the Arby's Classic in Tennessee after a loss to nationally-ranked Boyd Anderson (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) despite a 30-point effort by Georgia Tech commit Mfon Udofia. Miller Grove will face Centennial in the Martin Luther King Jr. Tournament next week.
Wheeler Wildcats (10-5) Region 6B-AAAAA
Head Coach: Doug Lipscomb
Player to Watch: Richard Howell
The Wildcats were without standout player Richard Howell and still managed to finish second in the Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina, one of the more competitive tournaments in the region. Led by legend Doug Lipscomb (the gym is named for him), Wheeler figures to be a contender again this year for the title after a narrow 57-54 loss to Norcross in the championship game last year.
Wildcard: Brookwood Broncos (10-3), Region 8-AAAAA
Head Coach: Craig Witmer
Player to Watch: Chris Bolden
Most expected a rebuilding season for the Broncos, but the young and energetic squad sailed to their first Deep South Classic tournament title (played on their home court) since 2000. The only drawback is that their best and most energetic players are freshman Chris Bolden and sophomore Thomas Higginbotham. This year or next, Brookwood will make some noise.
Next week we will look at the contenders on the girls’ side.
More Boys Basketball: 500th Win For Milton's David Boyd
David Boyd, head coach of the boys basketball squad at Milton High School, just earned his 500th career win. His Eagles defeated Walton 74-70 at home with help from a 20-point performance by Julian Royal.
The Eagles, now 9-3, are currently No. 5 in the coaches poll for the state of Georgia.
Wrestling: Kennesaw Mountain, Pope Win Area Titles
The Kennesaw Mountain Mustangs wrapped up their 5-AAAAA area title with a win over Marietta Saturday in the duals at North Cobb and it came in dramatic fashion.
The Mustangs needed late wins from heavyweight Andre Remeke, Jonathan Herrera and Chris Murdoch to notch the 37-25 victory. The clutch performance did not go unnoticed by their head coach.
"Some of our lower guys came through for us," Kennesaw Mountain coach Roberto Rivera told the Marietta Daily Journal. "If it hadn't been for them, we probably wouldn't have won this thing."
The Pope Greyhounds grabbed their second straight area 6-AAAAA title by defeating Centennial, except this year they did not need a come-from-behind effort.
The top seed defeated the Knights 35-21 after jumping out to a 16-0 lead.
"Our kids were really fired up to repeat and win these duals, so I'm really proud that we accomplished what we set out to do," Pope coach Jim Haskin told the Marietta Daily Journal. "These kids wrestled unselfishly (Saturday), and it was a total team effort.”