Miller Grove High has overtaken Milton as Georgia’s best hope for a mythical national championship this season in high school basketball.
Miller Grove is the two-time defending Class AAAA state champion and coming off the biggest non-playoff achievement in the DeKalb program’s history. Last weekend, Miller Grove won the championship at the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C., — generally considered the nation’s second-best holiday tournament.
“With the size and depth that Miller Grove has … gosh, it wouldn’t surprise me –if they continue playing the way they have — if they ended up as the mythical national champions,” Columbia High coach Phil McCrary said.
The Beach Ball Classic put Miller Grove on the map, if they weren’t there already. The Wolverines began to turn heads nearly a month ago when they pulled off a 71-61 upset over Milton, leading by as many as 24 points in the second half. It was the first loss for Milton, which began the season ranked No. 1 in several national polls.
The Wolverines have propelled in polls, reaching as high as No. 3 in USA Today. Coach Sharman White isn’t ready to make any grand proclamations but is appreciative of recognition.
“Our goals were to start out this season and see how far we could go nationally … but we didn’t say anything about any mythical national championships,” White said.
“We just want to see how far we can go and try to achieve more than we did last year. So far, so good, but we’ve got a long ways to go with a tough schedule ahead.”
Miller Grove’s 12-0 start hasn’t been as easy as it would appear. Brandon Morris made a shot at the buzzer to escape with a 66-64 win over Columbia. Twice at Beach Ball Classic, Miller Grove had to pull out victories in overtime.
“No, I didn’t see them being 12-0 … I figured they would have one loss — and that would be to us,” McCrary said with a laugh. Columbia, the defending Class AAA champion, blew a 6-point lead in the final 1:09 of regulation.
“The only way I can explain is that we go out on the court every game expecting to win,” Morris said. “There are great expectations on us because of the past two years and we want to meet them. Or, well, beat them.”
Miller Grove’s stellar start looked even more impressive after the holidays. Columbia went on to win the Arby’s Classic, while Milton finished as runner-up at the City of Palms — considered the No. 1 holiday tournament.
Some people look at Miller Grove as a one-man team with Tony Parker, the U.S. Junior Olympian who is nearly impossible to stop in the post area. He had 61 rebounds over a three-game stretch in the Beach Ball Classic, including a career-high 27 in the semifinals. The 6-foot-8, 270-pound Parker averages 19 points and 16 rebounds.
“I will put it this way — Tony takes up a lot of space in the middle,” McCrary said. “Let’s say that Tony is the engine of that team. But you’ve got to have the pistons and sparkplugs — the other players — all running on the same cylinders for that engine to be able to move. He has the right pieces around him.”
Miller Grove has a frontline that is the envy of many colleges. Parker is surrounded on both sides by 6-7 forwards Henry Brooks and Brandon Morris. Brooks had 20 points in the Beach Ball Classic championship when defenders collapsed on Parker, while Morris has superior athleticism, winning the tournament’s slam-dunk contest.
Shooting guard Davante Provost is responsible for defending the opposing team’s top scorer, while point guard Thomas Marshall may be most underrated at his position in Georgia, according to his coach. Miller Grove goes 9-10 players deep on the bench, and at least six team members have either been offered or are under consideration for major-college scholarships.
Miller Grove’s early success has led many to ask this question: How does this group compare to the past two title teams?
“This team has more experience than the other teams because many of these players were part of those championship runs,” White said. “As far as talent, this group ranks up there. That team two years ago had some great ones on it.
“The thing about this year’s group is because they’ve been in the program, they have benefitted from the success of those [former] players laying down the foundation. They know about the hard work expected out of them on a year-round basis to be successful, and that’s give them an edge.”