The Greater Atlanta Christian boys don’t have that “wow” factor when they begin their pregame warmups. There are no physical specimens on the roster that cause onlookers to take notice. So why is it that the Spartans enter the Class AA tournament as the favorite to win their third straight state championship?
No. 1-ranked GAC (22-6) simply takes it strengths and plays to them. The Spartans move the ball effectively, make the extra pass, take the smart shot and make their free throws. Oh, and there’s defense, which enables this team to hit the next gear and play to the next level, especially when times get tough.
GAC has some outstanding players, starting with point guard Collin Swinton, who has the knack of finding the open man. Delano Spencer, Robert Armstrong and Cole Hobbs know their roles and play to them. And no coach does a better job getting his team prepared than GAC’s Eddie Martin.
The Spartans open the playoffs against Callaway (12-14), with the winner moving on to play the Jefferson-North Murray winner.
Here are four other teams to watch:
Albany: The No. 4-ranked Indians play a determined style of ball and have the ability to throw a blanket-type defense on the court. The Region 1 champions (23-2) won the regular season title and beat Thomasville in the tournament final.
Albany is led by seniors Tim Pierce and Larry Sanford, a pair of 6-foot-2 guards. Pierce averages 18 points, five rebounds, four steals and three assists. Sanford averages 15 points, four rebounds and three assists. They’re helped by the inside presence of Tyrone Culbreth (10 points, 10 rebounds) and Emmanuel Byrd (10 rebounds, 3.5 blocks) and guard Kenny Anderson.
Thomasville brings a 13-game winning streak in the playoff opener against Appling County (15-12). The winner moves on to play the Bleckley County-Northeast Macon winner.
Buford: The No. 2-ranked Wolves (21-7) have shown they can beat everyone except GAC, which is responsible for three of their losses. Buford holds on-court wins over Class AAAAA’s Parkview and North Gwinnett and has twice beaten South Atlanta, the winner of Region 6 Division B.
The Wolves are loaded with talent. Georgia State signee T.J. Shipes, Isaiah Williams, Kyle Kellam and A.J. Davis have all taken turns providing a hero moment. There are injury concerns entering the state tournament; Williams is battling a sore hip and Kellam has been playing on a twisted ankle.
Buford opens the tournament against Spencer (9-16), which began the postseason as the No. 8 seed in Region 5. The winner will meet the Dawson County-Calhoun winner.
Vidalia: The No. 8 Indians (24-3) got a jolt at the end of the season when it lost the final regular season game to Toombs County. The wake-up call worked. Coach Tommy Dalley’s team beat Toombs by 37 a week later in the Region 2 semifinals, then beat Long County by nine in the final. It was Vidalia’s first region championship since 1983.
Vidalia has an outstanding group of shooters and field a dangerous 3-point shooting team. The team revolves around the play of Devin Atkins, a 5-6 senior. Known for his instant offense, Atkins had 49 points in the two region tournament games, including 32 against Toombs. He was the MVP of the Brewton Parker Tournament earlier this season, when he had 24 in the final game. Freshman Jordan Black has also had numerous strong performances.
Vidalia opens the tournament against Cook (19-9), with the winner meeting the Putnam County-Dodge County winner.
Dawson County: You gotta have a Cinderella, right? That’s where Dawson County (23-6) comes in. The Tigers flew under the radar all season, counterpunching with the best teams in Region 8. They began the playoffs as the No. 3 seed from the North and had to win two games just to qualify for state. But coach Thad Burgess’s team didn’t stop there and beat the two regular-season subregion champions to win the school’s first region championship since 1969. It was an impressive run, too; they won those four playoff games by an average of 11.5 points.
Dawson’s top scorer is Tyler Dominy, who averages 15 points, and was the team’s only returning starter. But this team is definitely good because of the sum of its parts. Bruce Clark is an animal on the boards, guard Will Anglin is a strong floor leader and Gunnar Armstrong has been Mr. Clutch at the free throw line.
Dawson opens the playoffs against Calhoun (11-18), with the winner meeting the Buford-Spencer winner.