Class A Basketball Blog – Season Finale

By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC

Here are some final thoughts on the 2011-2012 Class A basketball season.

Congratulations to the champs. Wesleyan fell to St. Francis in the region championship game. Whitefield Academy almost suffered a mid-season loss to … Hapeville Charter? But in the end there was justice as the two best teams in Class A took home the titles. Once again Wesleyan’s Jan Azar and Whitefield Academy’s Tyrone Johnson proved to be among the best coaches and program builders in the state.

Yes, they coach at private schools – which by their very definition means the schools have to recruit student athletes. However, the vast majority of Azar’s players come to the school in middle school or even earlier, where they learn how to play the “Wesleyan Way.” Johnson does get some key transfers to Whitefield, though not as many as some opine and they usually come in as freshmen or sophomores. Still, he helps them develop and builds team chemistry. Having great players is nice, but getting them to play well together is not always as easy as it looks.

Other great coaching jobs. To hopefully head off any private school bashing here, there were great coaching jobs performed by those at public schools as well. Turner County’s Tyrone Kellogg found a way to keep his Rebels in the semi final contest against Athens Christian, even though his best players – seniors Zuriel Muhammad and North Florida signee Demarcus Daniels – spent most of the game on the bench in foul trouble. Though he didn’t win a title, this may have been on of Aaron Jeter Jr.’s best coaching performance, leading Wilkinson County to the quarterfinals with a very inexperienced roster, as only two players on this year’s team logged significant minutes during last season’s title run. Matt Troutman continues to do an outstanding job leading the Taylor County girls’ program, which has failed to make the state playoffs just four times since 1983. Down at tiny Pelham, Antonia Tookes has somehow made the Hornets one of the top programs in Class A in just two seasons.

Whitefield’s Tyrone Johnson. Speaking of Johnson, he had some interesting things to say after his Wolfpack won the school’s third state title. First he had this to say about one of the state’s top players, Georgia-bound Kenneth Gaines: “When we got him as a sophomore, he was athletic but he really didn’t know much about basketball. He was getting noticed by all these [colleges] and he didn’t even know what conference they were in or what the conferences were. He’s just grown so much in three years. I’m so proud of him and how he’s developed.”

On next season’s public-private school split in the playoffs: “I know this isn’t the politically correct thing to say, but I want to say it anyway. I think it’s an absolute travesty that public and private schools will not compete against each other. I absolutely like having the opportunity to knock out the top programs like a Wilkinson County or Wilcox County or Turner County, or having them knock me out. I would welcome the opportunity to play a plus-one type championship game against the public school champion. Absolutely.”

Need a point guard? Hopefully some schools somewhere will give two of the state’s best point guards a chance to play on the next level. Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy’s Brandi Wilkey (5-foot-4) and Turner County’s Muhammad (5-foot-7) are being overlooked by college recruiters presently, largely because of their height – or lack thereof. Their coaches, Kellogg at Turner and SACA’s Jackie Cowan, who did an outstanding job leading the Warriors to the title game with a great lack of depth on her roster, both say they hope to find a fit for each. Wilkey and Muhammad are similar in that they do not do any one thing exceptionally well, except control tempo and lead their teams, the greatest attribute for a point guard.

Watch South Florida’s women next season. The Bulls finished 17-14 and will play in the WNIT. But look for them to make the real big dance next season when they will add two of Georgia’s best guards to their roster – Courtney Williams of Charlton County and Shavontae Naylor of SACA. Williams is perhaps the state’s best player that no one saw, playing down in Folkston, while Naylor was largely overshadowed by all of the great players in metro Atlanta. It would be great to see them help make South Florida a Big East contender.

Teams to watch next season. Wilkinson County’s boys will be a much more experienced group next season, having advanced to the Elite Eight with a roster of mostly juniors and sophomores. Aquinas will be strong as well behind Ahmad Hill and Micheal Scott, both sophomores, and watch out for the previously mentioned Hapeville Charter squad, which will return every player next season. Also, in Athens, it should be fun to watch the budding rivalry between two of the state’s top freshmen — Athens Christian’s Will Jackson and Athens Academy’s Eric Williams. Jackson has bragging rights so far as the Eagles swept the Spartans (78-37 and 51-41) and went on to advance to the state finals. Darlington’s girls will lose perhaps the program’s best player ever, Lindsay Evans, but everyone else, including junior center Terar Stewart, will return to a team that went 27-4 before losing in the Elite Eight to Wesleyan. St. Francis, SACA and Taylor County will be good again as well.

26 comments Add your comment

TurnerCoRebel

March 13th, 2012
12:33 pm

Thanks for giving Turner County some press in your blog throughout the year. We appreciate it down here in south Georgia. Unlike many other bloggers/columnists, you do a goob job of trying to showcase the entire state. Contrary to the popular opinion of many, there is a lot of basketball talent outside of the AAU hotbed of metro Atlanta.

athensbball

March 13th, 2012
1:06 pm

thanks for not even acknowledging that ACS was in the championship game

Whitfield's #1

March 13th, 2012
3:00 pm

Athens Christian weren’t in the championship game. At least I didn’t see them.

S. Thomas Coleman

March 13th, 2012
3:18 pm

@TCR: No problem. I try to spread the love because Georgia is FULL of great players, girls and boys. Coach Kellogg has a solid program down there.

S. Thomas Coleman
s.thomascoleman@yahoo.com

S. Thomas Coleman

March 13th, 2012
3:29 pm

@athensbball: Sorry. Check the post again. There’s a nugget in there about ACS.

S. Thomas Coleman
s.thomascoleman@yahoo.com

S. Thomas Coleman

March 13th, 2012
3:31 pm

@Whitfield’s: Wow! That’s cold!

S. Thomas Coleman
s.thomascoleman@yahoo.com

bucket

March 13th, 2012
3:48 pm

I hope I am wrong, but I am afraid that the GHSA’s decision to split the A playoffs between publics and privates is going to eventually kill athletics in the A schools. The top players are not going to want to play against what is perceived to be a watered down field. From what I am hearing that battle is far from over and the GHSA might have to revisit that question sooner than they wanted to.

TC Rebels

March 13th, 2012
4:06 pm

I agree with TurnerCoRebel. Thanks for your coverage the Rebels this year. Sadly, we’ve gotten more coverage in the AJC than in the local Tifton Gazette.

I would like to see us play Whitfield in the future, but only in the regular season. It is a good measuring stick for each program. I do, however, respectfully disagree with Coach Johnson’s opinion regarding meeting in the playoffs. It’s ironic that public class A schools don’t want to play private schools, and private schools don’t want to play in any other class but single A. All this “competition talk” but the best competition is in the higher classifications. In my opinion, metro schools should compete with metro schools for titles. Rural schools should play other rural schools for titles. We can respectfully disagree, but I don’t think either side will ever understand the other side.

SuptheMan

March 13th, 2012
4:16 pm

The private schools that recruit should be made to play in the higher divisions. Why go out and recruit the better players, then compete in the lowest classifications and think you’ve done something. I still don’t understand why the top players don’t want to play against the top competition on a nightly basis. The top class A teams only play a handful of tough games a year, then beat up on far inferior competition.

athensbball

March 13th, 2012
4:23 pm

I disagree TC Rebel: Class-A is way better than AA….I hope ACS moves up a classification so we can get away from the metro atlanta private schools…there are so many kids in metro atlanta that south georgia teams and yes…private schools from small towns too like Athens…are at a complete disadvantage….and to your point Whitfield #1….with all the talent in cobb county and the ability to get pretty much whoever you want….yall SHOULD win! The fact is though that you have been to the Final 4 nine times in the last 11 years and only have 3 titles to show for it. With all that talent…thats not that great

private schools

March 13th, 2012
5:12 pm

Ok guys I’m gonna be the only one to say it…I’m a private school parent and we “recruit” kids ALL the time!! Private schools are a business. We are built for profit. We are not funded by the state. Our “product” is our school and our tuition. The only way to make more profit is to have more kids come to our school. And the only way to have more kids is advertise and “recruit” kids to come to our school. So there….I said it. We recruit. Saying Private schools shouldnt recruit kids is like saying….Coca-Cola shouldnt advertise because they are stealing customers from Pepsi!

swanny

March 14th, 2012
1:37 am

Wilkinson county is in Macon nearly every year. Will it be ok when they are winning the state in class A basketball 75% of the time?

former college coach

March 14th, 2012
10:09 am

I used to recruit in the metro atlanta area for my college and I am not from Georgia. But I will tell you what I noticed…Having Whitfield parents and fans brag about winning the CLASS-A state championship would be the equivalent of UGA football bragging about winning in Division 1-AA and beating GA Southern for the Championship. With the resources that Whiitfield has at their exposure there is no reason….NONE…why they shouldnt win the whole thing every year. Whitfield is in the middle of one of the nations hot bed of recruiting zones (metro atlanta) so they get the best players in the area (legally or not… but who cares they all do it in atlanta)….their school has a ton of money so they have the best facilities….best weight training programs….and money to pay the best coaches. Its an absolute joke that the GHSA lets these mini colleges play with the smallest schools in the state…They shouldnt only divide the schools by number of students they should also divide them by the amount of money in the athletic program. This would require some of the state’s richest private schools to have to play up a classification. So Whitfield#1….congrats….your team has won 3 titles in the history of your school playing against inferior competition and teams with inferior resources.

S. Thomas Coleman

March 14th, 2012
10:52 am

@former: The chances of being able to come up with a system where schools are divided into regions based on the “money in the athletic department,” are pretty much null and void. It will never happen and never even be discussed. Besides, some of the “richest” athletic departments are in public schools like Alpharetta and Northview.

S. Thomas Coleman
s.thomascoleman@yahoo.com

TCRebel FAN

March 14th, 2012
11:11 am

I am not a genius, but how much more superior of equipment can a basketball program really have? Its a hard wood court with 2 rims and a basketball. Training facilities might be more state of the art for lifting weights, but the x’s and o’s will be the same. Not much weight training is really required for basketball.

former college coach

March 14th, 2012
11:20 am

@TCRebel….if you dont think weight training has anything to do with basketball then you didnt see that championship game…it looked like men were playing against boys! And when schools have better facilities (aka…nicer gym…uniforms…weight rooms…nike jordan warmups…setc…) then they get the best players in town. There is a reason why Marietta high school is not as good as they used to be….those kids are all at Whitfield now.

@Coleman….and i realize that they cant split the teams by “money”….i was being sarcastic…but they should make all private schools play up a classification at the least.

tree

March 14th, 2012
2:27 pm

thanks for showing PELHAM some luv !!

W

March 14th, 2012
4:34 pm

former college coach…until 4 or 5 years ago, all private schools DID have to play up a classification because of the 1.5 rule. For the most part, nothing changed…and just throwing this out there in general, there are just as many “big time” public schools doing recruiting as there are private schools. I think that gets lost sometimes in the debate of public schools v. private schools, and in the end it happens EVERYWHERE, and no matter how you slice it, it’s wrong.

S. Thomas Coleman

March 15th, 2012
1:37 am

@former: As “W” points out, the GHSA has done that before and to honest with you, I don’t think they’ll do that again. It would risk upsetting the private schools, who might rekindle their efforts to either start their own organization or — and this is more likely — join with the GISA and form a new association.

S. Thomas Coleman
s.thomascoleman@yahoo.com

S. Thomas Coleman

March 15th, 2012
1:40 am

@tree: No problem! I have a lot of respect for the job Coach Tookes is doing down there with those young ladies. If you know her, tell her she has a fan up here in “The A.”

S. Thomas Coleman
s.thomascoleman@yahoo.com

Highschoolhoops

March 15th, 2012
7:17 am

Finally a paper that covers Turner County basketball consistently. Thanks S. Thomas Coleman we greatly appreciate the article and for complimenting our basketball program and its coach. Most IMPORTANTLY someone else realizes that Zuriel Muhammad was one of the best PG’s in the state.He played in the shadow of North Florida signee Demarcus Daniels all season and lit teams up all year in respective columns.Whichever college that sign him this kid is an absolute steal.

S. Thomas Coleman

March 15th, 2012
12:01 pm

@hshoop: No problem! He’s a solid pure point guard. He reminds me of Tahj Shamsid-Deen at Columbia, although Tahj has a little bit better shot and looks for his shots more than Z. But Z understands the game and his role in it — get the ball to Daniels inside and let him go to work with the other big kid you guys have, the sophomore (who Coach Kellogg tells me has a little brother in 7th grade who is already 6-4 with skills!!). I hope a college gets on Z soon.

S. Thomas Coleman
s.thomascoleman@yahoo.com

swanny

March 18th, 2012
4:25 am

whitefield plays team ball on both ends of the court and they are very disciplined. i have witnesses so many game where the opponent gives the ball to their stasr and expects them to make a play. when coach johnson calls a time out more often than not a wide open shot is the result, usually a dunak. sure he has good players but they all ply his brand of ball. tough and aggressive on both ends of the court and always as a team.

Hapeville

March 19th, 2012
11:07 am

Hapeville is moving to AA how do you think they will do? Do they play into the Coach’s system?

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freeverticaljump

May 30th, 2012
10:21 am

Thanks for blogging Thomas…its really nice to read a winning team blog…