By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Even though we are just two weeks away from crowing our champions in football, it’s time to start talking a little hoops. Here’s a look at some teams garnering early attention. Let us know who we’ve missed.
SACA wants the crown
The big bad Wolves of Wesleyan have moved on to Class AA. Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, last year’s runner-up, is looking to lay claim to the throne. The Warriors are 4-0 out of the gate, pending an early season showdown on Tuesday with Buford (1-0), last season’s runner-up in Class AA. SACA is paced by seniors Amber Brown, Mia Anthony, and Alexis Carter, and juniors Marquita Daniels and Amy Griffin.
Holy Innocents’ looks to get into the mix
Holy Innocents’ plans to challenge SACA. The Bears are off to a 5-1 start, winning by an average margin of 21 points per game, including a 52-8 stomping of Landmark Christian. The lone loss was a 53-47 defeat at the hands of Class AAAAAA Brookwood, which is undefeated (5-0) thus far. In its season opener on Nov. 16, Holy Innocents beat St. Francis (63-57) – a team that last season went 25-6, won the Region 5 tournament and advanced to the Class A quarterfinals. The Bears are led by a pair of seniors, guard McKenzie Bolden and forward Reshaundra Owens.
Randolph-Clay attempting return to glory
In the 1990s and early 2000s, Randolph-Clay in southwest Georgia, 50 miles west of Albany, was one of the state’s most successful programs. Between 1990 and 2005, the Red Devils advanced to at least the semi finals nine times and won two state titles (1996 and 2000). They returned to the Final Four again in 2008 and 2009. This season, Randolph-Clay is already 4-1, the loss coming in the first game of the season on Nov. 20 (60-53) to Class AAAA Monroe, which last season went 20-9 and advanced to the Class AAA quarterfinals. Randolph-Clay is led by the veteran senior duo of Kaneika Washington and Andrianna Blackmon, and the young tandem of sophomore guard Shaaliyah Lewis and freshman forward Kobi Thornton.
W.D. Mohammed out of the blocks quick
The Caliphs advanced to the second round of the state tournament last season with a roster full of juniors. Those players are now on a mission to make their senior season a special one, and have W.D. Mohammed out to its second 5-0 start in as many seasons. Leading the way are seniors Jihad Hameen and Hussien Clark, who are averaging 15 and 11 points per game, respectively. Junior guard Muhammad Hamilton is averaging 12 points and 8 assists per game, and is shooting a red-hot 66 percent (8-of-12) from beyond the three-point line. Clark, a 6-5 forward, is also averaging 6 rebounds per game.
Whitefield starting over
With program architect Tyrone Johnson moving on to administrative duties and Player of the Year guard Kenneth Gaines moving on to Georgia, it’s a new day for the Wolfpack, last season’s Class A champs. Senior guard Kris Martin and junior forwards Eric Lockett and Braelen Philips return, while longtime assistant coach Eddie James takes over for Johnson, who led Whitefield to three state titles (2003, 2009 and 2012), and four second place finishes in 10 seasons on the bench. The Wolfpack is 2-1 thus far, with the loss (45-43) coming to North Gwinnett (4-0), a team that advanced to the Class AAAAA quarter finals last season before losing to eventual champion Milton.
Stewart County making noise
It’s very early, but folks in Stewart County are buzzing about their Royal Knights (4-0), off to one of the best starts in school history. Stewart County – located 45 minutes south of Columbus in southwest Georgia along the Alabama line – is led by the duo of 6-0 senior Markis Boyd, and and 6-6 junior forward Malik Ponder. Boyd averages 20 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals per game, while Ponder averages, 15 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks.