By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Football season is done. Basketball season is now in full effect. Here are some news and notes to get things started.
W.D. Mohammed is sizzling. The Caliphs are off to a torrid 9-0 start, 2-0 in Region 5, after claiming a 47-36 win over Pace Academy. It’s the best start for the boys team in school history. The squad is led by seniors Jihad Hameen and Hussein Clark, and junior Muhammad Hamilton. The Caliphs face winless AAA B.E.S.T. Academy tonight before competing in a holiday tournament next week. Region 5 play resumes on Jan. 8, at Pace Academy.
Excel Christian on the come up. Excel Christian of Cartersville is also off to its best start in school history, 9-1. The Eagles are looking to make the state playoffs for the first time since 2008 when they advanced to the second round of the state playoffs in spite of finishing the season with an unimpressive record of 15-14. In the three seasons following that post season appearance the Eagles were a dreadful 18-58. But head coach Jon-Michael Nickerson led them to a 14-12 finish last season and has Excel excelling this season. The Eagles are led by senior guards Tucker West and Ashton Roach.
Mitchell County starting fast this season. Unlike last season, when the Eagles started the season 5-4 but got hot late, won the Region 1 tournament and advanced to the state quarterfinals, this year Mitchell County is out of the gate fast. Head coach Kenneth Harris has led his team to a 7-1 record, 5-1 in the region with the lone loss coming to rival Randolph-Clay, 58-55 on Dec. 1. The Eagles will participate in the Holiday Hoopfest in Thomasville, before resuming their regular season schedule with a visit from AAAAAA Valdosta on Jan. 4.
Wilcox, Wilkinson County at it again. Some things never change, like the success of the basketball programs at Wilcox County and Wilkinson County. As usual, both are off to impressive starts. Wilcox is 3-0 in spite of playing without senior football standouts QB Makail Grace (6-foot-2 guard) and WR Jonathan Howard (6-5 forward). Over the past four seasons, the Patriots are a ridiculous 94-19 with two semifinal appearances and one quarterfinal appearance. Wilkinson County is off to a 5-0 start without cousins David Whipple (6-3, QB, guard), a senior, and Antonio Whipple (6-6, WR, forward), a junior. The Warriors’ four-year mark is even more impressive than Wilcox’s – 110-8 with a state title and three quarterfinal appearances.
Others piling up early wins. Other teams to watch in January to see if they can keep up their hot starts are Athens Christian (5-1, loss to 7-0 AAAA Glen Hills), Greenforest Christian (7-0), Holy Innocents (8-2), Mt. Paran (9-1) and North Cobb Christian (8-1).
Holy Innocents matching boys’ success. Just like the boys team, the Bears’ girls team is out of the gate quickly with an 8-2 record. The only losses have come to AAAAAA Brookwood and powerhouse Wesleyan, now in AA. Holy Innocents will host one of the state’s most prestigious holiday tournaments next week, Dec. 27-29, the Peachstate Holiday Invitational, which will feature 32 of the best girls teams in the nation – including Wesleyan, Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy (SACA), and nationally-ranked teams McEachern and Riverdale of Tennessee. Tickets are $10 each day for adults, $5 for ages 6-17, and free for kids 5 and under. Cash only.
SACA on a mission. It will be interesting to see how SACA fares against national competition in the Peachstate Holiday Invitational, because the Warriors have been toying with most of their opponents in Georgia. Other than a one-point (53-52) win over defending AA champion Buford on Dec. 4, no team has come within 25 points of SACA. The Warriors’ 8-0 start has been powered by one of the state’s most talent-laden lineups, featuring seniors Amber Brown and Alexis Carter, and juniors Amy Griffin and Marquita Daniels.
Towns County undefeated as well. The Indians are looking like one of the favorites to claim the public school state title, having steamrolled their way to an 8-0 start. Towns County will host its annual Battle of the States Christmas Tournament, Dec. 27-29, featuring teams from Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina. Other public school teams off to fast starts include Calhoun County (6-2), Randolph-Clay (7-1) and undefeated – like the boys team – Wilkinson County (6-0).