Jeff Haws’ Top 10 List

As we were sitting around The List HQ this week, having a spirited discussion about the best basketball players who have ever come out of the state – it got a little testy when someone suggested Howard Thompkins was better than Dwight Howard, and the expletives were flying – the conversation turned a bit to titles.

Is that what separates the greats from the goods and the pretty goods? Some would say so. If so, of course, there’s a heck of a group that wouldn’t make it into the conversation of the best ever.

And that’s where we started to look – who are the best players in state history to never win a state title? Here they are:

10. Horace Grant, Hancock Central (1983)

A far cry from the 6-foot-10 big man who patrolled NBA lanes for more than 15 years, Grant was a skinny kid when he played at Hancock Central, but he was a skinny kid who could put the ball in the basket and dominate a game.  In his last two years, though, Hancock couldn’t make it out of the first round.

9. Jarvis Hayes, Douglass (1999)

The former Georgia star averaged 28 points and 11 rebounds and was an Honorable Mention All-American when he led Douglass to the Class AAAAA semifinals as a senior but never won the big prize. After several unspectacular NBA seasons, he’s been trying his hand at the European leagues since 2011.

8. Ryan Harrow, Walton (2010)

Harrow was simply great for the Raiders, averaging more than 31 points his senior season. But he had the misfortune of playing during a stretch when hardly anyone can win in the highest classification, and his high school career ended with back-to-back losses to powers Wheeler and Milton.

7. Walt Frazier, Howard (1964)

Still the only NBA Hall of Famer to hail from Georgia, Frazier was a tremendous athlete who excelled at three sports in high school. In fact, he was considered by many to be better at football, where he quarterbacked the team to a lot of wins under coach Herman Graves. He didn’t get a title in basketball, though, nor did he really get close. His legend would really build in the NBA, where he won two championships and the 1975 MVP.

6. Dale Ellis, Marietta (1979)

He was a huge star for the Blue Devils, and his legend was cemented when he led them on a run to the semifinals in his final season before losing an epic 64-63 game to Northeast Macon. He went on to be a two-time All-American at Tennessee, then was one of the NBA’s best shooters for 16 years.

5. Kwame Brown, Glynn Academy (2001)

The first high school player to be drafted No. 1 in the NBA, Brown had a much-heralded career at Glynn Academy, where he set all-time school marks for rebounds and blocks. His senior-year team took Berkmar to overtime before losing in the semifinals. Unfortunately, his NBA career hasn’t panned out, and the journeyman has played for eight teams in 11 years.

4. Tree Rollins, Crisp County (1973)

He earned his nickname “Tree” – his real name is Wayne – during his freshman year playing around Cordele, according to him because he was very tall, skinny and had an afro. It served him well during a great career at Crisp, though the team never made a serious playoff run. He went on to star at Clemson and be a force in the NBA for almost 20 years.

3. Mike Mitchell, Price (1974)

It’s tough to find too much information on Mitchell’s high school career, but he did help lead Price to the Class AA quarterfinal in 1973. Post-high school, though, the lithe forward was a star at Auburn, becoming the first Tiger to score 2,000 points and then putting together a very productive 12-year NBA career, averaging nearly 20 points per game. He died of cancer in June 2011.

2. Pervis Ellison, Savannah (1985)

Famed “Never Nervous” averaged an eye-popping 27 points, 19 rebounds and 7 blocks during a dominant senior season, leading Savannah into the playoffs before a first-round overtime loss to Monroe. When healthy, he was nearly as dominant in the NBA, averaging 20/11 and 17/9 over two early years with the Bullets before injuries plagued the rest of his career.

1. Octavius Thomas, George (1991)

Called “Ox” or “Oct” in high school, he’s still talked about in revered tones by some who saw him play at old George High. An amazing athlete, he could score pretty much whenever he wanted. His biggest stage was carrying George to the 1991 Class AA final, where they lost a 71-70 thriller to Mitchell-Baker, and he was considered by many to be the second-best high school player in America, behind future NBA Hall of Famer Jason Kidd. For whatever reason, though, he never panned out after that. He never played a minute of college or NBA ball and faded into obscurity. Today, his name comes up as a cautionary tale more often than as one of the greats.

Now we want to know what you think. Who do you think is the greatest to never win a title? Got any stories about watching these guys play? Could you have taken Thomas one on one? Let us know in the comments here or on Twitter at @ajcprepsports.

61 comments Add your comment

Hubert Green

January 9th, 2013
9:46 am

That is a great list of individual players. Had the pleasure to watch all of them play (not Frazier in high school); played against Mike Mitchell in summer leagues; he was a scoring tornado back then; coached against some of these including Kwame Brown. It’s not easy winning state; you often need some good fortune and a favorable match-up or two. I’m betting Tree Rollins didn’t have a lot of perimeter help in those days. Lavon Mercer is another great player who came up short of a state title at Metter. Jarvis Hayes and his brother Jonas were dynamic at Douglass. Anthony Barge averaged over 30 points agame his senior year for Douglas County; had 49 against one of my teams. Josh Smith’s teams never won a state title in Georgia. Sam Mitchell lead Columbus to the Final Four his senior year. Thanks for the list; brought back great memories.

SW Baller

January 9th, 2013
10:03 am

I played against Oct in the early 90’s. He was hands down the best player who played during that era in Atlanta. He averaged close to 40 ppg in high school. Who does that? He didn’t even play ball his senior year of high school and was still rated second best of his class next to future GA Tech player Martice Moore.

He got sucked into the streets, but sometimes I can’t help but think what would have happened if was 5 or 6 years younger and could go straight to the NBA or D League. I haven’t seem him in years, but used to hear stories a few years ago about him still reigning in street ball games in the city.

Jeff Haws

January 9th, 2013
10:06 am

Very cool. Thanks for the first-hand experience, Hubert. Love hearing from the old-timers about some of these guys, since they saw them up close. I never had that opportunity, so I have to rely on words and pictures, for the most part. I still hear people talk about Ox, though, even 20 years later.

Hubert Green

January 9th, 2013
1:34 pm

Here’s one more: the best player you never heard of was Ed Hall who played at Wills HS in the early 70’s. They finished runner-up to Sandy Springs in 1970 I believe. Wills used to run a play against a zone where the pg would throw the ball about 12 feet in the air where Hall would leap, catch, turn, and score from about 8 feet in front of the rim. No one was ever sure where Ed was during the day, but on game nights, he was unreal.

Jeff Haws

January 9th, 2013
2:18 pm

Heh … that’s awesome, Hubert. You’re right that I hadn’t heard of Ed. You sound like you’ve been watching high school ball around here for quite awhile. How do you think these rankings hold up to what you saw?

Hubert Green

January 9th, 2013
3:32 pm

The rankings are very good. Although his team did win a state championship, probably the most talented individualever to lace them up in the state of Georgia was Cedric Henderson of Marietta. He was all of 6′9″, handled the ball like a point guard; could leap, dunk, block shots, and shot jump shots. Unfortunately his senior year he ended up going to a high school in the Bahammas and then played one year at UGA under Hugh Durham. He never panned out in the NBA.

Mid. Ga fan

January 9th, 2013
4:34 pm

I would add Greg Minor to that list. Went on to play at Louisville and then for the Boston Celtics. Was a great highs hook player for Washington County.

Jeff Haws

January 9th, 2013
4:48 pm

Good call, Mid. I did consider him, but he didn’t end up making the final cut. No question you could make an argument for him, though. I think he was one of the first players to get labeled “Baby Jordan” at one point. Didn’t quite turn in to that, though.

tom smithe

January 9th, 2013
6:05 pm

Why no Shariff Abdur Rahim- Kid dominated the 90’s for Wheeler and had a pretty good career in the NBA

Hubert Green

January 9th, 2013
6:12 pm

@tom smithe His team won a state title.

Snoopy

January 9th, 2013
7:52 pm

Lou Williams was a very good (if not GREAT) player at South Gwinnett..
Tony Flannigan From West Fulton in the early-mid 70’s & Melvin “Hollywood” Howard SHOULD be on that list.. Howard was Magic Johnson before Magic Johnson & was a great Bulldog at Decatur..

Wildcat

January 10th, 2013
8:30 am

Shareef won state in ‘94.

Hoops Fiend

January 10th, 2013
9:30 am

Would have loved to see Percy Eberhart (Clarke Central) & Marvin Nash (Cedar Shoals, both from Athens, on this list. Eberhart was 6′9 & could play the point who was blessed w/ athletic ability out of this world. Nash was a scoring machine whose range was when he crossed half court. Sadly, Eberhart passed away while in college @ the age of 19. Jeff, it would be great to see a story on Eberhart though. The people of Athens hold an annual summer tournament in honor of him over there. He’s a legend & his name will never die in Athens or to anyone who seen him graced the court.

Regular Reader

January 10th, 2013
10:05 am

Awesome stuff!

R Moss

January 10th, 2013
11:08 am

Michael Spruill of Albany. Explosive, can score at will and anywhere. Played great defense. Unfortunately a rape conviction ended his career.

Melvin Drake of Albany. Great rebounder for a guard. Nice range. Backcourt partner of Spruill. Played at Georgia and VCU.

Thanks to Westover (90-93) these two never won a state title.

That Dude Says...

January 10th, 2013
11:42 am

Jeff Shepard from McIntosh High school in Peachtree City gets my vote. He won Mr Ga Basketball and the Most Outstanding Player in the 1998 Final Four.

That Dude Says...

January 10th, 2013
11:44 am

^^^^Mr Ga Basketball in 1992^^^^^

BcS2010

January 10th, 2013
12:36 pm

Cameron tatum from tucker high school was the best high school player I’ve ever seen. He made tucker high school what they are today! From his sophomore – senior year he made slam dunk contest dunks and would hit Dam near half court three’s on the regular. He played at Tennessee and is in there top 10 in many catogorys! He plays d league for the Bakersfield jam at the moment!

SAHALUM2003

January 10th, 2013
1:01 pm

What about Vincent Banks in 2003? I graduated with him.

SAHALUM2003

January 10th, 2013
1:08 pm

I know Oct personally. We are from the same neighborhood. He still has game and can be sometimes on Sundays still hooping at our local park named Empire Park. But this is nothing new to our neighborhood Cleveland Ave. We always keep good athletes but the streets always suck them in. It happened to my father Ricki Gray when he was starring at George High in the early 80’s under Coach CC Jones and my uncle Claude Williams aka Rabbit when he won a State Title at Carver in the 60’s with Flat Top.

AJC FAN

January 10th, 2013
1:36 pm

Vincent Banks was the truth!!!!! South Atlanta High School had a good team but he was so dominate.

d frazier

January 10th, 2013
1:40 pm

I heard the stories about my uncle walt, but i also heared that he had a teamate name fleetwood. I played football at douglass but we had chris morris and terry martin thqat won back to back players of the year..

SAHALUM2003

January 10th, 2013
1:43 pm

Whats up Coach Frazier they need you back at Doug to coach the defense.

SAHALUM2003

January 10th, 2013
1:45 pm

We supposed to won our 11th and 12th grade year at South Atlanta but the officiating in Dalton prevented us 11th grade and Brent Pettway prevented us 12th grade smh.

W

January 10th, 2013
2:02 pm

A few things…Octavious Thomas didn’t lead the state in scoring when he played…James Forrest @ Southside did with 30 a game. And @Snoopy, not only did Tony Flanagan NOT go to West Fulton (He went to SW Atlanta), he won 3 state titles (1 in football, 2 in basketball) and was an All-American in both sports. Wayne Buckingham was a McDonald’s All-American in 88 and never won a state title.

Bill

January 10th, 2013
3:05 pm

What about Al Smith Albany High 1972 Stan Rome Valdosta High 1974

wizard

January 10th, 2013
3:46 pm

There were many, Tank Cantrell (George), James Banks (Smith) Paris Dennis (Mays) Hurbert Jones (Brown) Tony Aikins (Berkmar) . Thats how the ball bounces. Melvin Howard won a state during 57-0 run in early 80’s. {Actually Your coach prevented all your states except Favors senior year.@ SAHALUM2003. Cantrell and Marshall Bridges were lighting it up before 3pt line on your uncles team.}

D.S.G.B

January 10th, 2013
4:18 pm

I was a Syrupmaker in 87-88, lot of good players. Charlie Ward was great in football and basketball. TCCH and Cairo battled in basketball along with Thomasville Sean and Mike Jones. Elliot Reid, Darren Hines, and Shedrick Cornell never got the major press but were some great Ballers for the Syrupmakers!!!

Coach K

January 10th, 2013
4:34 pm

How about Hudson Kuipers… played at Dunwoody in the early to mid 90’s. Best 8 foot jump shot in the state for 2 straight years, averaged ~20 pts. and the best defender on the court… never got past the round of 8 the transferred out of state.

MT

January 10th, 2013
5:15 pm

Norris Randall – Pelham High School-1971-72

Marietta fan

January 10th, 2013
5:19 pm

Patrick Ewing Jr and Chris Ellis (Dale’s son) played at Marietta together in 2001-2002 season and went 30-0 before losing to Lakeside Dekalb in the semi finals. I can’t remember if Ellis was on the 1999 championship team with Ezra Williams, but you would have to get to the gym by 5 to get a seat. I still don’t understand how this team didn’t win state

Iceman

January 10th, 2013
6:31 pm

Reggie Johnson Cedar Grove High School mid 1970’s

Iceman

January 10th, 2013
6:59 pm

Sedale Threatt Therrell High School 1978

The Historian

January 10th, 2013
7:30 pm

One name that deserves to be on this list is Lavon Mercer, who graduated from Metter High School in 1976. The 6-10 center was a Parade All-American who AVERAGED 37 points, 30 rebounds, and 12 blocks per game as a senior. (BTW, that rebounding average remains a NATIONAL record almost four decades years later.) Metter was ranked No. 1 in Class B (now Class A) for most of Mercer’s senior season, but the Tigers were upset in the region tournament and finished 23-2.

Mercer went on to be a four-year starter at UGA, where he still holds the school’s career records for FG percentage and blocked shots. He was drafted by the Spurs and wound up having a long career in Israel’s professional league.

He later served as an administrator at Spelman College in Atlanta and still lives in the area, if I’m not mistaken.

old school

January 10th, 2013
10:21 pm

Michael “Chico” Partridge of Newnan early 80’s. Great starting five that just didn’t win the title. Had some great duels with Jumping Joe Ward of Griffin,back in the day when Newnan and Griffin were big rivals in every sport.

Columbus MAn

January 11th, 2013
1:45 am

Darrell Dunham Manchester
Jeff Campbell Woodbury..
They both had to deal with those great Central of Talbotton Teams… They were the most slept on team in Georgia . Their 1990 team could have beat 95% of American High Schools . All of Atlanta and Westover included.. Their kids just never could graduate..

TRU

January 11th, 2013
3:41 am

@W, James Forrest may have averaged 30 per game but Octavious “Oct” Thomas averaged 39 per game his junior year (90-91)….so you are incorrect sir. And Jeff his nickname is OCT and no “ox” lol! Oct and Jason Kidd were neck and neck at the top of the national rankings like someone said….but he didnt even touch the floor as a senior. He just wouldnt do right in the books….he ALMOST went to Oak Hill for his senior year but Coach CC wanted him to stay in hopes that he could get academically qualified to play for George HS(which is now South Atlanta HS). Just another story of what could’ve been SMH!
.

DAWG747

January 11th, 2013
5:58 am

Bill said: What about Al Smith Albany High 1972 Stan Rome Valdosta High 1974.
I saw both of them play and they were very good. I saw Al Smiths Indians put 100 on Tree Rollins in cordele.

sportsnut

January 11th, 2013
8:16 am

Melvin “Hollywood” Howard from Decatur High. He was the #1 Point in America as a junior and senior. Played at Georgia. Nothing after but was one of the best high school players ever in Georgia.

tarktheshark

January 11th, 2013
8:58 am

Dontanio Wingfield from Westover(Played at Cincinnati, and cup of Coffee in NBA) was a great talent nobody mentioned. Aaron Swinson played ball in Columbus area(Auburn, and Phoenix Suns) Great european career… Eric Manual from Macon who played at Kentucky was another not mentioned.

Da Coach

January 11th, 2013
9:15 am

Cam Tatum never won a state title at Tucker, but what he set up his junior and senior year lead Marshon Brooks and co. winning it the year after he left…Funny how Marshon is in the NBA now and he played a second fiddle to Tatum and even Manny Atkins in high school. Andrew Gouldelock from Stone Mountain too, he could fill it up!

Don Hill

January 11th, 2013
9:48 am

Will Wood from Commerce back in the mid-eighties. Led the state in scoring his Sr year and finished in the top 10 as a junior. Won the State 1-on-1 and slam dunk competition. Riddled with injuries as a college freshman, and never played after that. Saw him score 49 points in just over a quarter at the region tourney.

ATLFAN

January 11th, 2013
10:14 am

What about George Bowens Jr? He went to West Fulton in the 80’s had a full ride to Kansas State?

ATLFAN

January 11th, 2013
10:17 am

My bad Mid-Late 70’s for George Bowens Jr at West Fulton

AJC FAN

January 11th, 2013
10:22 am

Juan Gaston from Columbia High School. Class of “95. Juan Gaston signed with Georgia Tech and started as a true freshman with Stephon Marbury. He was the truth at Columbia High School and could shoot the ball from anywhere on the court. He was an all-american in football and basketball.

chris deighan

January 11th, 2013
10:36 am

Don’t know if he’s one of the 10 best to never win state title, but I saw Al Thornton (Perry, Florida State, LA Clippers) score 30 IN FIRST HALF in a game against Dublin when he was a senior. Shooting the 3, breaking the press, dunking. It was the best performance I’ve ever seen in 3D by any athlete in any sport. Al was an absolutely fearless baller — but the team lost that game. Later lost in the playoffs when Al fouled out after scoring 54 points.

AJC FAN

January 11th, 2013
10:46 am

Also, not sure about Anton Reese from Lithonia High School. He was a great ball player and lead the Georgia State team that went to the NCAA tournament and eventually lost to Kentucky that won the Championship that year.

wizard

January 11th, 2013
10:55 am

No Forrest at Southside shared the wealth between Buckingham, and Antonio Moore (deceased). 30 a game maybe his senior yr, but Moore avg bout 18 then.

RIP

January 11th, 2013
10:57 am

Anyone remember Donte Porter @ Chamblee, late 90’s, pure scorer.

me

January 11th, 2013
11:04 am

Daryle Wall (Windsor Forest) another, sucked in by the streets.