By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
How ferociously do Miller Grove’s players contest shots?
In Friday’s 64-49 win over Mays on Friday night, on three different occasions the Wolverines committed one of basketball’s biggest no-no’s by fouling a Mays player attempting a three-point jump shot. While Miller Grove head coach Sharman White doesn’t like the fouls, he loves the defensive effort of his team.
“It’s a 50-50 thing,” White said. “We want to close out hard on the shooters but we don’t want to foul, not at all. But you don’t want to beat up on them too bad because you want them to keep that effort and that energy.”
Contrary to popular belief, it’s the defense that has Miller Grove (21-3, 13-0 in Region 6AAAAA), No. 1 in Class AAAAA, once again atop the rankings with an eye on a fifth consecutive state championship.
“It’s really the staple of our program,” White said. “People look at us scoring 100 points and all that, but it’s our defense that we take the most pride in. We have a great strength and conditioning program. Our goal is to wear teams down and put pressure on them to make shots when they’re tired. We have a lot of confidence in our guys to be able to do that because of our strength and conditioning program.”
Right on cue, it was defense that set the initial tone against the No. 2-ranked Raiders (16-5, 7-3) on Senior Night. Miller Grove led by 10, 18-8, late in the first quarter after a bucket by standout freshman Alterique Gilbert. But on Mays’ ensuing trip down the floor sophomore guard Ayinde Russell was fouled attempting a three-pointer and converted on all three free throws to narrow the gap to 18-11. A couple of free throws on the other end by the Wolverines’ Earl Bryant increased the lead to 20-11 at the end of the period.
Miller Grove began the second quarter with a 13-4 run that produced the Wolverine’s largest lead of the game at 17 points, 33-15. The spurt was ignited by a one-handed dunk by Bryant off a lob pass from sophomore guard Kendall Williams, after the two ran a textbook two-on-one fast break.
But Mays refused to go quietly. The Raiders put together a run of their own, as pesky perimeter defense by senior Tahj Brooks sparked a 12-2 run from the end of the second quarter to the midway mark of the third that cut the Miller Grove lead to 39-31.
However, the Wolverines’ strength and depth proved ultimately to be too much for Mays to overcome. This year’s Miller Grove team doesn’t have a super star like Tony Parker (UCLA), Mfon Udofia (Georgia Tech), or Stephen Hill (Georgia Tech/New York Jets), whose basketball and football jerseys were retired at halftime. But Bryant and fellow seniors Kyre Hamer and Johnquavious McBride lead a talented, tenacious and driven squad.
“I like where we are right now as a team,” White said. “We’re playing well, we’re getting better and we still have room to improve.
“Stephen Hill talked to the team before the game and told them that this is the time of year to really focus,” White said. “This team is a great group of kids. High character kids that nobody thought could win [another championship]. They are playing with a chip on their shoulder.”
Mays (49) – Lundy Luqman 14, Ayinde Russell 13, John Lambert 8, Jaylen Smith 5, Deon Alexander 4, Natrez Patrick 3, Tahj Brooks 2.
Miller Grove (64) – Earl Bryant 15, Alterique Gilbert 13, James Walker 12, Kyre’ Hamer 11, Raylon Richardson 8, Keith Pinckney 3, Kendall Williams 2.