Here is a look at the 14 semifinal boys games slated for this weekend. Look for a girls preview later today.
*Hillgrove vs. Wheeler (5:30 p.m. Saturday, Georgia Tech): Both are Cobb County schools, Wheeler rich in basketball tradition, Hillgrove making its first semifinal appearance six years after opening its doors. Wheeler won state titles in 1994, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2009 under coach Doug Lipscomb. The Wildcats are 21-8 this season, ranked No. 7, and winners of Region 5. Hillgrove, ranked fifth, is 26-4 overall, 13-2 since Jan. 11 with both losses to second-ranked North Cobb, which is in the other semifinal. (Cobb is the first county ever to put three teams in the boys semifinals in the highest classification.) Wheeler is full of blue-chip recruits, one of which, junior Elijay Staley, had 17 points and 11 rebounds in the 60-47 victory over sixth-ranked Peachtree Ridge in the quarters. Hillgrove is led by Kyle Castlin and B.J. Brown.
*North Cobb vs. Norcross (8:30 p.m. Saturday, Georgia Tech): These are the only schools that have reached the semifinals this academic year in football, boys basketball and girls basketball. Norcross can become the first school to win the football and boys basketball titles in the same academic year since Mitchell Baker (1989-90). North Cobb, ranked No. 2, beat No. 1 Tift County 68-63 in Tifton on Wednesday. The Warriors (6-4) are in the semis for the first time in the history of a school that dates to the 1950s. They made the quarterfinals last year and returned all five starters, though one has been lost to injury. Norcross (25-6) can become the first school in the highest class to win five state titles in eight seasons. The Blue Devils were champions in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011. They’ve won 15 straight games, most of them comfortably, including a 56-35 rout of Berkmar in the quarters.
*Effingham County vs. Gainesville (5:30 p.m. Saturday, Kennesaw State): Effingham County (27-4), making its first-ever semifinal, has won its three playoff games by an average of 29 points. Its top player is 6-foot-7 junior JaKeenan Grant, who is averaging 17.9 points and 9.3 rebounds. Gainesville (22-9), which won titles in 1983 and 1984, last made the semis in 2009. The Red Elephants were unranked until winning the Region 8 tournament. They’ve won 14 straight games. Their top player is Shaquan Cantrell, a 6-4 guard averaging 19.3 points and seven rebounds. He has signed with North Georgia College.
*Northside-Columbus vs. Miller Grove (8:30 p.m. Saturday, Kennesaw State): Miller Grove is seeking its fifth straight state title. That’s never been done by a boys program in any classification. Miller Grove’s top player is Kyre Hamer (17.5 ppg, 9.6 rebounds). Northside, which opened in 2002, is playing in its first semifinal. The Patriots made the 2009 AAA quarterfinals. Northside’s top player is R.J. Sessions, averaging 18.2 points.
*Statesboro vs. Columbia (5:30 p.m. Saturday, Fort Valley State): Third-ranked Columbia (27-3) is chasing its fourth straight state championship. The first three were won under Dr. Phil McCrary, who retired. The new coach is Kenny Sandifer. The constant has been point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen, a four-year starter averaging 22.0 points. Columbia lost in the Region 6 final to South Atlanta but looked sharp in beating fourth-ranked Marist, also from Region 6, for the third straight time in the quarters, 50-41. Sixth-ranked Statesboro (28-3) has won 16 straight games and is playing in the semifinals for the first time since 2003 and looking for its first title since 1991. Statesboro’s coach for those teams, and this one, is Lee Hill, who has 751 career victories. In the quarters, Statesboro’s Zaquavian Smith made a layup at the buzzer to in the 60-58 victory at Rutland of Macon.
*Eagle’s Landing vs. South Atlanta (8:30 p.m. Saturday, Fort Valley State): This is a match of No. 1 (Eagle’s Landing, 25-5) vs. No. 2 (South Atlanta, 27-4). Eagle’s Landing is huge with 6-9 center Desmond Ringer (signed with South Carolina), 6-7 forward Chris Davenport (offer from Georgia Tech) and 6-6 guard Eric Wortham (committed to Middle Tennessee). The Golden Eagle’s have made the semifinals the past two seasons but never made a final. South Atlanta won a title in 2009 with Derrick Favors, now in the NBA, but is making its first semifinal appearance since then. The Hornets are pretty balanced with junior guards Derrick Byrd and Costa Anderson and senior forward Kertiss Baisden.
*Johnson-Savannah vs. North Hall (5:30 p.m. Saturday, Armstrong Atlantic State): Both of these teams were region runners-up to the other two semifinalists – Johnson to Savannah in Region 3, North Hall to Buford in Region 7. Johnson (23-6) is ranked No. 3. Its best player is 6-5 guard Tim Quarterman, who has signed with LSU. Johnson is playing in the semifinals for the first time since the Atom Smashers’ 1993 AAAA runner-up team. North Hall (28-3) is ranked No. 7. The Trojans have beaten No. 5 Morgan County and No. 10 St. Pius along the way. North Hall’s top player is 6-2 guard Ebo Smith, who has signed with North Georgia College.
*Savannah vs. Buford (5:30 p.m. Saturday, Armstrong Atlantic State): This game matches No. 1 (Buford) against No. 2 (Savannah). Buford (25-6) has never won a state title in basketball and can become the first school to win the football and boys basketball titles in the same academic year since Mitchell Baker (1989-90). Buford’s top player is A.J. Davis, a 6-6 forward who has signed with Tennessee. Savannah (27-3) was the 2012 runner-up in AAAAAA and is playing in the class that suits its enrollment for the first time in over a decade. Savannah won a state title in 1998. The team has four players averaging at least 10 points a game, but star center Chris Cokley, a 6-7 junior who averages 13.6 points and 7.6 rebounds, was knocked unconscious in a fall to the floor in the quarterfinal victory over Washington County game and did not return. His status is unknown for Saturday.
*Bleckley County vs. Jordan (5:30 p.m. Friday, Georgia College): Seventh-ranked Bleckley County (27-3) has beaten third-ranked Westside-Augusta 61-60 and second-ranked Vidalia 69-67, both on the road, in thrillers to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 1985. Fifth-ranked Jordan (21-6) has made the semifinals four times since 2000 and won in 2007 under coach Gerald Turner.
*Laney vs. Greater Atlanta Christian (8:30 p.m. Friday, Georgia College): GAC (27-3) is ranked No. 1, and fourth-ranked Laney (22-8) is the defending champion. GAC is going for a third state title in four seasons under coach Eddie Martin. The 2012 season ended in a quarterfinal upset to Manchester. GAC avenged that defeat on Wedneday ith a 77-52 victory. GAC’s Isaiah Wilkins, a 6-6 junior, had 21 points, 20 rebounds and eight blocked shots. Laney lost four starters from its championship team but is revitalized by sophomores Jervon Walker and Jashawn Brooks, their leading scorers in the playoffs.
Class A public
*Portal vs. Wilcox County (5:30 p.m. Friday, Fort Valley State): Portal junior guard Stacey Morgan averages 23.2 points per game and made two lead-changing 3-pointers in the final three minutes of the 56-54 quarterfinal victory over Mitchell County. Portal is trying to make its first state final since 1957. Wilcox County forward Johnathan Howard, also a record-setting all-state wide receiver, is averaging 19.7 points per game. Wilcox was in the semis in 2009 and 2010 and last won in 1968.
*Jenkins County vs. Wilkinson County (8:30 p.m. Friday, Fort Valley State): Wilkinson County (27-2) has won five state titles (1999, 2000, 2002, 2007, 2011) under coach Aaron Geter. His current team is 25-2 and ranked No. 5 in the combined private-public Top 10. Jenkins County (17-8), the Region 3 runner-up to Portal, is in the semifinals for the first time after winning road games at Dooly County and Seminole County. Dooley was the last public school to beat Wilkinson (80-77 on Dec. 28).
Class A private
*Aquinas vs. St. Francis (5:30 p.m. Friday, Kennesaw State): Second-ranked Aquinas (23-6), playing in its first semifinal since 1966, has won 18 of its last 19, its only loss to Laney (62-60), a semifinalist in AA. Aquinas guard Ahmed Hill has offers from Georgia and Georgia Tech. Third-ranked St. Francis (22-8) has won 11 straight games with victories over two former No. 1-ranked teams (North Cobb Christian, W.D. Mohammed) and one defending state champion (Whitefield Academy). Playing in its first-ever final four, St. Francis is notably young as its top three scorers are sophomores Malik Beasley (14.2 ppg, 6-1 rebounds) and Kaiser Gates (13.7 ppg) and freshman Kobi Jordan-Simmons (13.8 ppg).
*Greenforest Christian vs. Athens Christian (8:30 p.m. Friday, Kennesaw State): No. 1-ranked Greenforest Christian (25-4) has 6-9 post Tosin Mehinti, who has signed with UAB. Athens Christian’s top player is William “Turtle” Jackson, who snapped on North Cobb Christian in Wednesday’s 78-76 victory, scoring 36 points. Athens Christian is 24-4 and ranked No. 9. The game is a reunion for head coaches as Athens Christian’s Ron Link and Greenforest’s David Jones were together at Southwest Atlanta in 1969. Link was the girls coach. Jones was the boys coach. The two have more than 1,300 victories between them.