Three former Georgia high school basketball players are on teams that made this weekend’s Final Four in Atlanta. They are Kevin Ware (Rockdale County) of Louisville and Tekele Cotton (Whitefield Academy) and Carl Hal (Bleckley County) of Wichita State.
It’s rare that a Georgia player has been one of the marquee players in the Final Four.
Here are five memorable exceptions:
1981: Al Wood, Jones County – Wood was the first Georgia player to make the five-man All-Tournament team, and no Georgia player has ever been so prolific a scorer on such a national stage as Wood in the 1981 semifinals against Virginia and Ralph Sampson. The 6-foot-6 guard scored 39 points (making 14 of 19 shots) with 10 rebounds in the 78-65 victory. The 39 points broke Jerry West’s record of 38 for a national semifinal. Wood scored 18 more in the final, but North Carolina was beaten by Indiana and Isiah Thomas. Wood was drafted by the Hawks in the first round and played seven years in the NBA. Wood is now a pastor at a church in South Carolina.
1986: Pervis Ellison, Savannah – Nicknamed “Never Nervous Pervis,’’ Ellison had one of the best championship games in tournament history, scoring 25 points and pulling 11 rebounds in a 72-69 victory over Duke. He had 13 rebounds against LSU in the semifinals. Ellison was the first freshman in 42 years to be named the Most Outstanding Player in an NCAA tournament. Only one has done it since (Carmelo Anthony). He was the first overall pick the the 1989 NBA Draft to the Kings. According to Wikipedia, Ellison coaches basketball for Life Center Academy in New Jersey.
1998: Jeff Sheppard, McIntosh — Sheppard, a 6-foot-3 guard with legendary leaping ability, scored a career-high 27 points in the 1998 semifinals against Stanford and 16 in the final against Utah. Sheppard was Kentucky’s leading scorer on the season, averaging 13.7 points. Sheppard is the last Georgia player to be named Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA tournament. Sheppard was a part of two national championship teams, this one coached by Tubby Smith, the other by Rick Pitino. Sheppard played one season for the Hawks. He now runs an apparel company near Lexington and is vice president for business development with a regional TV sports network.
1999: Ricky Moore, Westside-Augusta – Moore, a 6-foot-2 guard, was the captain of Connecticut’s first national championship team. Star teammate Richard Hamilton called him ‘’the best defender in the country.’’ In the championship game against No. 1-ranked Duke, UConn led by one point with 20 seconds left. Duke put the ball in the hands of leading scorer Trajan Langdon. “I heard Coach K telling Trajan to go get the ball,” Moore said. “I felt if he got it, he wasn’t going to do anything. It was him against me.’’ Langdon was called for traveling. Moore made the five-player All-Tournament team after a 13-point, eight-rebound effort. Moore scored six with eight rebounds in the semifinals against Ohio State. The championship game was notable in Georgia because Moore’s former Westside teammate William Avery was Duke’s starting point guard. Moore is now UConn’s Assistant Director of Basketball Administration.
2011: Jeremy Lamb, Norcross – Lamb was the second-leading scorer as a freshman for Connecticut’s 2011 national championship team. He got stronger as the season went, averaging 14.2 points in the Big East tournament and 16.2 in the NCAA tournament. In the Final Four, he scored 12 points with nine rebounds and four assists against Kentucky in the semifinals and scored 12 points – all in the second half – and had seven rebounds in the finals against Butler. He made the five-man all-tournament team. Lamb is a rookie with the Oklahoma City Thunder.