‘Never Nervous’: Five Georgia players who starred in the Final Four

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.

16 comments Add your comment


April 5th, 2013
10:17 am

Great headline, Todd!! Who can forget Pervis Ellison (Savannah HS) with Louisville. Unfortunately he had knee problems and didn’t have much of a pro career however he had a great high school and college career.

My wife was a high school classmate of Al Woods at Jones County. I met him at one of her high school reunions and found him to be a nice guy.

It is interesting that given all the basketball talent that has come out of GA over the years, there aren’t more that were marquee players during the Final Four.

Todd Holcomb

April 5th, 2013
10:35 am

There have been some very good Georgia players in the NCAA tournament over the years, but the Final Four is just four teams, so you have to be lucky and good.

Here is a pretty good performance by a Georgia player, albeit in the first round. Remember Chris Morris of Douglass?

• March 19, 1988: Chris Morris vs. Hersey Hawkins, Auburn vs. Bradley, NCAA first round
A duel between two stars ended with Auburn edging Bradley 90-86. Who was better? Hawkins had 44 points (15-for-25 from the field and 6-for-8 from 3-point range), 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks in the loss. His numbers were slightly better than those of Morris, who got the win and racked up 36 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks and 2 steals.

ESPN story on best single-game performances:


Todd Holcomb

April 5th, 2013
10:39 am

One other comment on Pervis Ellison – He averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds in his third season in the NBA w/ the Bullets, but injuries ruined his career. I believe it was Danny Ainge who began to call him “Out of Service” Pervis.


April 5th, 2013
10:55 am

for the Women’s tournament?

Todd Holcomb

April 5th, 2013
10:59 am

Good question on the women. The men are in Atlanta, so that’s why I stopped at men. …

Pretty sure that Maya Moore would be included in any history of the women’s final four. Teresa Edwards played in two Final Fours for UGA. I’d have to do a little research.


April 5th, 2013
11:48 am

Good info on Chris Morris. Your headline does narrow it to the Final Four which means we really have to put on our thinking caps. :)

I also agree, you should do a similar article for women. The two ladies you mentioned would be at the top of the list. It will be interesting to see if Diamond Deshields makes your list when you update this article in 2018. :)

DR Hort

April 5th, 2013
2:09 pm

What about Wiley Brown from Sylvester,Ga. he play on the 1980 U of L champingship team?

Todd Holcomb

April 5th, 2013
2:51 pm

Good call, Dr. Hort. …

There were three Georgia boys on that Louisville championship team of 1980. Derek Smith (Hogansville) averaged 14.8 points and 8.3 rebounds. Wiley Brown (Worth County) averaged 10.4 points and 5.6 rebounds. Daryl Cleveland (Central Thomasville) came off the bench. The three, particularly Derek Smith, were credited with popularizing the high five. Smith and Brown probably were the #2 and #3 players on that team behind Darrel Griffith, although it was Griffeth and Rodney McCray who made the All Tournament team.

Btw, Brown is now head coach at Indiana University Southeast (Thanks Big T for pointing that out). He played a couple of years in the NFL as a tight end w/ the Eagles.

Smith, as many remember, died tragically at age 34 of a heart attack. He had a nice NBA career (once averaging 20+ ppg before a knee injury) and was an assistant w/ the Bullets when he died. His son, Nolan, is now w/ the Trail Blazers and played on Duke’s 2010 national c’ship team.

Of course, I didn’t know all this off the top of my head. Thanks Google! 


April 5th, 2013
5:52 pm

Good list. Maybe I missed it, and I have not done the research, but I remember Kenny “Sky” Walker from Roberta, Ga who,played at Kentucky in early 80s. Didn’t one of those teams make the final four? Thanks Todd!

Big T

April 5th, 2013
6:21 pm

Wiley Brown is actually head coach @ Indiana University Southeast.

Todd Holcomb

April 5th, 2013
8:36 pm

Thanks, Big T. I must’ve been reading an outdated bio on Wiley.

re: Kenny Walker – He played on Kentucky’s 1984 Final Four team. He’s worth noting. He didn’t have as productive a Final Four as the five that I listed, but certainly a great player. Bio says that Walker was 11-for-11 in an NCAA tournament game in1986 prior to the Final Four. Kentucky was upset by LSU that year, and LSU then lost to Louisville & Pervis Ellison in the semis.


April 5th, 2013
10:27 pm

What about Joseph Forte?


April 7th, 2013
11:23 pm

Cameron Dollar- UCLA 1995 Championship team.


April 8th, 2013
8:22 am

Josh Pace – Syracuse 2003 Championship team.

Pius fan

April 8th, 2013
12:34 pm

Mark McSwain from St Pius was on the same Louisville team with Pervis Ellison


April 10th, 2013
9:00 am

How can you not mention Jeff Newton (Mays) and A.J. Moye (Westlake) playing for Indiana IN ATLANTA ?