Any discussion of the top teams in Class AAAAA boys basketball begins and ends with Miller Grove.
The Wolverines have won five consecutive championships in the state’s second-highest classification, and they have enough returning talent and a challenging schedule that should have them in position to win a sixth straight this season.
The leading returnee is senior Keith Pinckney. The 6-foot-2 junior guard averaged 14.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.8 steals last season, when he was named second-team all-state. He scored 14 points in the state championship game. Pinckney was scheduled to sign with Tulane University on Tuesday.
Also look for sophomore guard Alterique Gilbert and senior forward James Walker to have big years. Gilbert led DeKalb County in steals (3.3 per game) and 3-point field goal percentage (.569) last year and was fifth in assists (4.7). Walker was fifth in the county in rebounds with 9.5 per game.
The Wolverines will have to replace two key players who graduated. Leading scorer Kyre Hamer, another second-team all-state selection, averaged 16.3 points and 5.8 rebounds. He now plays for Campbell. Earl Bryant averaged 12.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 3.1 assists.
As they have done in recent years, Miller Grove will again play some of the top teams from Georgia in addition to traveling out of state for several prestigious events. The Wolverines open the regular season on Saturday against Buford at North Gwinnett and have December non-region games against Wheeler, St. Francis and Columbia. They will play in the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in late December and travel to Maryland and Ohio for games in January.
Here are some of the other boys teams to watch in Class AAAAA this season.
*Effingham County: The Rebels return one of the state’s top players in Jakeenan Gant, who was the Class AAAAA player of the year last season. Gant, who recently signed with Missouri, averaged 17.9 points, 9.3 rebounds and nearly four blocked shots last season. He scored 30 points in the state semifinals in a 63-62 loss to Gainesville.
*Tucker: The Tigers lost first-team all-state player Davonte Fitzgerald, who signed with Texas A&M after averaging a double-double, and Jabari Craig, who is at Fishburne Military School in Virginia this season and recently signed with Southern Cal. But they still have guard Jon Dunmyer, who averaged 14.7 points last season and scored 28 in this season’s opener against Luella.
*Gainesville: Former North Hall coach Benjie Wood has taken over at Gainesville for Todd Cottrell, who left for Lakeview Academy to replace Seth Vining, who retired. The Red Elephants, who lost to Miller Grove in the state final, are expected to be led by Ithello Cross, McKay Aiken and Norcross transfer Nnamdi Van Dulm. The roster also should get a boost in talent once football season ends.
*Whitewater: The Wildcats are led by 6-foot-8 forward Phil Cofer, who recently signed with Tennessee. Cofer averaged 16.7 points and 8.9 rebounds last season and was a first-team all-state selection. Whitewater finished 18-12 last season and eliminated by Jenkins 64-56 in the second round of the playoffs.
*Others: Stephenson, Mays, Allatoona, Jenkins, Northside-Columbus, New Manchester