By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
For all the hoop heads out there, as previously announced, the Tuesday Prep Zone blogs are devoted to basketball until the football champions are crowned. So here’s a quick look at some early season happenings on the hardwood.
SACA, St. Francis final again?
Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy and St. Francis are off to quick starts as both look to get back to the private school title game, which St. Francis won last season. The teams sit on opposite sides of Region 6 and split with each other prior to the Knights winning the title game in Macon. This season, SACA is 3-1 with the only loss coming at the hands of defending Class AAAAA champion Southwest DeKalb (4-0), 70-64 in overtime last Friday. St. Francis is 2-0 with wins over Jonesboro (69-43), a Class AAAA semifinalist last season, and Tucker (57-56 in OT), which advanced to the Class AAAAA Elite Eight. SACA and St. Francis will meet once in the regular season, Jan. 17, at St. Francis.
Towns County rolling early
Towns County, which went 26-5 last season while advancing to the public school semifinals, is off to a 3-0 start with blowout wins over Blue Ridge of North Carolina (91-31), and two AAAAA teams – Winder-Barrow (50-32) and Apalachee (54-29). Towns County will be without its top player, senior guard Eryn Cochran, possibly until the Region 8 tournament in February. Cochran, who has signed early with Columbus State, is recovering from a severe ankle injury, according to the Towns County Herald. However, junior guards Stephanie Patton and Karlie Albach, along with sophomore forward Jocelyn Byers have stepped up to fill the void.
Diamond on a mission
Down in Miller County, tucked into the southwest corner of the state, senior Mallory Diamond enters the season as one of the state’s top scorers. In fact, she could break the school scoring record, which has stood for 40 years. On a team with few scoring options, Diamond scored more than 600 points last season to bring her career total to over 1,400. The record of 2,295 was set in 1974 by Marianne Melton, who went on to star at Auburn, where she scored close to 2,000 points from 1975-1979.
Early season showdown
St. Francis, last season’s private school runner-up to Greenforest Christian, and Whitefield Academy, the 2012 state champion, are set for an early-season tussle next Tuesday, Dec. 10 at Whitefield Academy. St. Francis, off to a 4-0 start behind sophomore point guard Kobi Simmons, won two of the three meetings between the two Region 6 foes last season. Whitefield took a bit of a step back last season but have three of the best players in Class A in seniors Eric Lockett, Berto Dryden and Jesse Byrd.
“Beast” at Athens Christian
Junior guard Will “Turtle” Jackson has been the “beast” for the Athens Christian, leading the Eagles to the state finals as a freshman and to the semifinals last season, where they were edged by eventual champion Greenforest Christian. But with Jackson on the shelf for at least the first month of the season to recover from a knee injury, Athens Christian will turn to 6-foot-5, 230-pound forward Chris “The Beast” Tate, a junior who transferred to the school this year from South Carolina. Tate, who plays tight end for the football team, is working himself into basketball shape, along with fellow junior Demetrius McWhorter, the Eagles’ leading rebounder last season.
Portal back for another run
Another team to watch this season is Portal, located just off I-16 between Macon and Savannah. The Panthers are 47-12 over the last two seasons and advanced to the public school Final Four last season. Portal will again be led by guard Stacey Morgan, a candidate for Class A Player of the Year. He will be backed up by a talented lineup that features seniors Robert Lee, Marquise Wells and Keyante Robinson, along with Metter transfers Harrison Sherrod and Trent Thomas.