By Fletcher Proctor
If several of the teams in this year’s GHSA basketball finals look familiar, it is because they are. Five defending champions have made the finals yet again as well as five more than captured the GHSA’s top prize in either 2010 or 2011.
The Miller Grove boys and girls are both back trying to repeat as are Columbia’s boys and girls teams. The Miller Grove boys program has won four straight titles and now is seeking a AAAAA crown to make it five in a row. The Columbia boys are right behind Miller Grove with three straight and seeking a fourth in Class AAAA after moving up from AAA.
Norcross pulled off a sweep in 2011 and has both teams ready to play for the Class AAAAAA titles. Dating back to 2006, the Norcross boys have captured four titles. Jesse McMillan was at the helm two years ago and has this squad playing incredibly well since the end of football season when reinforcements arrived to help the Blue Devils. The Norcross girls, meanwhile, won back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011 before falling just short last year.
Greater Atlanta Christian is back in the GHSA finals after losing to finalist Manchester last year in the quarterfinals. Eddie Martin’s Spartans won the Class AA title in 2010 before successfully defending the title in 2011. Despite most of the important players from the last title team no longer roaming the halls of GAC, Martin has plenty of firepower with Collin Swinton and Isaiah Wilkins hoping to help the Spartans’ head coach earn his third title in his first five years with the program. Martin also won three titles with Norcross before finding his way to GAC.
Wilkinson County captured the 2011 Class A title on the strength of 11 seniors and a trio of juniors. After graduation gutted Aaron Geter’s team, he has managed to rebuild around another talented senior class mixed with sophomore Torrico Simmons.
In 2010, the Southwest DeKalb girls won the program’s third straight AAAA title. After a down year in 2011, Southwest DeKalb reached the finals last year before falling to Miller Grove. Now, the Panthers are back and ready to exact some revenge for the championship game defeat from one year ago.
DEFENDING THE CROWN …
The Miller Grove girls aren’t anxious to give up the title of champion just yet, especially to Region 6-rival Southwest DeKalb. Kathy Walton’s Panthers got the better of Renee Breedlove’s Wolverines in the region tournament after falling to Miller Grove three times earlier this season. Many of the players that competed in last year’s AAAA finals will be going at it again this year, including Miller Grove’s Tashi Thompson, Katie Hunt and Klarissa Weaver as well as Southwest DeKalb’s Deja Clay and Calyn Kelly.
Columbia, coached by Chantay Frost, went 24-5 last year to win the program’s second title in three years and, this year, Columbia (26-3) has battled through Pickens County, LaGrange, River Ridge and Jonesboro to reach Macon. Senior Miah Spencer and junior Yaktavia Hickson both tasted a championship last year and will be inspired to try to pull off the repeat bid.
Tahj Shamsid-Deen of the Columbia boys will try to leave the Decatur school with four state titles to his name before suiting up next year for Auburn.
Wesleyan also has a host of players that will be playing women’s college basketball next season, but first, a shot at history is at stake for Jan Azar’s Wesleyan program. The last girls program to win six straight state titles was Hart County (1989-1994). Wesleyan captured the 2008 Class AA title before winning the last four Class A crowns. With reclassification shifting schools into different classes, Wesleyan is back in Class AA looking to bookend that 2008 title with a record-tying sixth. If not for a loss to Greater Atlanta Christian in the 2007 state finals, Wesleyan would be chasing its 10th straight crown.
ALL EYES ON WHITE …
While Wesleyan is trying to match a record Miller Grove is angling for a fifth straight crown, which would break the tie that the Wolverines currently share with Westover (1990-93). Head coach Sharman White has seen some incredible talent during this current run, but had to replace five starters from last year’s team. He didn’t have a bare cupboard as eight players returned from last year’s team and he was the beneficiary of playing in the always-tough Region 6-AAAAA.
Dating back to 2004 when Mays won the first of two straight, the last nine AAAA champions came from what is now a loaded Region 6-AAAAA.
While many familiar faces will be in Macon this week, there is still room for new blood and that is what the other teams such as Gainesville, Dawson County, St. Pius X and Randolph-Clay, among others, are hoping for this weekend.