A version of this article appears on Scoreatl.com.
With the high school basketball regular season over, let us take a look at several of the state’s surprise teams, noteworthy players and top teams that will be in contention for a state title come March.
(Boys) Valdosta: Football-rich Valdosta made it to the second round of the basketball state tournament a year ago before losing to Douglass for their 10th loss of the season. Earning the 1-seed in Region 1-AAAAA, head coach Rufus McDuffie’s Wildcats only have one loss under their belts. Behind the play of 6-foot-5 wingman and gridiron standout Jay Rome, Valdosta is South Georgia’s best boys hoops team and should have a good shot at a Final Four berth given the lay of the bracket.
(Girls) Norcross: New additions Anjelica Wilcox and Briana Jordan joined established post player Tiffany Clark to give head coach Angie Hembree one of the most improved girls squads in Class 5A. The Lady Blue Devils have already achieved 20 wins after winning just 13 and failing to make the state tournament a year ago. Norcross only dropped two regular-season games (both to Mill Creek) in the very-competitive Region 7, and goes into the state tournament as the region's No. 2 seed after falling again to Mill Creek.
(Boys) Ryan Harrow, Walton: Before the junior point guard from North Carolina became eligible to compete for the Raiders at the beginning of this school year, everyone knew that he was one of the best guards in the 2010 class. What most did not expect, however, was for the N.C. State commit to seamlessly become the difference maker and top scorer for a Raiders team that also features Georgia Tech signee Glen Rice. … Arris Brundidge, Blessed Trinity: Losing players like Jordan Callahan and Tyler Cerone to graduation would be tough for any basketball program. However, head coach Bryan Marks’s team has more than stayed afloat thanks to Brundidge. The 6-4 forward has made up for the loss of the lethal backcourt, leading the Titans with his play on the inside and helping the Titans reach the 20-win plateau for the third consecutive year. BT earned the 2-seed out of Region 6-AA.
(Girls) Diamond Henderson, North Cobb: Despite being widely established as one of the best players in Cobb County, the 5-8 junior guard and her Lady Warriors were thought to be overmatched heading into this season, as North Cobb’s top scorer and Georgia Tech signee Jasmine Blain was to miss the season with a knee injury. Nevertheless, with Henderson routinely scoring 20 points, the Lady Warriors have already eclipsed last year’s 18 wins and are in the playoffs. … Kayla Lewis, Southwest DeKalb: The second-leading scorer from last year’s Class 4A state champions, Lewis had to become the leader for a Lady Panthers team that lost leading scorer and rebounder Charenee Stephens to graduation. Thus far, the 5-11 junior has not disappointed. Her versatility and improved scoring has Southwest DeKalb thinking of a repeat. The Lady Panthers finished the regular season with only three losses and took the 2-seed in Region 6.
(Boys) Wheeler: In any given year, Mater Dei (Cal.), St. Patrick (N.J.), Lincoln, (N.Y.), Centennial (Ga.), St. Benedict’s Prep (N.J.) and Dominguez (Cal.) would be more likely to be seen on a list of the Top 50 teams in America than on a single team’s schedule, but those are just some of the elite teams that last year’s Class 5A runner-ups have faced this season. Battle-tested Wheeler has only dropped two games in-state and breezed through the Region 6 tourney.
(Girls) Fayette County: Being the 2007-08 Class 4A state runner-ups, the undefeated Lady Tigers are the no-brainer choice as the team that other teams hoping to win a state title want to avoid. But what makes Fayette County’s season even more impressive is that they have seldom been challenged this year. The duo of 5-10 Anma Onyeuku and 5-6 Tessah Holt is tough for any team to contain, and the top seed out of Region 5 should be the favorite to take the 4A title this postseason.
Download the playoff brackets! Boys Class 5A; Boys Class 4A; Boys Class 3A; Boys Class 2A; Boys Class A; Girls Class 5A; Girls Class 4A; Girls Class 3A; Girls Class 2A; Girls Class A. You can also find tournament brackets, which will be updated throughout the playoffs, at Gasports.com. Butler can be reached at email@example.com.