Thursday, March 5, 2009

LOOKING BACK: The eight best boys hoops teams in state history

The following piece comes from Score Atlanta reporter James Butler and will appear in the official GHSA state sectional programs that will be given out at all quarterfinal round sites. The special edition program can also be downloaded from at this link.

High school basketball has taken off in Georgia in recent years, but the sport has a proud history in the state as well. In places like Macon, Albany and Savannah, the excitement and fervor for high school basketball has rivaled or even exceeded the passion for football in many years. On the boys side, the history is especially deep, but with several classifications crowning champions each year, it can be difficult to differentiate the best teams ever. That is why when compiling a list of the greatest Georgia high school boys basketball teams it is important to look at a) the success the team had during its season and b) the talent the team had. The following list takes both of those criteria in consideration as it names the Great Eight, the eight greatest boys basketball teams in state history.

No. 8 – Westlake, 1998-99. Bruising wing player A.J. Moye helped Westlake bully its way to a perfect 33-0 record and the Class AAA state championship. While head coach Darron Rogers’s Lions probably did not have best collection of high school basketball talent ever assembled, they had arguably the greatest group of athletes ever put together. Behind Moye, future NFL players Sean Jones, Keyaron Fox and Adam “Pacman” Jones also contributed to the team. Westlake punctuated its dominating season with a 52-36 win over Tucker in the state finals.

No. 7 – Westover, 1992-93. As head coach of the Patriots for 22 seasons, Willie Boston won six state titles, but at no time was Westover as feared as when Dontonio Wingfield suited up for Boston’s club. Wingfield won a state title in each of his four high school seasons and it was the Patriots’ 1992-93 team that proved to the best. The team featured 10 seniors that eventually played college ball. Westover beat Albany, 54-36, in the state finals without Wingfield, after he was ejected and suspended in the semifinals. Wingfield would average a near double-double with 16 points and nine rebounds per game as a freshman at Cincinnati before off-the-court issues derailed his career.

No. 6 – Columbia, 2005-06. Longtime head coach Dr. Phil McCrary has coached many formidable Eagles teams, but the 2005-06 squad stands alone. Columbia soared over the competition, compiling a 32-1 record. The Eagles captured the Kingdom of the Sun Tournament Championship in Florida and all of their in-state wins came by double digits. The impressive Columbia team featured such players as Travis Leslie, Lance Storrs, Darrius Morrow and Jeremy Price, all of whom are currently playing major college basketball.

No. 5 – Southwest Atlanta Christian, 2003-04. Even in the state’s smallest classification, the Warriors had Georgia’s biggest player. Dwight Howard, the future No. 1 overall NBA draft pick, controlled the paint for Southwest Atlanta Christian, leading the school to a 31-2 record. In the Class A title game against Whitefield Academy, Howard scored 26 points, pulled down 23 rebounds and blocked 11 shots, as the Warriors picked up the 63-45 win. Because of his play, the 6-11 big man won the Naismith Prep Player of the Year Award weeks later. Helping Howard was sophomore and future NBA point guard Javaris Crittenton.

No. 4 – South Gwinnett, 2003-04. The backcourt of Louis Williams and Mike Mercer made South Gwinnett basketball a household name, as they helped head coach Roger Fleetwood’s Comets run their way to a 31-2 record and the Class AAAAA state championship. For his part, Williams was named Mr. Basketball for the state as a junior in addition to being selected All-State for the third consecutive year. The Comets trounced an overmatched Tift County squad, 75-49, in the finals, with Williams scoring 39 points.

No. 3 – Wheeler, 2004-05. The season was supposed to belong to defending Class AAAAA champion South Gwinnett and its dynamic duo of Williams and Mercer, but Doug Lipscomb’s Wildcats had other plans. Wheeler (31-1) stormed through the regular season, losing only once to out-of-state Lake Howell (Fla.). Then in the state tournament’s quarterfinals, Wheeler stunned South Gwinnett, 84-80, before dispatching Newton and an undefeated Norcross team by double digits to take home the title. Wheeler’s list of future Division I players included Sharaud Curry, James Florence, David Gonzalvez, BeJay Corley and J.T. Tiller.

No. 2 – Norcross, 2006-07. The Blue Devils went 30-3 in 2006-07, capturing the Class AAAAA state championship. This was head coach Eddie Martin’s most loaded team at the Gwinnett County school: included among his club’s future Division I players were Gani Lawal, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jordan DeMercy and Tony Neysmith. Norcross only lost one game in state, 49-46, to a very good Peachtree Ridge team, along with two out-of-state losses to national powerhouses. The Blue Devils punctuated their championship season by nipping a strong J.J. Hickson-led Wheeler team to start the state tournament and by holding off an up-and-coming Centennial program in the finals. The win gave Norcross its second consecutive state title.

No. 1 – Southwest Macon, 1978-79. The Patriots were a powerhouse of yesteryear in Georgia, winning two state titles in the 1980s and four in the 70s. Their best team—and the best team the state has ever seen—took the court in 1978-79. Future NBA player Jeff Malone and future college standouts Terry Fair, Michael Hunt and Bobby Jones helped Southwest Macon steamroll their competition on their way to a 28-0 record to win the first-ever Class AAAA state championship awarded in Georgia and a mythical national championship. Head coach Don Richardson’s team beat the best in- and out-of-state teams, including Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy, which was a power back then as well. Malone, a sweet-shooting wingman, is perhaps the most underrated pro player the state has produced, while Fair dominated the paint with his athleticism.

Butler can be reached at