|Don Coleman (Butler) is scoring 24 ppg this season|
Friday's early start at Butler and late one in Sandersville gave me the opportunity to see four of our area's best teams compete in the first of six consecutive weeks of Tuesday/Friday region AAA action. Butler (13-1, 3-0) gained its third region win with a 59-45 home win over Glenn Hills. Washington County (7-4, 2-1) moved into the top three of the early season standings with a 60-54 home win over Josey.
Committing 6-7 hours of driving, waiting, and watching to see a couple high school games can backfire on an old guy like me. After all, these are teenagers who can at any time turn their brains and motors off and coast through a night on the court. But never fear because Butler's Don Coleman and WACO's AJ Gray are two of the area's best competitors, and they showed why Friday. Coleman actually out scored the Spartans 18-12 in the first half as the Bulldogs took a 24-12 halftime lead.
Teammate Ben Rhodes kept Butler's momentum going when he opened the third quarter with a two handed dunk off the stride after a baseline drive. Coleman then resumed his barrage on his way to 33 points, giving Butler major momentum going into an important week of region play.
After using the term "competitor" above, I'll take some time to explain the use of the term "competitiveness" in the context of basketball jargon. Competitors want to win. No matter the game or circumstances. They overcome lack of confidence (we all, including good ball players, deal with that at times) and they resist any tendency to ease the foot off the gas or get crossways with teammates because these things hinder the cause - trying to win.
Coleman's brand of competitiveness is unique and fun to watch. He goes 100 mph every trip (as Saturday's Augusta Chronicle feature noted) and is skilled enough to keep the team's interests in mind. So he'll dribble and spin through traffic, using either hand (and appearing to favor the left!), bounce off defenders to shoot step back threes, and finish wrong footed, off handed layups with grace. At the same time, he'll whip left handed passes off the left handed dribble or draw a teammate's defender and throw him a no look pass for an uncontested layup. Don answers the bell every game. He is a competitor. And he helped Butler become the first team to three region wins. The Bulldogs will need the momentum as they look ahead to duels with Westside (4-5, 0-2) and Laney (11-1, 2-0) this Tuesday and Friday, respectively.
I was then off to Sandersville for my first look at AJ Gray and coach Carlos Hope's Washington County Golden Eagles as they hosted Josey. Josey's Darius Williams has been scoring 30+ per contest for almost two full seasons, and he and his younger teammates have made Josey look like a serious AAA challenger. Going into Friday's game the Eagles' only region loss came at home after a furious late game Butler rally weeks ago. And Washington County's lone region loss also came at home to Butler, with Gray out of the lineup.
Gray, a 6'3" lefty guard recently played his last football game for Washington County, capping off a ridiculously great season before heading to play at Georgia Tech. Gray was Georgia's Gatorade Football Player of the year, the second such honor for the Gray family following sister Alisha's honor in 2012. AJ is also one of the area's small handful of best basketball players. I was eager to see the state of his hoops game this soon after leaving the gridiron.
Williams provided (almost literally) all the game's offense in the first 16 minutes after scoring 11 quick points to help Josey build a 13-2 lead early. The Eagles would then manage only 6 points the next 10 minutes before two soft Williams' floaters in the final minute of the second quarter took Josey into the break leading 23-16.
Washington County looked a little out of sorts offensively. Gray was not particularly troubled by Josey's trapping full court style, as he weaved his way to good opportunities. But his timing seemed a little off in attempting to finish. Despite a great defensive performance, the Golden Eagles fate looked quite uncertain entering intermission.
But Gray regrouped nicely and began the third quarter with a steal and a deflection on the first two defensive possessions. He then proceeded to have a monster half, getting to his spots off the dribble at will and finishing over and through smaller defenders. I've never watched AJ play quarterback, but his performance Friday gave me a sense for why Glenn Hills coach Travis McRae called him a "DOG on the gridiron." The hardwood too.
And he is not alone in Sandersville. Not having seen Washington County play in almost two years, I seem to be the only person unaware (before Friday) of Ti Lewis. But no longer. The solidly built, inside-out front-liner is very skilled. He scores in the paint with nifty footwork and clever use of the shot fake (rare these days). And his nice shooting touch and ability to beat guys off the bounce make him as good a scoring threat against interior defenders as there is in region AAA. His unofficial line (20 points and 19 rebounds), and Gray's and his skill and muscle were too much for Josey to handle Friday.
Washington County moved into third place of the early season region standings and look forward to visiting Glenn Hills Friday. Josey, winless so far in the very early parts of the region race, hosts two other winless (in region), yet dangerous squads Tuesday (Glenn Hills) and Friday (Westside).