Saturday, February 7, 2015

Laney sweeps Senior Night games versus WACO... and more.





Friday was certainly not my first time watching the Laney and Washington County's boys teams play. They are among the area's top handful of teams.  And the region 3A rivalry game was as fantastic as expected.  As good as that game was, I was probably as excited to take a close look at a Laney Lady Wildcats game.  And a late afternoon viewing of a 13 year old scoring machine, and a brief but emotional stop at "Willie 'Tebow' Tolbert Gymnasium" for Josey's "Flashback Friday Night" senior ceremony was icing on the Friday night hoops cake.

Laney vs WACO (Boys)

This game felt like a region 3A tournament preview, especially because it was game two of a three game series in an eight day period featuring the region's/area's four best teams.  Here is a list of those games:

Friday, February 6:  WACO at Laney
Saturday, February 7:  Laney at Josey

And to think we get to do it all again this Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday at the region 3A tournament at Laney... No wonder a college coaching friend whose Augusta basketball experience includes only this January 9th Laney-Butler game and last night's senior night showdown texted me the following message just before tip-off:  "I love it here.  This is where basketball lives."  Heck yes!

I have watched two Washington County games from the top of the bleachers and two on film. Standing along the baseline Friday made me appreciate the size of the Golden Hawks' frontline. Before Friday I had guessed the skilled junior post Ti Lewis's height to be 6'3".   After standing near him I'll say he is a solid 6'5".  He is mobile and strong.  And his greatest strengths lie in his fundamental skills.  He has a nice touch around the basket, he makes floaters, and he is a solid mid range shooter.  I'm appreciating region 3A inside play more all the time.  Underclassmen Lewis, Ricquail Smoot (Butler), Bobby Jackson (WACO), and Elijah Brown (Westside) have joined seniors Jaylen Taylor and Jervon Walker (Laney) as difference makers in the paint.

And I haven't gotten to AJ Gray, one of the area's top five players, not to mention Georgia's best footballer.  Gray does it all on the court, from long range bombing to assaulting the rim.  And after standing near him for the first time in two years I'll say he has become a mountain of a man.

Washington County played as well in Laney's gym as any opponent has this season, further convincing me this region has at least four teams capable of reaching the final four in Macon, and under the right circumstances, grabbing a state championship.

Despite a meaningful attempt by the Golden Hawks to hand Laney its first loss in three months, the Wildcat train continued to chug Friday.  Long distance makes were hard to come by for the home team on senior night.  But Laney relied on its stellar defense to get easy baskets and played its customary brand of balanced team basketball to make it a loss free regular season at home.

Christian Keeling's steals and dunks ignited a Laney run Friday
After falling behind 21-18 in the second quarter, senior Jashawn Brooks, who was honored before the game for eclipsing 1000 career points, splashed in a deep three.  And after a flurry of fast break points, including four on two Christian Keeling steals and dunks, Laney's lead stood at 33-25 at the break.

Washington County's second half start looked a lot like its first as guard Antonio Jackson buried a three from the left corner and Ti Lewis scored difficult baskets from short and medium range.  This time it was Laney nursing a three point lead midway through the half.  But as happened in the first sixteen minutes, a couple Wildcat High fliers got loose for breakaway slams.  And this time it was Zep Jasper who provided a well timed bomb to give the home team a commanding lead.

I expected the showdown between two of the area's (and state's) best to be a blast to watch.  And the game surpassed all expectations.

See highlights in the video above.

Laney Lady Wildcats vs WACO Golden Hawks

The Lady Wildcats are the first girls team
to be featured on the blog
Speaking of expectations... I expected the girls game to be a possible preview to next weekend's region 3A tournament championship game.  And I expected Laney's Aliyah Collier to be as entertaining as ever.  But I learned more about Laney's complete team, and it's impressive skill level, teamwork, and grit, than I foresaw.
Jasmine Bartlett and Jhessyka Williams immediately ran off nine points on 3 three pointers (one for Bartlett and two for Williams) after Collier went to the bench with foul trouble in the second quarter. And as she continued to sit through much of the third, freshman De'sha Benjamin worked her impressive inside-outside game to maintain Laney's double digit lead until Collier's return. Collier buried a three and weaved her way through the WACO defense for a basket midway through the second half and the Lady Wildcats would not be threatened again.

See highlights in the video above.

Bonus Feature: Alleluia Middle School's Ben Freed scorches the nets in as good of an offensive performance as I've seen this season

Josey's Willie Tolbert in
the gym named after him
If you love great offensive basketball, check out the highlights of Alleluia's sharpshooting eighth grader, Ben Freed.  And if you are tempted to think his output is somehow less impressive because it was earned against a small private school, consider that it is extremely rare to find a player regularly scoring 30 plus points in 24 minutes, no matter the level.  And when the buckets are made from all angles and spots (including the 25 feet away step back variety), that is worth noting, watching, and enjoying.

See highlights in the video above.

Extra Special Bonus:

The images coming out of Josey's Flashback Friday game versus Hephzibah in the "old gym" were moving.  The late Recardell Sheppard was honored during senior night.  Longtime Josey fixture and, as former Josey and College of Charleston star Tony Mitchell described him, "father to so many Josey Eagles throughout the decades," Willie "Tebow" Tolbert posed for a picture in front of a sign that identified the old gym by his name.  We all love Tebow.  And that is how I will end this post, with love for my Josey family.  Hopefully nobody minds me calling it that.



***Here are some posts from the past about the Laney Wildcats***

February 1, 2015
Laney vs Butler: Game Report; plus a special look at coach Buck Harris

January 18, 2015
Laney is halfway through another mini obstacle course

January 11, 2015
Laney defeats Butler to in "instant classic" to stay undefeated in region play

January 7, 2015
Region Race 2015 (episode 2)... plus a look at "Class 3A Week"

January 6, 2015
Laney starts its most difficult (and exciting) week of the season

Dec 25, 2014
The full gyms at Laney's games remind me of something

Dec 16, 2014
Laney hustles its way to another huge win

Dec 9, 2014
Laney's Secret Sauce:  Playing Harder (Easier said than done)

Dec 1, 2014
Laney Beats Morgan County at Home

Nov 24, 2014
Friday at the Will Avery Tip-Off Tournament

Nov 16, 2014
Laney falls short in season opening thriller

Nov 11, 2014
Laney Opens Season with Nationally Ranked St. Francis

July 11, 2014
Brooks, Taylor, and Walker: ABR Live Summer Send-off

Nov 25, 2013
Laney and Aquinas Open Season with a Statement

March 15, 2012
Laney Makes History

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