Sunday, November 15, 2015

Jolly, Watson-Gayle, Smith light up the scoreboard in preseason play

After seeing Augusta Prep and its nifty sophomore guard Ryan Jolly, I got even more excited about the local private school scene. I followed Alleluia and Augusta Christian last season. Now I'm adding Westminster and Augusta Prep, arch rivals and region foes.

I had seen Westminster's players this fall, and I ranked them #6, right behind Alleluia in my preseason top 11. If I'd known better, I would have had made Augusta Prep the third private school team on my list.

But better late than never say I. Actually, I'm not late because Saturday was the last day of the pre-season. So there's time to show you what to expect from the Cavaliers, who compete in class 3A of the GISA.
Ryan Jolly (Augusta Prep) scored 26 points Saturday
in a scrimmage against Northwood Academy.

Sophomore point guard Ryan Jolly leads the way with a silky smooth handle, a soft shooting touch, and good agility and explosiveness. I'm surprised I only recently heard his name. He looked great Saturday against a very talented Northwood Academy.

Jolly does a great job of creating in coach Mike Guthrie's offensive system. The Cavaliers ran that scheme impressively, especially for a preseason scrimmage. The ball moves, and the players cut and attack the basket.

After seeing Augusta Prep live, I've circled these dates on my calendar:
See Jolly, Westminster's Watson-Gayle, and North Augusta's
Jaquez Smith in the video above.

January 26 - Augusta Prep at Westminster
February 9 - Westminster at Augusta Prep

These schools have long been rivals. Nothing extra is needed for games between them to be exciting. But this year's version certainly adds something special: the play of Jolly and Westminster's leader, transfer Jelani Watson-Gayle, who has instantly become one of our city's best.

His bundle of shooting, ball handling, competitiveness and basketball intelligence is impressive. Deep into the second half of Saturday's scrimmage against Blythewood, the transfer from London had scored 19 of Westmister's 29 points. He made threes and finished a variety of shots off the dribble before the Wildcats fell 48-43.
Jolly constantly challenged Northwood's defense
Saturday and lived at the free throw line. 

Westminster impressed me Saturday while playing shorthanded. Senior Nygel Eaddy impacted the game with his defensive pressure and explosiveness attacking the basket. When sophomore Michael Dukes returns to the lineup and senior Steven Lambert finds an offensive rhythm, coach Mark Tebbs's team can be a force in the GISA.

The rivalry with Prep and games against region favorite and 2015 state runner up Gatewood should be more exciting than ever. Months ago I would not have said many of our area's best players play in the private school leagues. But after seeing these teams play back-to-back at Evans Saturday, and Alleluia last week, I now believe that is the truth.

Saturday's scrimmages at Evans reintroduced old friends to my AugBball coverage. The North Augusta Yellow Jackets are always a tough bunch. I followed them through their 2013 state playoff quarterfinal run and reported on heated match-ups between the Yellow Jackets and rival Aiken.

Current North Augusta coach Tony Harrell, whom I last followed as the coach of that 2013 Aiken team, always gets the most out of his players. So it doesn't surprise me that his scrappy bunch came 4 seconds away from overcoming a 14 point halftime deficit and forcing overtime Saturday against Richmond, one of our area's most talented teams.

The furious Yellow Jacket comeback was led by Jaquez Smith, who scored 31 points and made two free throws to tie the game at 61 with 4.3 seconds remaining before Chris Jones scored a layup at the buzzer after a full court dash through traffic.

I've chosen Richmond as our area's third best team in my preseason top 11 teams series. But noticeably absent was any school from South Carolina. I planned to restrict my coverage to the Georgia side of the area. I have to draw a line somewhere.

But days like Saturday make me take an eraser to such lines. I can't watch players like Smith, Jolly, and Watson-Gayle without going back to my calendar and making the right AugBball coverage schedule work. And the right schedule includes North Augusta, defending state champ Midland Valley, and the rest of the nearby "SC Bball" that is too good to miss.

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