Featured above: Zep Jasper (College of Charleston); Christian Keeling (Charleston Southern); Madison Williams (Illinois State); and San Antonio Brinson (NJIT).
The discussion begins...
Currently I think Richmond Academy will be our area's best team. So the Musketeers' returning trio of 6'5" senior forward Moses Williams, fellow senior guard Jason Weaver, and junior guard DT Stephens is my first prediction for which core group can replicate the success Laney and Richmond's leaders were able to accomplish last season.@BasktballPower & @RIP_QUAN12 was the best one two punch in the area last year . Who are they this year? @AugBball @AUGUSTAbball @PQSports— AUGhoops (@AUGhoops) September 12, 2016
The response from @AugHoops calls out three promising pairs, who all play for teams widely expected to make a significant step forward this season: Josey, Aquinas, and Lakeside:
The Josey call is a good one. The Eagles are the only team that made it through the Butler summer league schedule unbeaten, and this will be the third season the four returning Eagles starters will be key contributors for a state tournament caliber team:@AugBball @AUGUSTAbball @PQSports for sure those 2 are there , Whitehead and Williams at Josey as well as the pair at Lakeside&Aquinas— AUGhoops (@AUGhoops) September 12, 2016
Aquinas is a popular pick to be a serious contender for being the area's best team. It's a choice I can get behind because of what I'll call the Fighting Irish's "formidable five" juniors (Tre Gomillion, Dajuan Hill, Trent Bowdre, Gerald Merriweather, and Cameron Gardner), whom I show in this video:
And Lakeside's mix of shooting and playmaking on the perimeter - think sophomore Kalen Williams and junior Brad Hilley - and scoring and rebounding in the paint from seniors Deon Berrien, Kresean Hall, and Tucker Gilbert make it easy to see why so many of us are anticipating a great season from the Panthers.
There is a hotbed of talent at the private/independent schools
Daron Lewis, who played at Augusta Prep, coaches youth basketball, and watches his share of high school hoops, rightly called out the play of Westminster’s Jelani Watson-Gayle (senior) and Michael Dukes (junior). The pair can lead the Wildcats, who play Richmond Academy November 29 for the first time ever, to a GISA state title after last season’s trip to the quarterfinals.
@AugBball @AUGhoops @AUGUSTAbball @PQSports is mike dukes eligible at WSA? Because him and Watson-gayle can play with anybody in Aug— Future CEO (@daronlewis_) September 12, 2016
Westminster’s pair aren’t the only gifted players competing on teams in the independent leagues. The GHSA allowing Westminster, Augusta Prep, Alleluia, Augusta Christian, and Curtis Baptist to compete against its teams is a change perfectly timed for a hot streak in area private school talent.
Alleluia’s Ben Dresser is the team's leading returning scorer during the past two seasons of the Angels reaching the GICAA state championship game. Alleluia won the title Dresser’s sophomore season. The town does not have a better scorer than Ben. He showed me that again last Saturday when he scored 40 points (33 in the first half on 9 threes!) in a 91-81 PQ Sports Fall League win over Queens Grant of Charlotte. Watson-Gayle, who plays with Alleluia in the Fall League, added 37 in a two player scoring exhibition.
Augusta Prep’s Ryan Jolly probably has gotten more attention from college coaches and recruiting sites than anybody current playing in the area. It’s easy to see why because his combination of shooting, passing, dribbling and thinking skills are truly impressive. The Cavaliers play in Westminster’s region, so the rivals usually battle several times. Last season’s matchup at Westminster had a unique a unique and fun atmosphere. Westminster’s student section may be the best in town. When they meet this season 3 of the top 5-10 players in the area may be on the floor.
Add Augusta Christian’s 6’5” pure shooting sophomore guard Nate Dunlop, and the independent leagues easily have 5 great candidates to be chosen for the coming AugBball Preseason All Area teams.
Back to the public schools: Butler and Glenn HillsReplying to Daron's and my tweets about the independent schoolers, @AugHoops reminds us of Glenn Hills's potential.
@AugBball @daronlewis_ @AUGUSTAbball tough two also, will be interesting see it play out, but on another note the FRONT court of Glenn Hills— AUGhoops (@AUGhoops) September 12, 2016
After last season's struggles, 6'7" junior Timmy Sellers, a pair of newcomers in 6'4" freshman John Whitehead and 6'3" senior transfer Tony Sheppard, and returning guards Robert Drew (senior) and Eric Farmer (junior), led a much improved team to an impressive run through this summer's league at Butler.
And I couldn't agree more with @AugHoops for identifying Butler's Deandre Barton and Will Lambert as forces in the area hoops scene.
@AUGhoops @AugBball @daronlewis_ I think Butler's pair of Lambert and Barton have the most experience on the varsity level— AUGBasketball (@AUGUSTAbball) September 12, 2016
Butler will likely be many people's pick as the area's best team. These two, who I call the most athletic and physically tough players around, are big reasons for the optimism around Butler's chances this season. Here you'll see them take it right at last season's top duo in a close region tournament loss to Laney.
No place 4 softies was Thur's Laney-Butler dual. So impressed w competitiveness of Jasper, Barton, Keeling, Lambert pic.twitter.com/Kz4aCyGR7K— Chad Cook's AugBball (@AugBball) February 12, 2016
Barton(#12), Lambert(#10) playing relentlessly and Butler leads Laney 25-19 in 2nd quarter 3A semifinals. pic.twitter.com/zfmPqCo5wE— Chad Cook's AugBball (@AugBball) February 12, 2016
This boys high school hoops preview is only my first. Send me messages and feedback about the players and teams you think I should have included in this first post. I may already be planning to include them in parts 2 or 3. Or you may alert me to something I've missed. Thanks for reading and I'll see you in the gym!