Wednesday, November 9, 2016

AugBball Boys High School Preview: Part 2

*Coming soon will be coverage of the area's South Carolina based teams.
Senior Deandre Barton leads Butler against Lakeside and Kalen Wiliiams
Saturday at 8:30 in the area's first official high school game
and AugBball Game of the Night!

Part one of the AugBball boys high school hoops preview focused on the team's and players that were top of mind for a few of the area's most avid followers of the local scene. So it makes sense that most of the teams featured were from the heart of the city. We often think those who we are most familiar with are better than those we aren't.

But because the region alignments mix teams from various counties, Augusta's finest will will have to go through very capable teams from all over the CSRA to prove that the best basketball really is played within city borders. An extensive slate of November and December games pit Columbia County against Richmond County teams in non region play.

And schools like Thomson and Burke County, both consistent state tournament participants, join a region with Richmond and Cross Creek, Augusta teams also looking to repeat last season's post season success. Add teams like Hephzibah and Baldwin County, which appear to be on the rise, and you can quickly see why attempting to pick winners before the first jump ball is an impossible task.

But it's still fun for those of us who anticipate Saturday's AugBball Game of the Night tip-off of high school hoops (Lakeside @ Butler) to debate which teams will emerge as the area's best. Here I'll try to convince you that the teams featured in part two of the boys high school hoops preview can be every bit as good, especially in November when all teams have 0-0 records, as those featured in part one.

Is the talent in Columbia County catching up with Richmond County's?

This can be the year I'm proven right, or wrong, about my belief that increasingly the gap in the talent level is narrowing in the area's two biggest counties. Here are some interesting November match-ups that will test my theory:

*Game times are still unofficial

Lakeside @ Butler (AugBball Game of the Night) - Nov 12 - 8:30 P.M.

Richmond @ Grovetown (AugBball Game of the Night) - Nov 15 - 6:30 P.M.

Greenbrier Tip-Off Tourney

Josey vs Lakeside - Nov 18 - 7:00 P.M. @Greenbrier Middle

Laney @ Greenbrier (AugBball Game of the Night) - Nov 18 - 8:00 P.M.

Lakeside vs Laney - Nov 19 - 7:00 P.M. @Greenbrier High

Josey @ Greenbrier  - (AubBball High School Game of the Night) Nov 19 - 8:30 P.M.

Thanksgiving Tourney @ Paine

Evans vs Glenn Hills  - Nov 25 - 1:30 P.M.

Grovetown vs Laney - Nov 25 - 3:30 P.M.

Butler vs Greenbrier - Nov 25 - 6:45 P.M.

Lakeside vs Josey - Nov 25 - 8:00 P.M.

Evans vs Laney - Nov 26 - 12:00 P.M.

Glenn Hills vs Greenbrier - Nov 26 - 1:45 P.M.

Lakeside vs Richmond  - Nov 26 - 3:30 P.M.

Grovetown vs Josey - Nov 26 - 6:15 P.M.

The early season inter county matchups are interesting to me, and hopefully to the players, who I expect are competitive and eager for the chance to prove me right, or wrong, depending on which side of the county line they are situated. But because the Columbia County teams are all in one region, along with Alcovy and Heritage, the real goal will be to beat each other come January and beyond. Which team will emerge from the 6A region is simply a guess at this point.

Greenbrier will look to add to the progress made last season

Lakeside was the Columbia County team singled out in part one of the preview. The Panthers showed flashes of promise last season:

But the truth is Greenbrier was the county's most consistent team. The Wolfpack finished second in the regular season region standings, a spot behind Richmond and ahead of Cross Creek, Lakeside, Grovetown, and Evans. Greenbrier also impressed in non region action, sweeping a pair of games against Josey, a team many believe to be the top team in the area this season, and splitting with Strom Thurmond, which reached the South Carolina state tournament's second round.

Sophomore Richard Crawford III will aim to follow an impressive first season. Last year the sharp shooting guard helped the Wolfpack start their region schedule with a win over Cross Creek, scoring 17 points in a win at home. And he lit up rival Lakeside with 22 points on 7 threes in another home win that strengthened the Wolfpack's hold on the regular season region runner up spot.

Crawford will be joined by junior Austin Canaday, who showed promising signs two seasons ago before sitting out last season with a back injury. Senior David Harris will man the paint with his unique blend of rebounding, passing, and general court savvy. And David's brother Brandon, a sophomore who led the Wolfpack's JV squad last season, may be just as good as his brother.

Grovetown is more talented than most people realize

Grovetown's junior guard Eric Graham is probably the area's best returning scorer. In last week's "splash brothers" feature about Graham and his younger brother Josh (Columbia Middle) I noted that he failed to score in double figures only 6 times last season. His scoring average (15 ppg), three point percentage (42%), and 62 made threes for the season tell only part of Graham's scoring story. He has also proven himself to be a clutch player, as he showed in a Christmas tournament game against Aiken:

Graham's heroic shot came after a 5.7 second sprint to the hoop that started on the opposite baseline. The sophomore split two defenders near half court and dropped the shot over a third. He also made the basket that tied the game at 67 with 26 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and forced overtime.

Graham is joined by scrappy returnees Manny Bryson and Chance Fugghett as well as freshman Chris Williams and a couple key transfers.

A much anticipated crop of underclassmen will lead the way at Evans

After losing three key seniors, Evans will rely on a promising group of underclassmen to pave the way into the future. The video below shows 6 players I've seen during the off season who look like they can contribute to a successful team. And I can think of a couple I didn't include. With this many talented players, coach Kevin Kenny has the ingredients to get back to the state tournament more than once during the next few seasons.

The 4A race is wide open, despite what I wrote about Richmond in part one

I predicted Richmond would be the area's top team in part one of the preview. But an argument can certainly be made for Thomson, as GHSA expert Kyle Sandy did by placing the Bulldogs in his statewide 4A top 10. Thomson returns 6'4" senior Darius Turman, a lefty who hurts defenses slashing to the rim and making plays from the perimeter. During the three games I saw Thomson play last season (versus South Aiken, Laney, and Liberty County), he was the team's most effective player. Fellow senior Radaren Johnson has started and contributed mightily the past two seasons as well.

Burke County is another 4A team to watch from just outside the Augusta area. While Richmond and Thomson aim to make their second straight trip to the state tournament, the Bears, who finished third in their region behind Thomson and state champ Liberty County, will be working on their third trip to the post season. Zayveon Williams and Deontae Carter are a couple of the players I've recently seen who look ready to contribute to that cause.

Even though Cross Creek, Baldwin County, and Hephzibah are at different stages of their expected development, all three have a lot to be optimistic about during their coming two year long 4A region run.

The Razorbacks finished third in their very strong 10 team 5A region tournament last season, and coach Brian Anderson's squad was one of only three teams - the others being state champ Miller Grove and region champ Warner Robins - to beat Richmond Academy after Christmas time. Moses Jones, now a South Georgia Jet graduated. But senior Artis Chapman returns after starting his sophomore and juniors seasons. And moving up will be last season's Richmond County junior varsity championship team players.

Baldwin head coach Buck Harris's first season in Milledgeville was a success because the Braves learned how to win, topping 1A state public school runner up Hancock and 5A state tourney team Jones County. And Baldwin won 10 games after only 3 the prior season. Just as promising for Harris, an Augusta native who has coached many of the town's greatest teams and players (2015 Laney and 1995 Ricky Moore are two of many examples) we've seen, is the potential of his current sophomore guard tandem of Donta Justice and Torez Hicks, who led the team as freshmen.

Hephzibah lost every game last season. But a core of underclassmen have shown promise. Juniors Tim Williamson and Jonquez Smith have taken their lumps, experience that may come in handy if they, and other promising young Rebels, are as good as I think they can be. There has never been a shortage of talent in Hephzibah. During recent years key players have transferred. This year's and next year's freshmen classes have enough talent to join with the sophomores and juniors, who are hopefully hungry for wins, to change the tradition at Hephzibah.

Hephzibah and Harlem are two teams aiming to establish a winning tradition.

Don't forget about Laney and Westside

I can't imagine typing that title 10 months ago! The Wildcats and the Patriots were the town's two best teams, judging strictly by who beat whom, most of last season. And we didn't even mention them in part one of the preview! But I want to be clear in saying that the truth is we didn't get to them. There is a difference, and that is that I believe these two teams are just as likely as Butler, Josey, and Glenn Hills, to finish at the top of the 2A region. Both teams lost a lot to graduation and transfers. But Laney's Donald Henley, Tahj Tanksley, Willie Eubanks, and Keonze Perkins, and Westside's Justin Phillips and Elijah Brown, have contributed to more wins in meaningful games than all the players mentioned in part one. The region 2A race is at least a five team sprint. Adding to the fun would be the resurgence of a surprise team(s) like Harlem (shown above), Jefferson County, or Screven County.

Two 1A loose ends to tie up

I got a tip that area newcomer Jelani Shakur will be a treat to watch. If so, Aquinas, who was featured in part one and enters this season with much higher expectations because of a host of returnees and some key transfers, may be even better than people think. Two Fighting Irish games I'll look forward to are against 1A public elite 8 round finisher Lincoln County. Coach Wes Wuchte enters his fourth season as coach of the Red Devils, and of the extended area's most talented inside player, 6'7" senior Ahmad Rand.

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