Championship Preview: Boys Class AAAAAA


28-5, Region 5

Doug Lipscomb is Georgia high school basketball. The Wheeler head coach has won state championships across three decades including his and Wheeler’s first in 1994. This group of Wildcats look as good as any team Lipscomb has had, including his 1994 bunch that starred future NBA star Shareef Abdur-Rahim and former Georgia Bulldog D.A. Layne.

The Wildcats have five losses, but only one of them came at the hands of a team from Georgia, a 48-41 defeat by Milton on Feb. 8. Wheeler, however, trailed by seven at the half of its 67-52 win over Pebblebrook in the semifinals, but outscored Pebblebrook 20-4 in the third period to take control of the game. Junior forward Jaylen Brown led Wheeler with 21 points while Mississippi State football signee Elijah Staley added 19 and senior guard Avery Patterson had 14.

Brown, a 6-foot-7 small forward, is a highly-recruited star, something Wheeler has had a lot of in recent years. Brown has offers from programs like Arizona, Louisville, Kansas , Marquette and UCLA, in addition to in-state programs Georgia and Georgia Tech.

Junior center Daniel Giddens also stars for the Wildcats. The 6-foot-10 post player has offers from Georgia, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Kansas and Ohio State and will likely choose between those teams. He had 12 points and 11 rebounds in the semifinal despite being in foul trouble for much of the game.

Wheeler again ruled Region 5 this season, beating rival Walton three times, including twice by three points or less. The Wildcats also nearly fell to Etowah in the first game of the region tournament, before win- ning by two points. Wheeler narrowly escaped Shiloh and North Gwinnett in the state tournament, winning each by three points.

A championship would be Wheeler’s first since 2009.



27-3, Region 1

Tift County has made an appearance in the state playoffs every season since 1994. Despite owning the longest boys playoff streak in Georgia at 20 years, the Blue Devils have claimed just one state title (1996). The Blue Devils lost a heartbreaker (68-63) to North Cobb in the quarterfinals last year but these abrupt endings seem to motivate Tift County the following seasons. This year’s run to Macon began with a 70-49 win over Tri-Cities followed by a wild ending in a 60-57 second-round win over Lovejoy. Tift led the Wild- cats 44-28 at the start of the fourth quarter and held off Lovejoy’s furious comeback attempt and parade of three-pointers for the win.

In the quarterfinals, Tift County outscored a talented Hillgrove team 10-2 in the second quarter and left the Hawks with no answer for a comeback in the second half of its 56-47 win. Tift County’s best perfor- mance of the playoffs came in the semifinals against defending state champion Norcross last Saturday. Tift made the 200-plus mile journey to Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion and dethroned the reigning champs 78-70. Senior Tadric Jackson, a Georgia Tech signee, went off for a season-high 35 points on his future college court. The 6-foot-2 point guard netted 12-of-19 shots from the field and tallied five rebounds, three assists and four steals.

While Wheeler looks to slow down Jackson, the Blue Devils have one of the deepest rosters in the state. Senior D.J. Bryant averages in double figures and 6-foot-4 freshman P.J. Horne has been a huge factor to Tift’s success this year with his 13.2 points per game. LaDarius Stewart hit a huge three-pointer and scored 11 points in the semifinals win. Tift County is an excellent three-point shooting team and shoots 40 percent as a team. Bryant leads the category with 59 made three-pointers off of 47 percent shooting.

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