Four days, two new locations and a field of 34 state finalists; the GHSA basketball state finals are back and bigger than ever. The changes made in the past year were significant as the landscape has changed throughout the classifications. Gone is the three-day Macon marathon and arriving is a more spread out finals schedule that will start on Wednesday to accommodate the now eight different classifications crowning state champs.
The state’s first Class 7A basketball state champs will be celebrated this Saturday. Starring in the girls final is Norcross and McEachern, which each make their sixth finals appearances in the past eight years. These two programs will hold the last eight titles in the state’s highest classification come Saturday. The Norcross boys have returned to the finals for the first time since 2013 and could give the Blue Devils a rare title sweep if the Norcross girls defeat McEachern in the 6 p.m. timeslot on Saturday. The Tift County boys, however, are hunting for their own title after clinching the Class 6A state championship in 2014. The last time the Norcross boys and Tift County boys faced each other was on the same Georgia Tech court in 2014 when Tift County took a 78-70 victory into the finals.
STARS OF THE SHOW
Both Class 6A matchups boast a prolific scorer that is capable of putting together the type of finals performance that will be talked about for years to come. In the girls final between Harrison and Mays, Kamiyah Street has scored a combined 65 points in the past two games and used a personal 16-0 scoring run to help Mays overcome a 16-point deficit and rally to beat Lovejoy 50-42 in the semifinals. Landers Nolley brings a similar ability to takeover games into the boys Class 6A finals between his Hughes Panthers and the 2015 Class 5A state champion Brunswick Pirates. Nolley drilled seven three-pointers off nine attempts and poured in a game-high 34 points in Hughes’ 59-57 win over Allatoona in the semifinals.
The Buford boys and girls both advanced to the Class 5A finals, but it will be the boys looking for their first state title after the Lady Wolves square off with defending Class 5A champion Southwest DeKalb in search of their fifth all-time state title.
In Class 4A, St. Pius looks to make history and take home the program’s first-ever state title, but the stakes are equally high for 31-0 Upson-Lee which seeks perfection as well as the program’s first championship. An All-City showdown between Carver-Columbus and Columbus in the Class 4A girls finals is one of two significant matchups between neighboring schools. In Class 3A, Beach and the Johnson-Savannah girls set up a Savannah showdown that will take the court at Stegeman Coliseum on Thursday.
In the Class 3A boys final, Duke-signee Wendell Carter Jr. plays his final varsity game for defending Class 2A state champion Pace Academy against the defending Class 3A state champion Morgan County Bulldogs, which make their fourth consecutive finals appearance.
The Rabun County girls put their historic season on the line against 30-1 Laney in the girls 2A final, while one-loss South Atlanta faces Swainsboro and Jaylan McKinney, who comes off a 32-point semifinal, in the boys 2A championship.
Southwest Atlanta Christian’s Deaundre Ballard comes off a 41-point semifinal performance as his Warriors take on top-ranked Greenforest Christian in the boys A-Private finals. In the girls A-Private championship, Wesleyan and Holy Innocents’ are squaring off in the finals for the fourth straight year. Wesleyan aims for a state-record 12th state title against the defending champion Bears.
In Class A-Public, the Pelham girls have taken a 34.6 average margin of victory into their championship showdown with No. 1 seed Telfair County. Meanwhile, 2015 state champion Calhoun County is the only thing standing in the way of Wilkinson County’s ninth state title in the boys A-Public final.