Meadowcreek’s Gilleylen on historic title: Players ‘gave me everything they had’

Gilleylen celebrates with players after the game. Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

Meadowcreek’s appearance in the Class AAAAAAA state boys basketball championship finals capped off the program’s most successful season in school history with its first title.

Over the last 10 years, Meadowcreek’s postseason highlights include two trips to the second round, where they suffered losses to Norcross in 2009 and Wheeler in 2012. Norcross defeated Meadowcreek on three separate occasions during the regular season and region tournament, twice on last-second threes.

“We couldn’t lose, the last losses were heartbreaking,” head coach Curtis Gilleylen said. “We felt the refs added time to both games to allow for both buzzer beaters. It was personal. We felt like something was taken away from us.”

The neck-and-neck finals saw a change in lead nine times during the first half. But the Mustangs knew how to keep Norcross from scoring.

“We had to keep them out of the middle,” Gilleylen said. “Brandon [Boston] likes to attack the middle. We had to keep them out of their sweet spots. We’d played them three times before, so we knew what they wanted to do.”

Norcross, unable to drive up the middle, sought out other scoring opportunities from shots beyond the arc and trips to the charity line. The answer seemed to lie with Boston and junior guard Kyle Sturdivant, who accounted for 15 of the Blue Devils’ 26 first-half points in a one-point Meadowcreek halftime lead, 27-26.

Keeping Meadowcreek in the game were senior power forward Amari Kelly and senior point guard Dequarius Nicholas. Kelly ended up with 12 points and eight rebounds, while Nicholas contributed a game-high 16 points, two assists and two rebounds. Heading into the locker room, Gilleylen had one important message to his players.

“The main thing is to be in the moment,” he said. “I hadn’t been to the championships before, but I’ve been to the Final Four. If I could go back, I’d tell those kids to be in the moment.”

Heading into the third quarter, the high-scoring duo of Sturdivant and Boston fell victim to foul trouble. Strong pressure from the Meadowcreek offense forced the two Blue Devils to foul, limiting their ability to drive hard and create contact. The 17 total points scored in the third displayed the dramatic change in pace of the game, though this was all a part of the Mustangs’ plan. Now competing against a slowed-down Norcross offense, Meadowcreek limited the Blue Devils’ ability to find its spots on the floor.

The fourth quarter featured a total shift in game play as Meadowcreek’s Nicholas and Jamir Chaplin began to heat up, totaling 16 points and eight rebounds together in the fourth quarter. Three massive dunks by Chaplin fired up his team as they continued to put the pressure on Norcross. The Mustangs wouldn’t let up as time expired and secured their first-ever state title in school history with a 56-43 victory.

“We earned this,” said Chaplin after the game. “We fought for this in every way.”

Gilleylen agreed.

“They gave me everything,” he said. “None of them are ranked top in their class. They came from out of nowhere and they gave me everything they had. I demanded more, and they gave it to me. I expect great things from those guys. We pushed them, and they responded. Towards the end of the season they got mentally exhausted, but they bounced back.”

Now that the dust has settled on their breakthrough season, Gilleylen heads into next season with high hopes and big expectations.

“I feel good. This is what you put the hours in for. At the end of the day, everyone in this community can claim ownership to this and use it as motivation. Much like Kentucky or Duke, players will be able to envision playing here at Meadowcreek.”

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