Departures of Miller Grove, Southwest DeKalb create opportunities

Miller Grove Wolverines head coach Sharman White holds up 7 fingers for their 7th championship win. He's flanked by Alterique Gilbert (3)j. KENT D. JOHNSON/ kdjohnson@ajc.com

Miller Grove Wolverines head coach Sharman White holds up 7 fingers for their 7th championship win. He’s flanked by Alterique Gilbert (3)j.
KENT D. JOHNSON/ kdjohnson@ajc.com

The Miller Grove boys have dominated their classification like no team in Georgia basketball history, winning seven state championships in the past eight seasons.

The Southwest DeKalb girls also have had a phenomenal run in that same time period, winning five championships in the past nine seasons.

But the Wolverines and Panthers are gone from the second-highest class now, shifted to AAAAA in the most recent reclassification. Their departure opens the door for some new faces on the podium in Class AAAAAA. Here are some of the teams to watch this season:

Boys

*Alpharetta: The Raiders have benefitted from their drop from the highest classification. Alpharetta was 11-18 a year ago and was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Now, they’re 12-1 overall, 6-1 and in first place in 7-AAAAAA, and No. 4 in the MaxPreps rankings. Alpharetta takes on Mill Creek on Wednesday in its opening game in the Deep South Classic.

*Brunswick: The Pirates won the only state title that Miller Grove left on the table, beating Allatoona in the 2015 state final. This year the Pirates are 9-1, their only setback a 62-61 loss to New Hampstead on Dec. 6. Brunswick is coming off two double-digit victories in the Tift County McDonald’s Invitational last week and returns to action Wednesday in the Deep South Classic.

*Gainesville: The Red Elephants (10-0) are the only remaining undefeated team in Class AAAAAA and hold the No. 1 spot in both the Score Atlanta and MaxPreps rankings. Gainesville went 3-0 in the recent Carrollton Christmas Tournament and begins play in the Lanierland Tournament on Wednesday against Flowery Branch. Gainesville went 21-6 last season and lost in the second round.

*Jonesboro: The Cardinals are 10-3 in their first season since moving up from the third-largest classification, where they won state championships in 2014 and 2015. Jonesboro recently went 3-1 at the City of Palms tournament and is 1-1 in its first two games at the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Guard M.J. Walker is the No. 23 player nationally in the 247Sports Composite rankings.

*South Paulding: The Spartans won their first nine games before losing to North Cobb Christian in the SEBA Hoops Festival, and they’ll take their 9-1 record into the Lake City Classic, beginning Wednesday at Allatoona. Seniors Ja’Cori Wilson (18.1 points per game) and Kane Williams (14.7) are the leading scorers. South Paulding lost to Miller Grove in the state quarterfinals last season.

Girls

*Douglas County: The Tigers (10-2) lost second-team all-state player Amira Atwater but return a lot of experience from a team that reached the semifinals in the highest class last season. Arsula Clark (17.5 points, 9.6 rebounds) and Amari Robinson (16.8 points, 9.5 rebounds) average close to a double-double. Douglas County is in first place in 5-AAAAAA, a game and a half ahead of Mays.

*Harrison: The Hoyas finished 23-6 and ranked No. 10 in AAAAAA last season, and their transition to the second-highest class has been a smooth one. Harrison (9-1) has won nine consecutive games since a 74-64 loss to Class AAAAAAA Norcross in the opener. The Hoyas are ranked No. 1 by MaxPreps and Score Atlanta. Guard Sydne Wiggins made second-team all-state as a junior.

*Sequoyah: The Chiefs (10-0) are the only remaining unbeaten team in AAAAAA going into the Campbell Holiday Tournament, which begins Wednesday. Sequoyah has just two seniors on its roster, and the top three scorers are juniors. The leader is Alyssa Cagle (12.6 points per game), who was a first-team all-region selection last season, when the Chiefs advanced to the state semifinals.

*Stephenson: DeKalb County schools have won 10 of the past 11 state titles in the second-largest classification, and the Jaguars might be the county’s best bet this season. Stephenson (8-4) has won eight straight since an 0-4 start and is tied with Lovejoy for first place in a deep Region 4-AAAAAA. Naomi Holloway averages 16.5 points per game and is the leading scorer in DeKalb County.

*Winder-Barrow: Last season’s state runner-up has won seven of eight games after a 1-3 start. Winder-Barrow (8-4) recently took second place in the CresCom Bank Holiday Invitational against a field that included Norcross and Wesleyan. Olivia Nelson-Ododa, the nation’s top-ranked junior, averaged 21.5 points and 10.8 rebounds and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.


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