The Class AAAAA championships will be determined today at Stegman Coliseum in Athens. The girls game is between defending state champion Southwest DeKalb and Buford and begins at 6 p.m. The boys game is between Cedar Shoals and Buford and begins at 8 p.m.
Boys: Buford vs. Cedar Shoals
There won’t be any extensive scouting report needed for either team prior to the Class AAAAA boys championship showdown between Buford and Cedar Shoals. They’ve already played each other three times and seen each other on numerous other occasions.
No. 1 Buford has won the three previous meetings, one of them in overtime. But there’s one thing that may be in favor of No. 2-ranked Cedar Shoals when they meet in the title game on Wednesday at 8 p.m. The game is at Stegman Coliseum at the University of Georgia, which gives Cedar Shoals the potential to have a large homecourt advantage.
“I can’t even describe it,” Cedar Shoals coach L’Dreco Thomas said. “It’s going to be a great feeling to be in Athens to play for a championship in front of a home crowd, people I grew up with and have known all my life, from all walks of life. I hope to see the Coliseum filled with people from Athens to get behind these kids.”
Of course, the Buford crowd travels well, too. The Wolves had the largest contingent on Saturday in Columbus and will have the benefit of having their girls in the 6 p.m. championship game.
Cedar Shoals finally got over the hump to reach the final. The Jags had been eliminated the two previous years in the Final Four. Thomas reminded his team – which starts five seniors – that this may be their best chance.
One of the starters is forward Phlandrous Fleming, a Charleston Southern signee. Fleming scored 25 in the semifinals and is capable of taking over a game and making it look easy.
Buford is on the opposite side of the fence. The Wolves start one senior, but their most talented players are underclassmen. Buford starts two sophomores and two juniors. Junior Alex Jones is a playmaking point guard who distributes the ball and is a deadly 3-point shooter. Sophomore Marcus Watson, who could be a big-time signee, is a smooth beyond his years and possesses a deadly 3-point shot. David Viti is a junior forward whose father played for coach Eddie Martin back in his days at Brookwood.
Ranking: No. 1 seed from Region 8; ranked No. 1 in state.
Coach: Eddie Martin
Starting lineup: F Marcus Watson, PG Alex Jones, F David Viti, G Donell Nixon, F Tobi Obasanya or Dawson Wehunt
How they got here: Def. Lithia Springs 75-63, def. New Hampstead 69-68, def. Warner Robins 94-72, def. Fayette County 83-60
Cedar Shoals Jaguars
Ranking: No. 2 seed from Region 8; ranked No. 2 in state.
Coach: L’Dreco Thomas
Starting lineup: G Phlandrous Fleming, F Stavion Stevenson, F Quenjarvis Hall, G Arthur Jones, G Damarrea Low
How they got here: Def. Maynard Jackson 64-47, def. Statesboro 48-35, def. Lithonia 59-52, def. Miller Grove 59-38.
Girls: Buford vs. Southwest DeKalb
It would be hard to come up with a championship game between two schools with more championship credentials than Buford or Southwest DeKalb. Buford has won fours tate championships under coach Gene Durden (2009-2011, 2015) and Southwest DeKalb will be playing for the title for the eighth time in 10 years. The Panthers won it all in 2008-2010, 2013 and 2016.
The two teams are similar in style. Southwest is a fundamentally sound team that applies pressure and defends the goal. Buford is equally sound and plays at a frenetic pace, hoping to eventually wear down the opponent by using waves of players.
“Buford is very disciplined, they execute, they’ve got great talent,” said SWD coach Kathy Richey, who earned her 350th career win when the Panthers beat Flowery Branch in the Final Four. “I’ve been watching (Buford point guard) Tori Ozment play for several years and that’s a tall order.”
Ozment, a 6-foot-1 point guard, is a luxury few teams have. The highly recruited junior is an excellent ball handler and shooter who doesn’t mind distributing the ball to her teammates. Forward Audrey Weiner has been a dangerous shooter in the playoffs and senior Zikaya Wright can handle herself inside.
Southwest is led by Texas A&M signee Jada Walton, who is playing in her third state championship game, and center Ruona Uwusiaba, who has signed with Central Florida. Point guard Chantz Cherry, a Stony Brook signee, wore goggles last week after getting scratched in the eye during the semifinal game.
“They’re a great team,” Durden said. “We’ve got to bring our best game. We’re just happy to be there. We’ll come Wednesday and be ready to play.”
Ranking: No. 1 seed from Region 8; ranked No. 2 in state.
Coach: Gene Durden
Starting lineup: G Tori Ozment, F Audrey Weiner, C Zikaya Wright, G Pamela Johnson, F Marissa Bruce
How they got here: Def. Decatur 78-36, def. Ware County 76-41, def. Warner Robins 77-56, def. Griffin 88-50.
Southwest DeKalb Panthers
Ranking: No. 1 seed from Region 5; ranked No. 3 in state.
Coach: Kathy Walton
Starting lineup: G Jada Walton, G Lanee Edwards, C Ruona Uwusiaba, G Cherry Chantz, F Michaela Benefield
How they got here: Def. Kell 64-25, def. McIntosh 45-36, def. Eagle’s Landing 71-56, def. Flowery Branch 66-63.