The Hawks Naismith Classic, set up through a partnership between the Atlanta Hawks, the Naismith Awards and the Atlanta Tip-Off Club, will feature 32 teams from around the state in a three-day event at Norcross High School. The event will feature 16 games Dec. 21-23.
To view the schedule visit http://basketballacademy.hawks.com/pages/naismithclassic, where tickets may also be purchased. Three-day passes are $22.
Among the field are 23 teams that were state finalists last season, including 24 top-ranked Georgia players.
The Hawks are also holding free basketball clinics for kids ages 7-14 in conjunction with the event on Dec. 22 and 23.
Tight-playing Tigers: The Fayette County boys have won five straight, including a pair of wins in the Southern States Classic at Tri-Cities High School. The Tigers, now 7-2, beat Marietta and Rutherford (Florida) in the event. Fayette’s seven wins are by an average of five points per game, and since a season-opening loss to East Coweta, every one of their games has been decided by eight points or less. Junior Ricky Knight leads the Tigers at 16.6 points per game according to MaxPreps.
Carter driving Jackson-Atlanta: The Jackson-Atlanta boys are 10-0 and had its closest call Dec. 13 against Lithia Springs, prevailing 69-64 in overtime behind Marquavis Carter, who made 15 of 19 free throws and finished with 22 points. Carter is averaging 23.8 points, and has topped 20 eight times according to statistics on MaxPreps.
Thrillers in Region 5-AAAAA: The no. 3-ranked Columbia boys edged No. 4 Miller Grove 60-58 Friday night keyed by Lorenzo McGhee, who scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. In the girls game, Miller Grove scored five points in the final 30 seconds for a 46-44 comeback win.
Q&A with Jan Azar
Wesleyan girls coach Jan Azar is among the most successful high school basketball coaches in state history, with 12 state championship in 21 years at the Norcross private school, and former Wesleyan players have become coaches, WNBA players, professional players overseas and professionals in other fields. This year, her daughter Nicole is a freshman on the team, presenting a new experience for the veteran coach. The AJC chatted with Azar about her career and this year’s team. Here are excerpts from that conversation.
How is this year’s team progressing?
AZAR: We graduated eight seniors last year, so we’re really young. We’re getting better every game. Our younger players have a lot to learn for them to be able to step up by January. So they’re getting an opportunity to play against some really good teams. That’s helping them get better at a faster rate. Plus, going against some of our older players in practice is helping them a great deal. I have no doubt they’re going to be ready by the time we need them by the time region play starts in January.
Are the kids accustomed to expectations that come with the program’s success?
AZAR:We’ve got a number of kids who’ve come up through the program, and I think they kind of get it, but I’m not sure they fully get what it means to have everybody gunning for you every single night. I think they’re beginning to understand that.
Who has stood out so far?
AZAR:My two seniors, Amaya Register and Sutton West. Maya’s going to Old Dominion and Sutton is going to Furman, both to play basketball. They’ve had a great start for us. A.C. Carter, a sophomore who came off the bench for us last year is doing a great job in the rebounding and scoring categories. She’s really grown up a lot since last year. I’ve gotten her some experience last year in her freshman year. Callie Weaver has been a great surprise for us this year. I think we knew she was going to be good last year when she played in bits and pieces, but this is the first year she’s gotten to jump in there and play a lot. She’s doing a great job for us.
What’s the dynamic of coaching your own kid been like for you?
AZAR:It’s interesting. She’s been sitting on my bench since she was born. So she’s now getting to get out there in a uniform and get a little bit of playing time. We have made a deal that when she gets in the car after practice or game, we don’t talk basketball. I think we’ve both broken the deal a couple of times, but for the most part we’re going to do our best to enjoy the four years.
Who were some of your influences in coaching?
AZAR:When I first started out coaching, I was an assistant coach with my aunt at Mount de Sales Academy in Macon, Lynn Hatcher. We actually won the state championship in GISA when I was her assistant at Mount de Sales. She was very good at relating to the kids. I loved that about the way she coached the game. She had a wit about her and the girls liked her. I found that really important when you get after kids and you’re hard on them, they have to know that you’re a real person off the court, and you have to have a relationship off the court that you can be able to get really tough with them on the court.
What achievements or people associated with the program you are proudest of?
AZAR:I love winning and anybody who knows me will tell you that. I’m very competitive. I love to win that last game of the year. I tend not to sleep when we don’t. That’s a long bit of not sleeping if you lose that last game. But the biggest success that I think we have is the success of our players off the court. We’ve got some really good girls who have come through our program. They’re all good basketball players, but what they accomplished off the court is really more important to me.
One thing about high school sports you’d change?
AZAR:That’s a loaded question. What I would love to see is more women coaching men. You see men coaching women’s sports all the time but we’re in 2017 and we still haven’t seen that really take place a lot. I think it’s on both sides. I think most [coaches who are] women want to give back to the game they played and give back to the girls, and I would love to see that evolve more over time, in women coaching the men’s game in basketball and in other sports.
Are there Wesleyan teams in the past you’d compare this year’s team to?
AZAR:I idon’t know. This team’s very different. I don’t know that I’ve had a team this young before. I’m trying to think back. Eight was the biggest class I’ve ever had [to graduate]. I had a class of six years back, but eight’s a big class, so when you have a class that big, the classes behind it tend to be smaller. I just don’t know that I’ve ever had a team this young.
Player who has most exceeded your expectations?
AZAR:A player that I do remember is Sarah Moye, who had never really played a lot of basketball until she came here in the eighth grade, and honestly she was not very good. She was just athletic. She did not play much for us the first year or two, and by the time she hit her sophomore year, was one of my best players. She ended up going to College of Charleston on a basketball scholarship.
Have players/students changed?
AZAR:I will say a big change in athletics in general from when I started was the lack of numbers of kids who want to participate in multiple sports. I think it’s hurting numbers across the board, especially in girls sports. Some of my best players have been three and four sport athletes. I think that’s one thing that has changed in high school athletics in general is kids not getting out there and playing a lot of different stuff.
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