Best basketball teams in 7A: McEachern’s boys, girls set standard

The City of Palms tournament gave a special shoutout to McEachern guard Sharife Cooper after the sophomore’s 42-point effort in a victory over nationally ranked Hudson Catholic of New Jersey last week. It was only the 24th time in tournament history (dating to 1973) that a player had scored 40 in a game.

Welcome to the first Class AAAAAAA basketball blog of the season.

All-state football is in the books, and basketball season in a few weeks old already, so let’s get caught up.

Here are four boys teams and four girls teams that are arguably the most interesting, if not best, teams in their classifications.

BOYS

-McEachern, a semifinalist last season, has never won a state title. This is probably the first time the Indians have been the team to beat since the days of Josh Smith. McEachern is 8-0 and ranked No. 9 nationally in MaxPreps’ Xcellent 25. The Indians beat fourth-ranked Hudson Catholic of Jersey City, N.J., 83-81 last weekend in overtime in the City of Palms Classic in Fort Meyers, Fla. Sharife Cooper, a slightly built but superbly talented 5-foot-10 point guard, scored 42 points and hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer. He has several Power 5 Conference offers. But he’s not the team’s best player, yet. Isaac Okoro, a 6-5 junior guard, is a five-star recruit and the state’s No. 1 prospect. Every other starter on the floor is 6-6 or taller.

– Norcross, the 2017 runner-up to Tift County, is probably the most dependable contender in the highest classification, and so it is again despite the graduation of Rayshaun Hammonds, who is doing well in Georgia’s starting lineup. The Blue Devils are 8-2. A 56-55 loss to Lakeside of DeKalb County wasn’t their best effort, but they have nice out-of-state wins against Mountain Brook of Birmingham (No. 2 overall in Alabama) and Wesleyan Christian of High Point, N.C. (No. 4 in North Carolina). They have a big game Saturday against Holy Spirit Prep of Atlanta in the Hawks-Naismith Holiday Classic, a 16-game event that Norcross is hosting. The team’s strength is experienced guards Kyle Sturdivant, who is being recruited by Georgia Tech, Auburn and others, and Dalvin White, another Division I prospect. Small forward JoJo Toppin, who has signed with Georgia, is a bigger factor this season. He was the sixth man last season.

– Newton has made the quarterfinals each of the past three seasons, including a semifinal run in 2016, and would be disappointed at anything less this season. First-team all-state guard J.D. Notae is off to Jacksonville (where he is averaging 14 points, by the way). But Ashton Hagans, a junior three-year starter, is the program’s best player during its recent rise. A five-star recruit, Hagans committed to Georgia on Thursday. He left Newton in the off-season with intentions of joining Virginia’s famed Oak Hill Academy, but changed his mind. He was averaging a triple double of 21 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds through his first six games. Newton is 7-2, a little out of sorts from losing to Mountain View 66-65 in overtime last week. The Rams have a big game Saturday against defending champion Tift County at the Hawks-Naismith Holiday Classic at Norcross.

– Grayson made its first final four in history last season and has three all-region players back. Those are guards Travis Anderson and Nick Edwards and 6-6 Kenyon Jackson. Grayson (7-1) suffered its only loss 67-64 to Warner Robins, the No. 1 team in Class AAAAAA. Grayson beat Newton 74-73 on the road earlier this month to get a leg up in the Region 8 standings. More will be known about Grayson over the holidays. The Rams are playing in Wheeler’s Tournament of Champions Holiday Classic on Dec. 28-30. In their bracket are defending AAAAAA champion Langston Hughes, perennial powers Pebblebrook and Miller Grove and four out-of-state teams.

Others to watch: We’ll check in on Pebblebrook, Wheeler, Meadowowcreek, Peachtree Ridge and more in coming blogs.

GIRLS

-McEachern is chasing an unprecedented fifth state title in the highest class and has plenty of weapons to do it despite graduating its two leading scorers (Que Morrison, Lyndsey Whilby). Point guard Chanel Wilson (12.9 points, 5.0 assists last season) is committed to Indiana. Jasmine Carson, a 5-10 guard who has signed with Georgia Tech, is a transfer from Memphis Central. She scored 24 points in her first McEachern game. Another interesting addition is Denim DeShields, a freshman. She is the sister of former Norcross star and AJC all-class player of the year Diamond DeShields. But the team is not unbeatable. Region 3 rival North Cobb knocked off the champs 57-51 on Dec. 15.

-Collins Hill (10-1) has the most talented roster east of McEachern, or perhaps including. It’s basically the same cast that took the team to the semifinals last season. Bria Harmon, a junior, has started at the point since she was a freshman and been committed to Purdue for two years. Javyn Nicholson, another junior, is committed to Georgia. Jada Rice has signed with N.C. State. Jaron Stallworth, a 6-foot forward, has signed with Mercer. Collins Hill scored a significant victory Thursday against Buford, winning 56-48 against the Class AAAAA champions. That was Buford’s first loss. Harmon, Nicholson, Rice and Stallworth each scored in double figures. MaxPreps now ranks Collins Hill as the top Georgia girls team in any class.

-Norcross was the runner-up to McEachern last season and figures to contend again despite a season-ending knee injury to Pittsburgh signee Tehya Lyons. Starters Raven Etheredge, Janee Knorr and Devyn Wilson are back. Norcross is 10-2 after losing to Wesleyan Christian, one of North Carolina’s best teams, 58-56 on Wednesday. The team will learn more about itself this week at the CresCom Bank Invitational in Myurtle Beach, S.C.. Norcross won its opener, a 71-44 win over Franklin County of South Carolina, on Thursday. Norcross plays Neumann-Goretti of Pennsylvania in semifinals today.

-Westlake is off to a 7-0 start. Seniors Taylor Hosendove (13.1 pg, 3.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists) and Anastasia Warren (12.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.16 assists, 3.1 steals) are the leaders, but freshman Raven Johnson (9.6 points, 4.6 assists) is providing a spark. Westlake has made the quarterfinals each of the last three seasons.

Others: We’ll check in on Cherokee, North Forsyth, South Gwinnett, Newton and more in coming blogs.


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