“Deft Handle” – Bracket Look-Ins The Rest
CUMMING, GA – While I’ve seen quite a few of the teams in the other classifications, we’re doing a Turbo run-thru look at 4A down to A-Public to polish off our Bracket look-ins, in this week’s expanded “Deft Handle” (formerly “Sage Speaks”).
By: Keith Agran
THINGS TO WATCH
Baldwin and Monroe in same section >> A collision course of two of the top teams in the classification and both from outside the ATL-area. The defending champ Braves feature one of the state’s best-kept secrets in junior guard Christian “Ice” Burnett and a deep cast of supporting players, while the Golden Tornadoes have a sleeper of a star of their own with explosive 2022 guard Domonik Henderson.
Spencer >> The boys from Columbus ended up with a nicely favorable draw from the pre-set, and despite their lone 2 losses coming from ATL-area teams, this is still a 25-win group to be reckoned with, led by talented 2023 G/F Tycen McDaniels.
McDonough and Druid Hills in same section >> If these two don’t have a slip-up, their potential Elite 8 matchup is must-see stuff. The Warhawks have been battling a bit of the “lack of respect-factor”, but with 23 wins and resume victories over Warner Robins, Fayette County (2 of 3), Jonesboro, Baldwin, Washington County and Tri-Cities, that seems kind of ridiculous to me. Demauriye Gasque, Avante Nichols, Daavion Thomas and a young star in 2024 Keenan Gray, there’s big-time talent up and down this roster. The Red Devils are powered by seniors Keshawn Evans up front and Karon Strickland and Harry Gewirtz in the backcourt, and have been playing consistently solid basketball all season on the way to their Region crown. After seeing them at TOC back in December they are the real deal.
A shame one of McDonough and Druid Hills has to go before they could have met later in the bracket, and the teams from outside the ATL-area mentioned above are really solid, particularly defending champion Baldwin. But I feel the Warhawks are on a mission, so I’m going with McDonough.
THINGS TO WATCH
Sandy Creek, Windsor Forest and Sumter County in same section >> This really exposes how silly the current bracketing process is. Until the Region tournaments, Sandy Creek and Windsor Forest have been at the top of the classification rankings with Sumter not far behind. As fun as it appears on paper, a potential 2nd-round game of Creek and Forest couldn’t be further from a balanced bracket. The Patriots out of Fayette County feature super-sophs Micah Smith and Amari Brown and have played one of the state’s most competitive schedules. Savannah’s Forest was as purely athletic as any team I saw all season with Georgetown-commit D’ante Bass and 2023 Qurahn Anderson providing many of the highlights. Meanwhile, lurking in the bottom half is Kyric Davis and Cameron Evans, so impressive were they when Sumter came up to Lemon Street and played really well.
Josh Fulton (pictured above) and Aidan Hadaway in same section >> Hopefully we get to see this possible Elite 8 matchup with GAC and LaFayette, featuring two of the real gems of the 2022 class and a pair of future D-1 standouts (Fulton at Bucknell and Hadaway at OhioU).
Salem >> No disrespect to the teams in that bottom right quadrant, but the Seminole are set up well with a team of serious gamers who can play fast or slow, intense or free-flowing. Led by a pair of active senior forwards in Brandon Kincaid and Jermriah Flournoy and a deep backcourt of athletic playmakers featuring senior Jacari Porter and rising-sophomores Clark Mastin and Jakorri Arnold, less than a Final Four visit seems somewhat disappointing to me after seeing them multiple times.
Such a shame 3 of the 4 top contenders reside in the same section, had they been spread out I’d have picked all 3 for the Final Four. Someone has to emerge, and with the kind of wins and preparation they’ve had, with the 2 sophomore stars, and the way they can defend, I’m going with Sandy Creek.
THINGS TO WATCH
Pace Academy and Columbia >> At least we lucked out and the clear top 2 teams in the classification are on opposite sides, this after the two teams split their regular-season matchups and have all the ability to give us a 3rd one in Macon (a rematch btw of last year’s final won by Pace). Speaking of scheduling to be ready for the postseason, the Knights played an incredible murderer’s row of opponents both in-state and out (see MaxPreps for proof), and despite graduating 3 big-time players still went 24-4 behind the dominant play of Cincinnati-commit Josh Reed and young stars 2024 KJ Greene and 2025 Bryson Tiller. Nestled in their nice little nook down in Decatur, Columbia went about their business this year matching Pace’s 24 wins and dispatching opponents. The marquee trio of 2022’s Mason Lochart and Quay Harrison and 2023 guard Raashad Headges is ably backed by a deep cast of well-drilled and versatile athletes, as the Eagles posted 80 points or better 10 times this year.
Look out for >> Washington County in Pace’s section, featuring slick senior guard Caleb Moore and senior forward Javecckio Thomas, Therrell in the lower right quadrant with their great depth led inside and out by seniors Djibril Barry and Keondre Jones, and Model out of Rome in that same quadrant with the Heard brothers 6-4 junior Jakenes and 6-8 sophomore Jeremias out front of a sneaky-good rest of the rotation.
Until someone knocks off Sharman White and Pace, it’s 3 in a row for the West Paces Ferry school before they move up to 4A next year.
In fairness >> Not a section I’ve seen a ton from, but at least it ended up balanced, appearing to luckily separate the top teams in the 4 quadrants. I have been fortunate to see both Social Circle (27-0) and Manchester (25-2), a pair of Region champions who put forth a pair of rosters laced with some truly good-looking ballers. The Redskin senior trio of KJ Reid, Cam Gaither and Tyrhell Branch sparks a group that defends 94 feet and can play with pace or use a deep rotation to water you done and beat you in the halfcourt. The Blue Devils were missing Cam Long when I saw them just before New Year’s down at Lamar County, but there was still plenty there to be impressed with having Tra’vion Jackson on the ball and Zyjuan Gray putting in the work on the interior.
Drew Charter >> Being the ATL-based big boy of this section so to speak affords them plenty of renown, as do resume wins over Woodward Academy, Providence Christian, Bowdon (twice) and Langston Hughes. Add to that talents like terrific senior guard Jakobe Strozier and junior big man Cedric Taylor, and it’s easy to see why they’re in the top 2 overall and the favorite to many.
Tough to make a comprehensively-educated pick based on somewhat sparse empirical knowledge, I haven’t seen Dublin but 27-1 is hard to just swat away as are their back-to-back Region titles. I have however seen 3 of the best in the classification, and while Drew Charter has size, skill and depth, I’m thinking this might be a special charmed season for overall #1 seed Social Circle.
Keith Agran has lived in Georgia since 2011 and joined OTR as a National Evaluator in 2021. He previously scouted for Prep Hoops dating back to 2019 and has both a championship-coaching background on the HS-level and daily newspaper writing experience, both from New Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @BracketSage.