OTR Top 15 – #’s 10 to 6
LAST YEAR: 21-8 (2nd in Region 7-7A, lost 38-37 to North Gwinnett in 7A Sweet 16)
TOP RETURNEES: London Johnson (6-4, JR. G), Jerry Deng (6-7, SR F), Mier Panoam (6-3, Jr, G), Samarion Bond (6-4, Jr. G), Hezekiah Flagg (6-3, SR, G), Aiden Sherrell (6-8, SO, F)
SUMMARY: The transfer loss to Donda Academy in CA of top 10 nationally-ranked 2024 forward Jahki Howard doesn’t quite feel like Scoot Henderson leaving Kell, but it’s a significant blow to a team that with him despite their youth had legit components to see Macon in early March. Showing up here as a top 10 team still means that hasn’t been altered a ton, although they surely moved down after Howard’s departure. But the above roster of returnees (and their likely top 6) is still awfully talented and awfully intriguing. Johnson may have had to share some spotlight with Howard despite his own impressive resume, but now the glare is his, and he’ll have the ball probably 28+ minutes a game to show off his myriad of skills. Deng looked leaner and more nimble this fall around the camps, and he has always had a knack for bucket-making with a soft touch and nifty moves around the rim. The two 2023 guards, Panoam and Bond, have such great natural gifts, and Bond in particular has expanded his game this fall further from the basket, so those two will have a lot to say about how deep this team can actually go.
OUTLOOK: Eight 7A teams are in our top 15, giving you an idea of how deep the classification is, so with one of the state’s toughest schedules this group will be nothing if not battle-tested, and the 3 core juniors may grow up fast and be the fire for a deep run.
LAST YEAR: 15-13 (4th in Region 7-7A, lost 63-42 to Milton in 7A Sweet 16)
TOP RETURNEES: Christian Drummer (6-4, SR, G), Damoni Harrison (6-5, SR, G), Major Freeman (6-2, SR, G), Mark Peah (5-10, SR, G), Ryen Jones (6-4, SR, F)
SUMMARY: This could be perceived as a sort of “trendy” pick coming off last year, but with 5 seniors this good leading the charge, and with multiple of them shining over the last 6 months in Live Periods and Showcases, the trend they may actually follow is the one leading to Macon. Drummer and Harrison comprise as good a guard tandem as there is anywhere in the state, as both can slide between spots and get points in bunches. Their defense, like everyone at Archer, is stellar. Having Jones healthy and back in form will be massive for the Tigers, he’s so athletic and plays bigger than 6-4 but can break down and guard the backcourt as well. Don’t sleep on the contributions of Freeman and Peah either, both sound and experienced veterans who can handle the ball and guard you like you’re their last meal. Young 6-6 sophomore Dominick Wright is a new face to watch and gives them a size aspect that helps vs all the tall and rangy frontcourts they’ll see in 7A.
OUTLOOK: I got to see a lot of these guys from June on, and it was just impressive showing after impressive showing. Call it trendy, but this is a group with all the pieces at full strength to get to Macon and win it all.
LAST YEAR: 22-4 (1st in Region 4-7A, lost 57-56 to McEachern in 7A Sweet 16)
TOP RETURNEES: Chauncey Wiggins (6-9, SR, F), Tyrese Elliott (6-3, SR, G), Gicarri Harris (6-4, SO, G), Chad Moodie (6-6, JR, F)
SUMMARY: Had senior Robert Cowherd not bolted for Southern California Academy this was a top 5 team, but now some of their impressive young talent will have to be key factors earlier. Harris is near the top of the 2024 class and seems ready to stamp his name on the scene with his inside-out game, while Moodie’s physical gifts have always been evident, his game rising to meet those gifts seems closely at hand. Seniors Wiggins and Elliott are both D1 players who provide critical infrastructure to a team that may need a couple weeks to find its stride against the type of schedule they’ll see. Buford transfer senior Caleb Blackwell was a good get for the Rams as he is polished and experienced and can take some of the load off Elliott for sure. Two other sophomores in Corey Gatlin II and Laz Mason factor in the backcourt as well, and 2025 big man Amir Taylor is a big-time name to watch in the freshman class.
OUTLOOK: Grayson and Archer may as well have been #8 and #8A as it was so close, but the edge in size and pedigree has the Rams slightly ahead, both face stiff tests with the teams ahead of them but are each 7A contenders for Macon.
7. PACE ACADEMY
LAST YEAR: 28-2 (1st in Region 6-2A, beat Columbia 73-42 in 2A Finals)
TOP RETURNEES: Josh Reed (6-6, SR, F), Matt Aronson (6-2, SR, G), Buck Hall (5-9, SR, G), LJ Moore (6-5, SO, F), Frank Caldwell (6-2, JR, G)
SUMMARY: Even at Pace you don’t lose two D1 players and a likely 3rd and not feel the pain, but a reload is always a possibility even with stringent admissions standards off West Paces Ferry. With not the depth of higher classifications, in 2A with a player back the caliber of Reed things can still look rosy. He’s capable of being the big shoulders that get them a shot at a 3rd-straight state title, and even though the above list of returnees isn’t chock full of star names, the complimentary pieces are always sound under Sharman White. The slithery Moore in particular has a chance to be seriously impactful in his sophomore year, as he is a relentless worker at both ends while offensive game is on the come. Three other impact newcomers include talented sophomore guard Kyle Greene Jr, who was scintillating during the June Live Period, 6-5 junior forward Kendall Evans, and fascinating 6-7 freshman Bryson Tiller, who casts an imposing shadow out on the floor for a young guy and is already garnering some national attention.
OUTLOOK: This group is a bit young so the “live in their basements” metrics-types might point to some needed time for building chemistry, but I say Coach White is as good as there is and his Knights will get a chance to test that chemistry inside another terrific schedule. Pencil them in for Macon and a shot to defend their two consecutive titles.
LAST YEAR: 25-4 (2nd in Region 2-7A, lost 74-67 to Milton in 7A Semifinals)
TOP RETURNEES: Andre Young (5-11, SR, G), Kami Young (6-2, SR, G, pictured above), Nyle Hillmon (6-1, SR, G), Jaiun Simon (6-6, JR, F), Xavier Bell (6-4, JR, G)
SUMMARY: Hard to believe you could say goodbye to 5 seniors as good as the ones who guided the Falcons to Macon last year, and then swoop right back into the top 6 with such ease. But such is the P’Brook program, and when you then get the gift of impact transfers like forward Kendall Campbell from Milton and Jordan Brown from Chattahoochee, well, then the band really begins to get excited for ’21-22. The backcourt trio of the two Youngs and Hillmon was already special with poise and scoring from multiple levels, but add in a break-you-down-off-the-dribble talent like Brown and the depth is scary. Scarier still has been the rapid ascension of Simon through the Fall Showcases to now, where he was a man among boys for most of that time and looked the part of a Power-5 forward for sure. Sneaky good is Bell, who plays a downhill and in-your-face style at both ends that is underrated but soon to be more suitably recognized.
OUTLOOK: At the college-level we talk about veteran guard play being the key to Final Four runs, shouldn’t be all that different at the highest classification in a state as good as GA, so with 4 senior guards with tons of experience and varied skillsets, and with Campbell joining an already good frontcourt, the Falcons will have a ton to say about who raises the 7A banner March 12.
15 OTHERS: Sandy Creek, Chapel Hill, Etowah, Tri-Cities, Buford, Baldwin, Windsor Forest, East Coweta, River Ridge, Fayette County, St. Pius, McEachern, Jonesboro, Grovetown, Alexander
December 5, 2023
December 4, 2023