OTR Top 15 – #’s 5 to 1
5. EAGLE’S LANDING
LAST YEAR: 27-1 (1st in Region 4-5A, beat Tri-Cities 81-69 in 5A Finals)
TOP RETURNEES: AJ Barnes (6-5, SR, G), David Thomas (6-3, JR, G), Jordan Fordyce (6-4, SR, G), Fabian DeSilva (6-5, SR, F), Amari Jackson (5-11, SR, G), Kenneth Brayboy (6-5, JR, F)
SUMMARY: With all this returning talent from a team that steamrolled its way past the likes of Sandy Creek, East Coweta and Greenforest in the non-conference and then took its act all the way through to the 5A title in Macon over a loaded Tri-Cities team, I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to make a case that this the best team in the ATL-Metro. That would of course put them 1st on this list, yet they’re not, so let the debate rage. That fun aside, this team is scary loaded again for another run with the likes of big guards Barnes and Fordyce athletically patrolling the perimeter, and highly-touted junior PG Thomas running the show as one of the best 2023 players in the state. The supporting cast is deep and athletic, and toss in new contributors 2023’s Kylan McKennie and Isaiah Parrot and 2024 Tylon Redmond, and there’s even more depth and skill and excitement in Eagle Country.
OUTLOOK: Anything less than another Final Four trip might be considered a disastrous result down in McDonough, less than a championship I frankly think will take a gargantuan-opposing effort from noteworthy contenders Chapel Hill, Tri-Cities, Jonesboro and St. Pius among others.
LAST YEAR: 27-5 (1st in Region 6-6A, beat Kell 71-61 in 6A Finals)
TOP RETURNEES: Isaiah Collier (6-3, JR, G), Kyle Burns (6-3, SR, G), Juvon Gamory (5-9, SR, G)
SUMMARY: This is actually, outside of the 3 key guards above, a young and new team for Coach Larry Thompson, but the new faces are so good that it was hard to have them fall very far, if at all. A 3rd-straight state title will be energized by Collier, Burns and Gamory, an uber-experienced group that has been through the incredible gauntlet of quality competition the Wildcats have faced over the last 2 seasons. Add in 3 transfers – junior Jelani Reynolds from Marietta, a tremendous wing athlete and fast-riser on the recruiting trail, 6-6 sophomore Klairus Amir from Osborne and 6-9 junior Cameron Brown from Mays – together with another fast-riser in junior 6-8 Arrinten Page, and the diversity of lineups available to Thompson becomes clear. The young frontline could be scintillating or could be a year away from being the monsters they appear to be on paper, and as the terrific guards can only do so much, it will be interesting to see how quickly this team jells and what it morphs into come playoff time.
OUTLOOK: Couldn’t get me to bet against Thompson with free wings for year after what’s he shown the last two seasons mixing and matching returnees with new faces. A 3rd-straight banner will have to be ripped from their grasp.
LAST YEAR: 14-9 (2nd in Region 4-7A, lost 87-59 to Pebblebrook in 7A Sweet 16)
TOP RETURNEES: Stephon Castle (6-5, JR, G), Jakai Newton (6-4, JR, G), Qua Brown (6-4, SR, G), Miokaye Grant (6-7, SR, F), Ashton Pennamon (5-9, JR, G), Marcus Whitlock (6-2, JR, G)
SUMMARY: The late summer departure of TJ Clark to Overtime Elite certainly turned a few heads around town, but naturally in Covington it was a particularly tough blow to absorb. The shooting guard is one of the ATL-Metro’s best pure shooters, and leaves a leadership hole on what is an experienced but still underclass heavy team. Yet here they are at #3 nonetheless, largely due to a trio of junior guards who can make a case for having no peer on any other roster in the state not named “Milton”. Castle, Newton and Brown are all high D1 talents with Castle down to his top 6 choices, Newton headed to Indiana and Brown announcing just today he’s staying home with the Georgia Bulldogs. Another reason for the Rams staying this high is a frontcourt that was heavily bolstered by the arrival of 6-7 senior Daniel Pounds from Forest Park, an absolute glass-eater with a ripped frame and a taste for hearty dunks. He joins senior holdover Grant to form a fearsome twosome beneath the twine.
OUTLOOK: The roster looks and feels like a college team already, with chiseled bodies and equally refined games to spread the floor and push you around inside. The top 2 teams on our list will have all they can handle to hold off this group from snatching a 7A banner.
LAST YEAR: 25-6 (1st in Region 7-7A, lost 52-47 to Milton in 7A Finals)
TOP RETURNEES: Malique Ewin (6-10, SR, F), Jermahri Hill (6-5, SR, G), Jameel Rideout (6-4, SR, G), Ahmed Soumahoro (6-3, SR, G)
SUMMARY: The loss of Destin Logan to TSF Prep was offset some by the arrival of transfers Brycen Blaine and Antoine Hurns from Virginia and Indiana, respectively. Both are more than big bodies, and while it remains to be seen if they can offset the loss of Logan’s big-shotmaking ability, it’s certainly an unquestioned luxury to have two in for one. The senior trio of Ewin, Hill and Rideout are understandably hungry beyond words to cut to the chase in late February and grab another shot at the title in Macon, but the 3 stars will have to be at their very best against a national schedule filled with high-level tests but also potential speed bumps. Still, they’ll be in the bracket of course, and we can only hope opposite Milton so we can fill in another exciting rematch in our pools.
OUTLOOK: Barring major injury this is a 7A finalist, whose virtually intact returning roster from last year and 2 new notable faces have the tools to wrestle that banner away from the mighty Milton Eagles.
LAST YEAR: 28-3 (1st in Region 5-7A, beat Berkmar 52-47 in 7A Finals)
TOP RETURNEES: Bruce Thornton (6-3, SR, G, pictured above), Kanaan Caryle (6-2, JR, G), Cam Walker (6-3, SR, F), LT Overton (6-5, JR, F), Seth Fitzgerald (6-3, JR, G), Michael Feinberg (6-7, SR, F),
SUMMARY: There’s very little not to like about this roster even after Kendall Campbell left for Pebblebrook, they still had added terrific senior guard Chase Cormier from Greenforest and active 6-7 forward Jonathan Murray from Alabama to a savvy team of experienced Eagles. The group of Thornton, Caryle, Walker, Overton and Fitzgerald have been together essentially for 3 years now, and you can’t buy that kind of homegrown experience or underscore its immense value. Options abound for steely Coach Allen Whitehart when Overton is fully integrated from football (where he’s the top DE in the country), and even before that this is the best team in the state and a consensus top 20 team in the country in every poll I’ve seen.
OUTLOOK: Such maturity, such depth of basketball acumen across multiple positions, elite coaching, and a pedigree built on success. That’s an awfully tough resume to top even in a goliath of a division like 7A.