Sunday, June 30, 2019

Top 20 Area Showcase Rosters

The girls will tip off today at 4:00 at Richmond Academy, immediately after Laney takes on Glenn Hills in the championship game of the Clash of the Classes alumni tournament. The boys will tip off at 5:00. Here are the rosters:

Team Black
John Whitehead - Glenn Hills - 2020
Kobe Stewart - Cross Creek - 2020
Emmanuel Jones - Glenn Hills - 2020
Latavian Lawrence - Gray Collegiate (transferred from Silver Bluff) - 2020
Dykese King - Laney (transferred from Lakeside) - 2020
Jordan Stringer - Laney - 2021
Malik Ferguson - Grovetown - 2023
Ahmad Hunt - Augusta Christian - 2022

Team White
RJ Felton - Aiken (transferred from North Augusta) - 2021
Zy Wright - Aquinas - 2020
Richard Visitacion - Butler - 2021
Joshton Mincey - Evans - 2021
Maurice Williams - Josey - 2020
Dajuan Collins - Laney - 2021

Team Black
Jordyn Dorsey - Cross Creek - 2021
Tyliah Burns - North Augusta - 2020
Nekiyah Booker - Laney - 2020
Amani Jones - Josey - 2020
Dmya Griffin - Grovetown - 2022
Micah Bess - Cross Creek - 2020
Lauren Brady - Butler - 2021
Destiny Culver - Butler - 2020
Whitney Anderson - Laney - 2021
Sinclair Fryer - Laney - 2022

Team White
Jmani Ingram - North Augusta - 2020
Raquanna Drayton - Laney - 2020
Raven Birt - Jefferson County - 2021
Kiana Lee - North Augusta - 2021
Keona Curtis - Grovetown - 2022
Deajah Houck - Josey - 2021
Alteona Collier - Laney - 2021
Brionna Simms - Butler - 2021

Friday, June 28, 2019

Check out the Clash of the Classes alumni tournament this weekend at Richmond for some summer hoops entertainment

David Beard has earned a reputation for organizing some of the most entertaining, competitive and well attended basketball events every year. His Glenn Hills alumni basketball game set attendance records at Michael Curry Gymnasium last October and raised more than $7,000 for the Glenn Hills athletic department.

Now Beard has organized an alumni basketball tournament that will include former players from seven Augusta schools, with Thomson rounding out the eight team field, that will compete in bracket play this Saturday and Sunday at Richmond Academy. The first game is tomorrow at 11:00, and the championship game will be played Sunday at 3:00, right before two special high "showcase" games. David recently shared that the tournament will feature 96 of the best former players from year’s past. I’ve seen the rosters, and he’s 100% correct.

The showcase games at 4:00 (girls) and 5:00 (boys) will include 40 of the area’s best high school players. It will be the first games I can recall that don’t feature seniors only, or underclassmen only, or this county, or that town. It’s a wide ranging list of names from a broad area covering all four classes of next season’s rising crop of talent.

Check out the action at Richmond if you want to watch some fun summer basketball. Admission is $12, and your host will do his best to make sure you are entertained.

David does his work without the backing of a school system or a business with a big budget. And he proves that one man with unlimited enthusiasm and smarts, leading a small team of good people, can make something somebody with more resources or a bigger team would envy.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Grovetown scored a comeback win over Jones County in a scrimmage among friends

Julius Brown - Grovetown

Wednesday afternoon, Buck Harris, the former coach of Baldwin, and before that Laney, who has the deepest of ties to Augusta, which include his standout days as a player at Westside and later at Augusta University, as well as many years served as Augusta's assistant coach, brought his newest high school team, Jones County, to Grovetown to face another esteemed coach with a new assignment. Darren Douglas, Grovetown's first year head coach, will aim to bring the same magic to his new home that he brought to Aquinas, where he led the Irish to a state championship in the second of his three seasons there. Harris holds a special place in Douglas's heart because of the attention Buck gave him when Darren was trying to break into the head coaching ranks during the first half of this decade.

"Buck always made time for me, always shared whatever knowledge he had," Douglas explained before the scrimmage. "So I'll forever be appreciative of him. And I'll always want him to succeed."

During Wednesday's informal scrimmage at Grovetown Middle School, success came early and often for Harris's Jones County squad, which took an early double-digit lead that expanded to 21 points late in the third quarter. But a frenetic half court trapping defense enabled an impressive comeback by the Warriors that climaxed when senior Ervin Johnson swished a three pointer from the right wing with 2 seconds remaining to give Grovetown its first lead since the first quarter, and a 66-65 win.

The final result, and the method in which it was attained, must have provided a shot of confidence to Grovetown's players, who have worked a tireless summer workout schedule which appears to be quickly transforming what was a 3 win team last season into what might be a formidable competitor in an extremely competitive class 6A region, which includes two teams, Evans and Lakeside, that spent time ranked #1 in the state last season, and another, Heritage, which reached the semifinal round of the state playoffs, not to mention Greenbrier, the region tournament champion.

The cohesiveness that Douglas has fostered throughout his program in his first month on the job was apparent. That observation is supported at the bottom of the screen, where I highlight the play of the junior varsity team in Wednesday's first scrimmage. But first I want to introduce some new (to the AugBball blog) faces who showed much potential during the scrimmage.

Julius Brown (Grovetown) - 5'10" PG '2021

I'll add to the caption above by saying that what Julius possesses that might differentiate him from every other area player, and that might make him the best point guard here, is what I'll call the "fluidity" of his game. The examples in the video above include how naturally he blows by his defender in a tight space with an inside-out dribble move, how he catches the ball in the middle of the paint and seamlessly floats in a one hander from 10 feet away and the how he perfectly places a one handed bounce pass to a cutting teammate for a back door layup. All three of those plays came within Grovetown's offensive system. What a smooth operator!

Ervin Johnson (Sr), Zach Bell (Jr) and Jose Rodriguez (Soph)

Johnson's game winning three was only one of the pivotal plays the senior made during Grovetown's frantic comeback. He also contributed on the other end by sacrificing his body to take a charge against Jones County's Chavis Mathis, a much bigger player at 6-4, 185 pounds, when Mathis had a full head of steam on a drive to the paint. It was the type of play that counted in a big way, even if it didn't make the box score, and it displayed Johnson's leadership chops, which will be valuable for a team consisting of so many young impact players.

Zach Bell and Jose Rodriguez are two such contributors. Both players affected the action with intense and intelligent play on defense, and Bell, who is an impressive athlete, also scored a string of floaters using a soft touch.

Amauri Tillman (Freshman)

Tillman, who will enter high school as one of the area's best three point shooters, is one Grovetown freshman in a collection of ninth graders that will have the chance to make an impact on the varsity scene from day one.

Jones County freshman Daethan Harris has a familiar name and game

Jones County freshman Daethan Harris shares more than a last name with his varsity coach. He also possesses his dad's toughness, his talent and his affinity for taking charges, as you can see, and as you can hear in my brief exchange with Daethan after he draws contact for the second time, in the video above. The one thing I know he *didn't* get from his father is his ability to drain threes from the volleyball line. That's a 2019 thing. I'm certain that this class of 2023 baller will be a name we'll get even more familiar with during the next four years.

JV coach Mike Stephenson explains the Grovetown Way

As impressive as Harris and Douglas's varsity teams were, the most remarkable thing about Wednesday's scrimmages might have been the fact that Grovetown's junior varsity team appeared to run the varsity's offensive system even better than the older unit. Many coaches talk about teaching a system all the way throughout their program, but executing that plan is usually much more difficult than it sounds. The fact that Douglas and JV coach Mike Stephenson have made as much progress as they have in fewer than 30 days speaks loudly for the future of Grovetown basketball at all age and grade levels.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Difference between Winning and Losing is Determined at Functions Like the CSRA OL/DL Camp

It's no secret that the results of football games are decided by which team dominates the line of scrimmage. It's also well known that the offensive and defensive linemen who make that difference might be the least celebrated figures in any of our major sports. But that fact has never deterred the hard work and sacrifice these players pour into their high school football teams so they can clear a path for their running backs, and protect their quarterbacks to give them enough time to find their receivers, so those skill players can garner recognition from newspapers, newscasts, websites and social media posts.

One group of men who undoubtedly appreciate the importance of the men in the trenches are the head coaches and assistant coaches who organize and teach stations at the annual CSRA OL/DL Camp at Patriots Park:

This week was the third installment of the camp that was first conceived by Jefferson County head coach JB Arnold. Nearly 200 linemen from ten local teams, along with their head coaches and assistant coaches, gathered for three days, running drills, learning techniques, and competing for three hours each day, two of them in pads, per Georgia High School Association rules.

I think it is no coincidence that coach Arnold's own offensive line was one of the most successful units we saw last season. We profiled that group on this blog when we noticed the gaping holes star quarterback Jaden Jenkins ran through on Jefferson County's path to a region championship:

And last season's most impressive defensive line, Grovetown's, was also represented at the camp. That group, which features returning senior Simeon Barrow, who recently received a scholarship offer from Michigan State, was the deciding factor in Grovetown's undefeated run through region play last season.

So whether or not the men in the trenches get their proper due from the media and the PA announcers on Friday nights, there remains no doubt about their importance, or about the importance of the repetitions they get every June at the CSRA OL/DL Camp.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

A detailed review of 4 South Carolina teams (Strom Thurmond, Aiken, Fox Creek and North Augusta) and 12 of their players, including many new (to me) faces

Dwayne Rudd - Strom Thurmond's

It took me until the twentieth day of June to see any of the schools on the South Carolina side of the border play in person this summer, but Thursday's matchup between Fox Creek and Strom Thurmond in the third annual Fox Creek Summer Shootout made the wait worth it.

Strom Thurmond is coming off of a third round finish in last season's class 3A state playoffs, and returnees Jikeal Brown and Dalton Hitt were two of the more impressive guards playing in Thursday's six team shootout. Fox Creek, which topped Thurmond 59-58 after senior DeMarkus Young buried a three pointer from the right corner with 10 seconds remaining, will aim to turn things around after failing to qualify for the state playoffs for the past two seasons.

After splitting a pair of games Saturday in South Carolina's NCAA certified team camp in Columbia, Fox Creek coach Andrew Peckham sounded optimistic when I asked him about his expectations for next season:

"Our guys have had a solid summer. We have played 20 games this summer and went 16-4," coach Peckham explained. "I have been impressed with my team and have high expectations for us to be very competitive next season in Class AA. Four out of my five starters all played on my JV team two years ago that went undefeated (18-0). So they know how to win and how to play together."

Young, a 6-5 senior wing who only played 6 games last season, was one of the starters on that undefeated JV team from two seasons ago after he transferred from North Augusta following his freshman year. Because of the transfer, he was prohibited from playing on the varsity during his sophomore season. If he can string together a complete season this year, I expect him to make a huge splash because he has the talent to be among the best handful of players in our wide area.

Another talented newcomer

Another potential surprise star surfaced at Fox Creek’s Shootout when sophomore Otis Carter took the court for Aiken. Carter’s name has been buzzing throughout the offseason because of his play on the local AAU circuit. He showed why when he checked in to Aiken’s matchup against Pelion, stretching the floor with a handful of deep threes in the Hornets’ blowout win.

But as much of a surprise as it was to discover two players the caliber of Young and Carter, nothing could match the shock that it was to many people to see that junior RJ Felton, who earned the reputation in the eyes of many as the best player in the area during his run as North Augusta’s leader last season, will now suit up for Aiken, a region rival of his old school. Felton will instantly make the Hornets a contender because he is as polished and as dangerous a weapon as there is with the ball in his hands.

As you can see in the video above, Felton can fly, he has a strong frame and he shoots the ball well from the perimeter. Coach Darris Jackson complimented Felton on his competitiveness, his leadership and his ability to create shots off the dribble for both himself and his teammates in the three games Aiken played in last weekend’s NCAA certified team camp.

Video: Felton "gets to his spot" in a game in last weekend's team camp:

Jackson said the team improved each game while playing against some of South Carolina’s best competition, beginning with a 14 point loss to Wade Hampton, a traditionally strong class 5A (SC’s highest classification) team. The Hornets started to hit a stride in a hard fought, 50-39 loss to back-to-back class 4A state champion Ridge View. And things really clicked when Aiken earned a 60-42 win over Fort Mill, another highly respected class 5A team.

Video: RJ Felton hits Otis Carter with the pass of the summer in last weekend's team camp:

In addition to Felton’s leadership, and Carter’s ability to score as well as just about any guard in the area, Jackson was very complimentary of senior forward George Bussey and another couple sophomore guards, Kameron Williamson and Clay Howard. Bussey, who stands 6-4, plays harder than just about anybody, and he earns more than his share of rebounds, put backs and other buckets in the paint. And Williamson and Howard play with poise and skill beyond their years.

After winning back-to-back region titles and making the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs in 2017 and 2018, the Hornets took a step back last season. But coach Jackson’s group might be ready to make a run at the crown that North Augusta claimed in 2019 by sailing through the region schedule and making the quarterfinals of the playoffs itself.

North Augusta is still in the pole position

Such a run by Aiken will be easier said than done because even without Felton, North Augusta is loaded with talented returnees. Because I won’t get to see the Yellow Jackets at all this month, now is as good of a time as any to reintroduce four of those impact players who will lead the defense of their region title. I voted for all four of them to participate in this Sunday’s Top 20 Area Showcase game at Richmond Academy. None of them were chosen to play in the game, which is very much focused on players from the Georgia side of the border.

But these are the four players I watched propel North Augusta past Orangeburg Wilkinson in the second round of last season’s class state 4A state playoffs. And these four players are the reason I think North Augusta is the area’s most talented team entering next season: Omarion Byrd (senior), Jordan Wilburn (junior), Colin Rodriguez (junior) and Kaleb Cooper (senior).

Video: 4 of North Augusta's talented returnees lead the Yellow Jackets into the quarterfinal round of the class 4A state playoffs:

More Featured Players from the 3rd Annual Fox Creek Summer Shootout

Deavion Scales (Fox Creek) - 6'0" G '2020

Coach Peckham on Scales:

Deavion was one of our top scorers last year. He scored 30 points against Batesburg Leesville in a big region win for us last season. He will be counted on as one of our top offensive threats. He also has a high energy motor and rarely gets tired on either side of the ball. He’s an underrated offensive rebounder as well because of his motor even though he is only 6’0 tall.

Jikeal Brown (Strom Thurmond) - 6'0" G '2020

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Seniors Sam Roberson, Kirk Smith and Latrell Walker are making the most of their opportunities to prepare before the night comes

Sam Roberson - Augusta Christian

At the beginning of Tuesday's 7 on 7 Passing League session at Grovetown, Bernard Grant, a staff member for the Greater Augusta Fellowship of Christian Athletes, used this Bible verse to explain to the seniors in attendance that they will need to make the most out of the next several months on the field:

John 9:4
I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.

The night, of course, will come when those seniors have played their last snap of high school football. Two seniors who hope that day will come very late in the year next Fall, deep into the class 6A state playoffs, are Grovetown's Kirk Smith and Latrell Walker. Both players were key members of last season's region championship squad, and both took full advantage of the opportunity to get better Tuesday, playing on both sides of the ball, catching touchdown passes and intercepting opponents' throws along the way.

Another senior who has big plans, Augusta Christian quarterback Sam Roberson, was the star of the evening. Roberson told me afterwards to check his Lions out come Fall because they are aiming for a state playoff spot. After watching him throw touchdown passes on every drive I saw against Grovetown, Westside and Josey, I will definitely mark my calendar so I can see the regulation version of Augusta Christian's football team this season.

Here are more clips from Tuesday's action, which include highlights of quarterbacks Kori Bryant (Grovetown), Quamere Gooch (Westside) and Kalil Alston (Josey).

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Westside's summer league victory over Greenbrier was a total team effort

Westside continued its impressive run through June with a 54-44 win over Greenbrier Monday in the opening game of the fifth session of the Butler summer league. The victory marked the third time in three weeks that the Patriots, who appear to be on the way back to their familiar form after two substandard seasons, have been featured here after a comfortable win against a solid squad. Westside topped Evans (36-28) last week and Josey (45-26) the week before.

Felix Booker led the Patriots in scoring with 16 points, including 4 three pointers. The 6-2 rising junior guard gave Westside its first double-digit lead in the first half with a three pointer at the 10:05 mark that put the Patriots ahead 15-5. Forty-five seconds later, after Andrew Black answered Booker to cut the lead back to 7 points, Booker answered with another bomb to restore the 10 point cushion, which later ballooned to 18 by the time the second half was barely underway.

Felix Booker led Westside with 16 points.

Later, in a repeat of the first half sequence, Booker again nailed threes on back-to-back possessions midway through the second half to give Westside a commanding 47-24 lead that Greenbrier slowly reduced, but never truly threatened, in the remaining 10 minutes of play. Sandwiched between Booker's threes during this sequence was a trifecta by Greenbrier junior Cyrus Wilder, who led all scorers with 20 points.

Westside's balance and teamwork shines through

Westside's scoring load has been shared by a consistent core of players in the three games I've covered this summer. The most likely reason for the balance has been the willingness of those players to share the basketball. As happened in last week's win over Evans, solid defense led to transition offense Monday, and impressive teamwork by Greg Smith, J'Quan Collier, Kyale Mathis, and Quamere Gooch led to easy baskets in Monday's rout. Often those plays began with a blocked shot by the promising 6-5 rising junior Camrhen Briddell, as you can see in this series of clip that shows Westside's balance and teamwork:

Both teams will be in action during Wednesday's session, when Greenbrier takes on rival Evans (4:00), and Westside will face Cross Creek (5:00).

Here are the highlights of both teams from Monday's game:

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Cross Creek and Evans are among the 6 area teams participating in next weekend's NCAA certified team camps. Here are all the relevant details:

Christian Chambers - 6'2" Sr. (Evans)

For as long as I can remember, June has been the busiest month of the entire off season for high school coaches and their players when it comes to preparing the team for the following year. Cross Creek coach Lawrence Kelly provided an example of the chaotic schedule a team can keep in the first month of the summer when he described to me last Wednesday his squad's plans to play 13 games in 6 days last week.

"Outside of the (Butler) summer league... we went to Blythewood (SC) to play Blythewood and White Knoll last night," coach Kelly explained. "We are going to the University of South Carolina team camp this Friday and Saturday, and we are also going to McCormick tomorrow."

For Cross Creek, Evans, Burke County and Washington County, this month will include an opportunity that for the longest time was never available to high school programs at all during any summer month. That is the opportunity to play in front of Division I coaches. Believe it or not, for at least 30 years, the only chances to play in front of coaches of schools belonging to the NCAA's highest level were in AAU and individual camp settings. If you can find the logic in that policy, please share it.

Apparently the committee that was appointed to address the concerns about corruption in the sport that surfaced after the FBI indicted several assistant coaches and others on felony charges last year decided reducing the role of AAU tournaments, and increasing that of high school coaches and team camps, was tool logical an idea to ignore. Which brings us to next weekend's #NCAAGeorgia GHSA Team Camp, which will include roughly one-third of the nearly 450 high school teams in the Georgia High School Association, including Cross Creek and Evans from our immediate area.

Both of those teams, which each reached the second round of the state playoffs last season after finishing as the runner up in their respective regions, are poised to take advantage of the opportunity to play in front of the college coaches (of all levels) who will flock to the campuses of the three Atlanta area schools that will host the mega camp. Before the Razorbacks and the Knights faced off last Wednesday in a summer league game at Butler, I interviewed both of their head coaches to find out what they expect to get out of this new experience. And I captured video proof that games involving both teams will make for a worthy stop on the itineraries of recruiters visiting the Peach State next weekend.

Breakdown: Cross Creek and Evans - Wednesday, June 12

Coach Kelly stated the obvious when asked what he expects to get out of the NCAA Division I certified event next weekend:

“It's about exposure. We're trying to help players get college interest," coach Kelly quickly responded. "They have a bunch of interest at this moment. So we are trying to increase that interest."

Kobe Stewart - 6'6" Sr. (Cross Creek)

Kelly's 6-6 left handed senior guard Kobe Stewart should attract attention for his interesting set of tools, which includes a soft stroke that extends to the three point line, and a smooth handle that allows him to get to the basket even against smaller guards.

"My phone last year was ringing off the hook," said Kelly about his three year starter.

Stewart showed his array of skills Wednesday in Cross Creek's 45-42 win over Evans when he scored 18 points and buried 3 three pointers.

Cross Creek's victory was its fourth in four tries at Butler, and it came after an impressive second half comeback. Evans had built a lead that ballooned to as many as 12 points behind a barrage of buckets by its own Division I prospect, senior Christian Chambers. Chambers scored 28 points in the contest, including 15 in the first half when Evans took complete control.

It was an impressive stretch by Chambers, and it was the second time in two weeks that he ran off a dizzying string of points in a short period of time, the first being the prior Wednesday when he scored 18 points in 13 minutes against Thomson in a 39-23 win by Evans.

In addition to the two lefties, both teams include several more players who will be worth evaluating at next weekend's "exposure camp." Cross Creek's 6-4 junior forward Corey Trotter springs to mind:

In addition to those three players, there are at least that many more worth a close look whom I haven't mentioned here, but can be seen in this full game highlight video from last Wednesday's game:

"Exposure" is not the only benefit of next weekend's team camp

Evans coach Kevin Kenny identified another good reason coach Kelly and he were wise to make sure their teams were among the 150 teams that will participate in Georgia's first NCAA certified high school team camp.

"I think number one, you get the opportunity to play different teams. The schools we are playing are mostly from the Atlanta area," coach Kenny explained before Wednesday's matchup. "I've been doing this for 30 years. I always say Georgia has some of the best talent in the 50 states."

These are the schedules for the teams from our area that will participate in next weekend's NCAA Division I certified high school team camps, including two local teams that will play in South Carolina's version of the event:

***Link to official schedule for Georgia's event:***


vs Dacula at Marietta Middle School
- Saturday, June 22 at 10:00 A.M.

vs Cherokee Bluff at McEachern High School
- Saturday, June 22 at 7:00 P.M.

vs Hiram at McEachern High School
- Sunday, June 23 at 10:00 A.M.

vs Pelham at McEachern High School
- Sunday, June 23 at 2:00 P.M.

Cross Creek

vs Alcovy at Wheeler High School
- Saturday, June 22 at 11:00 A.M.

vs Apalachee at Wheeler High School
- Saturday, June 22 at 3:00 P.M.

vs Arabia Mountain at Wheeler High School
- Saturday, June 23 at 7:00 P.M.

vs Whitfield at Wheeler High School
- Sunday, June 23 at 3:00 P.M.

Burke County

vs Locust Grove at Marietta Middle School
- Saturday, June 22 at 11:00 A.M.

vs Perry at Marietta Middle School
- Saturday, June 22 at 4:00 P.M.

vs Lakeview at McEachern High School
- Sunday, June 23 at 10:00 A.M.

vs Carver at McEachern High School
- Sunday, June 23 at 1:00 P.M.

Washington County

vs Lambert at Marietta Middle School
- Saturday, June 22 at 9:00 A.M.

vs Westover at Marietta High School
- Sunday, June 23 at 8:00 A.M.

vs Statesboro at Marietta High School
- Sunday, June 23 at 12:00 P.M.

vs Fayette County at Marietta Middle School
- Sunday, June 23 at 3:00 P.M.

***Link to official schedule for South Carolina's event:***


vs Andrew Jackson at Westwood High School
- Friday, June 21 at 7:00 P.M.

vs Ridge View at Richland Northeast
- Saturday, June 22 at 11:00 A.M.

vs Fort Mill at Richland Northeast
- Saturday, June 22 at 5:00 P.M.

Fox Creek

vs Chesnee at Westwood High School
- Saturday, June 22 at 4:00 P.M.

vs Marion at Westwood High School
- Saturday, June 22 at 6:00 P.M.

Friday, June 14, 2019

An Extended Conversation with Hometown Hero Christian Keeling before he Leaves for Chapel Hill

Christian Keeling is a rising senior on the University of North Carolina basketball team. He recently graduated from Charleston Southern University after leading the Buccaneers in scoring and rebounding for three seasons and earning First Team All Big South Conference honors last year. He is a native of Augusta, Georgia, who started for four seasons at Laney High School, piling up 101 wins against only 19 losses, and earning Augusta Chronicle Player of the Year and 1st Team All State honors along the way.

The following interview was recorded at Charleston Southern Thursday, the day before he left for Chapel Hill.

Christian Keeling - Through My Eyes

I first knew Christian as a rising freshman who was one of several 9th and 10th graders set to step into key roles for defending state champion Laney entering the 2012-13 season. Christian hit the ground running for the Wildcats his freshman year, helping the team defy expectations of a down season and leading Laney to the semifinal round of the state playoffs, a feat he and his teammates repeated in each of his first three seasons.

It was during January of that third season when Christian’s personality and enthusiasm began to permeate through the veins of Augusta’s basketball community. On a Saturday in January, when fans lined the street outside of Laney’s gym, locked out of that afternoon’s Laney-Josey game, the most intense rivalry our area knows, Keeling exploded into the consciousness of everybody who follows basketball in this area. Seemingly out of nowhere, the skinny, 6-2 junior guard charged through traffic, took off from a stride, glided through the air and dunked the ball with one hand over the outstretched arms of a defender, not once, but twice in the span of 30 seconds. The back-to-back dunks blew the roof off of the gym and marked the beginning of the story that for the past four years has slowly developed into the legend of "CK," Augusta's "hometown hero."

After that, he started doing such things almost every game, and I started calling him “Mr. January.” But from that day in 2015 until today, the improvement in Christian’s game, the transformation in his character and the radiance in his personality have continuously accelerated at breakneck speed.

I consider it a miracle that Christian stands in his present position, a college graduate after three years, his head high, his voice loud, clear, and confident, with two communities (one based in Augusta and the other in Charleston) of loving friends and fans firmly in his corner. Because only a couple months after he took his hometown by storm on that January day four years ago, Christian experienced the kind of tragedy that could derail the progress of the strongest young man when his mother suddenly lost her battle with cancer.

The story of his mother’s passing has been told by several news outlets over the last four years, because every time Christian accomplishes great things - whether leading Laney to a 55-5 record in his last two seasons, or being the only freshman in NCAA Division I basketball to lead the country in scoring and rebounding, or earning all conference honors twice at Charleston Southern - he makes more people eager to know him better.

Every time that story is retold, a few things happen. People who love him watch, listen closely and shed a few tears. Christian explains that his mother, whom he credits for him becoming the man he is today, is watching over him. And he reminds everybody that he is striving for greatness in her honor (#DoItForMama).

I told Christian after our interview Thursday that often, when I call him a “hometown hero,” I am referring to his being a hero to others in our community. It's my way of emphasizing what he means to so many people, young and old, male and female, athlete and fan. But before I left Charleston, I wanted to make sure he knows he is a special hero of mine, too. The consistency with which he practices his trade, the focus he puts on his goals and the enthusiasm and love he exudes in his interactions with others make him a worthy role model for anybody who wants to be a better person.

I’m excited to see what he will contribute to the storied North Carolina tradition. I have no doubt the Tar Heels are getting a special #BlueCollarKid.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The local FCA teaches players "being a man" takes more than being a good football player

Above: Andrew Bryan, Westminster AD, Coach; Below: Kydran Jenkins (Jefferson County)

"When you leave tonight... I'm delivering t-shirts and Bibles to you're buses," Greater Augusta Fellowship of Christian Athletes area director Greg Wilson explained to the players representing 10 area high schools at Tuesday's 7 on 7 Passing League at Greenbrier High. "You'll have some of those waiting on you when you get finished."

That is how Tuesday's installment of the weekly passing league began at the 50 yard line of the home of the Wolfpack. Next it was time for an 8 minute message delivered by Andrew Bryan, the athletic director and head football coach for Westminster, who for decades now has coached high school sports, served as a youth pastor and once upon a time even lit up the scoreboard on the basketball court as a Curtis Baptist Crusader.

Bryan's message was powerful because he explained "what it means to be a man" from the perspective of the Christian faith, the spirit of which was present throughout the evening as FCA board members and volunteers along with local coaches facilitated, and players engaged in, spirited competition. On display were positive attitudes, encouraging language, infectious enthusiasm and exemplary sportsmanship.

In case you can't hear him in the video above, Bryan counseled the young men that the verse in the graphic teaches us that "fighting" means something different than what they might expect. It means fighting for the right things, and against the wrong.

"You should fight against complacency, laziness and temptation, "Bryan explained. "You should fight for relationships... and you should fight for something greater than yourself."

By using an example from Monday's NBA Finals game to show a strong and healthy relationship between teammates, and by explaining a quarterback's dependency on his less celebrated linemen, Bryan's message surely hit home. That much was clear when the more than 100 kneeling players ended his post discussion prayer with a booming "Amen!"

Thomson was on of ten teams competing Tuesday at Greenbrier.

From there it was no surprise that the evening proceeded with each team giving three 30 minute scrimmages worth of maximum effort that everybody present should have been proud to witness. No scores were kept, but that information would have been irrelevant had it been displayed.

In addition to the good fellowship, last night's action brought into focus the impressive throwing arms of some of the area's varsity quarterbacks. One of them, Greenbrier senior Jackson Fulmer, was a familiar face from last season's class 6A region race. Two of next season's class 2A signal callers - George Brown of Jefferson County, and Quamere Gooch of Westside - were new to me. Here are clips of the throws and catches that made an impression:

George Brown - Jefferson County

Jackson Fulmer - Greenbrier

Quamere Gooch - Westside

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Cross Creek and Westside both Continue to Impress at the Butler Summer League

After three sessions of summer league action at Butler, Cross Creek has put together the most impressive resume, topping Josey 41-33 Monday after handling Hephzibah and Butler last week. The Razorbacks were led by 6-4 junior Corey Trotter, who scored 19 points and continued what has been the most productive string of individual performances I've seen so far in June.

As has been the case during all three of Cross Creek's wins, Trotter received help from fellow forward Monroe Atkins, a 6-5 senior who, like Trotter, continued to show he can play on the perimeter as well as in the paint.

Josey was led by Jaydren Maloyd (12 points) and Maurice Williams (11). The Eagles have dropped a pair of games after opening the summer with an encouraging win over Hephzibah. Maloyd (6-5) played his best game of the summer Monday, as did fellow senior Aragus Creech. And Williams has been solid throughout. But Josey still appears to have work to do before the Eagles will be set to soar to the top half of the highly competitive nine team class 2A region, especially with a team like Westside, which also failed to qualify for the state playoffs last season, appearing to be making significant strides.

Speaking of Westside...

After a slow start in Monday's opening summer league game, the Patriots went on a 14-3 first half that was punctuated with a three pointer by junior Felix Booker that gave Westside a 17-10 lead over Evans 30 seconds before halftime.

Westside, led by Booker's 15 points, topped the Knights 36-28. The win was the second consecutive convincing victory against a strong team for the Patriots, who topped Josey 46-25 Wednesday. Featured in Wednesday's recap were Booker, Camrehn Mitchell and J'Quan Collier. Today's video includes three more Patriots who were instrumental in both wins: Quamere Gooch (6-4 Sr.), Greg Smith (6-3 Sr.) and Kyale Mathis.

Evans was led by Christian Chambers, who scored 10 points in the loss.

Wednesday's Butler Summer League Schedule

Harlem vs Jenkins County - 3:00

Evans vs Cross Creek - 4:00

Laney vs Westside - 5:00

Hephzibah vs Butler - 6:00

Glenn Hills vs Josey - 7:00

Link to "mega post" with a complete rundown of all 6 games from session 2 at Butler:

Link to "mega post" with a complete rundown of all 4 games from session 1 at Butler:

Monday, June 10, 2019

Grovetown and Hephzibah seized the opportunity to play in a special event

Grovetown and Hephzibah's football teams took advantage of a special opportunity to compete last Friday and Saturday in the Cam Newton Foundation 7v7 Tournament in Savannah, Georgia. The tournament featured 24 teams playing as many as ten 20 minute games, including two sessions of pool play Friday at the Jennifer Ross Soccer Complex before the championship round moved to the 5,000 seat Memorial Stadium Saturday. Neither Grovetown nor Hephzibah qualified for the championship round, meaning they missed the chance to finish as one of the tournament's top three teams, which were slated to receive monetary donations from Newton's foundation as their reward.

But the reward for our local players was the experience of competing in such a well organized event against many teams they would never otherwise get a chance to encounter, all under the umbrella and in the presence of Newton, the highly revered All-Pro Carolina Panther quarterback. Each of the 20 players on every team was supplied with two game shirts, a pair of game shorts and a meal between sessions. The artificial playing surface was immaculate, tents with refreshments were set up near each of the six 50 yard fields and Newton's father Cecil - who played college football at nearby Savannah State - served as the animated DJ, spinning tunes, updating scores and cracking jokes during the action.

Highlights from Friday Morning's Pool Play Session

Playing in their first game at 10:00 A.M. on opposite sides of the same 100 yard field, both the Rebels and the Warriors started with a bang. Hephzibah's junior quarterback Marshall Chambers connected with junior Erick Harris for a 38 yard strike down the middle of the field that put the offense in scoring position at the 2 yard line on the first play from scrimmage against Windsor Forest. On the other end, on Grovetown's first offensive snap against Bethesda Academy, senior quarterback Kori Bryant threw a 40 yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Germain.

Grovetown maintained the positive momentum and earned a 20-2 win in their first outing.

But Hephzibah would have no such luck, as it dropped its first contest 30-0.

The Rebels only had 30 minutes to recoup before game 2 against May River, but that was enough time for head coach William Harrell, last season's Coach of the Year in Hephzibah's class 2A region, to settle down his troops, reminding them that what was most important was to move forward.

Coach William Harrell talks to his players before game 2

And the Rebels did just that. After falling behind May River 14-6, Chambers engineered a game tying scoring drive just in time to beat the expiring 20 minute game clock with a touchdown toss to Nigel Davis, who made an athletic grab high in the air, and another scoring pass to Jaiden Wofford, who went even higher to grab the two point conversion on a jump ball in the corner of the end zone.

The game tying connection between Chambers and Wofford showed one of the several distinctions between 7 on 7 and "real football" because the 2 point conversion attempt began at the 10 yard line. PATs from the 3 yard line are worth 1 point, and the game involves no kicking, no punting and no fourth downs.

Hephzibah QB Chambers tosses to a teammate between games

Hephzibah's posive momentum from the end of game 2 extended into the beginning of game 3 against Beach, of Savannah. The Rebel defense turned Beach over on downs on the first series, which rewarded Hephzibah 2 points on the scoreboard, another break from traditional football. Then, facing third down on the next series, Chambers hit Chris Clark near the right edge of the end zone to give the Rebels an early 8-0 lead.

But Beach rallied to take a 19-18 decision in Hephzibah's final game of the morning session.

After Grovetown followed its game 1 win over Bethesda with a game 2 loss to Woodward Academy, the tournament's eventual champion, the Warriors came out red hot against New Hampstead in game 3. Bryant, who earned second team all region honors last season, completed his first six passes to launch Grovetown to an early 16-0 lead. 

During the stretch, Kirk Smith, who also earned second team all region honors last season, made a pair of impressive catches on back-to-back plays, one for a touchdown inches before the ball hit the ground out of bounds in the back of the end zone after being bobbled by a teammate. The other came in the corner of the end zone when Smith used his size to shield the defender from the ball. Smith also contributed 3 more points to Grovetown's eventual 19-14 win when he intercepted a pass in the middle of the field in yet another example of the special scoring system in 7 on 7 football.

Seizing the Opportunity

In between Grovetown's second and third game, I asked coach Damien Postell how he was able to include his team in such a special event.

"We got an email from coach (Robert) Zoller from Islands High School," explained Postell, last season's Coach of the Year in class 6A, region 2. "He said they needed four more teams, so we answered the call."

Both Postell and Harrell have laid out an extensive off season schedule for their rapidly improving programs. I bet the players who had the chance to compete in the Cam Newton Foundation 7v7 Tournament were happy they both took advantage of the opportunity to take them to Savannah last weekend.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

A Complete Recap of Day Two's 6 Games of Boys High School Summer League Action at Butler

Hephzibah's Robert Johnson penetrates the paint against Cross Creek Wednesday at Butler.

My father taught me the most important minutes of every game are the first few of each half. That was the lesson to be learned from Wednesday's six game slate at Butler when every winning team was propelled to success on the strength of a second half opening spurt that built a sizable lead that would not be overcome.

Additionally, we witnessed impressive individual performances, including an offensive barrage from the area's top (scoring) gun, Christian Chambers of Evans; a peek at what we can expect from new head coaches for Glenn Hills, Westside, Augusta Christian and Greenbrier, all of whom experienced at least some degree of success in Wednesday's session; and a refreshing look at a couple new faces from nearby Jenkins County, a class 1A school with a couple impressive competitors who I'm glad have joined us for the summer.

Because the winner of the first game was Glenn Hills, and because this has become a sort of "logo" for the Augusta basketball scene, let's start with a visual of the gravity defying rising Spartan senior John Whitehead gliding effortlessly for a vicious slam after working up a head of steam in the open court at roughly 3:30 P.M. "Butler time" yesterday. After that we'll get to each game report:

Game 1: Glenn Hills 47, Greenbrier 32

Both William Cunningham, the new head coach at Glenn Hills, and Dee Howard, the Wolfpack's new leader, can leave Wednesday's session with positive feelings about how their first week of preseason play began. 

Cunningham, brings a level of enthusiasm and intensity that, when mixed with a constant dose of encouragement for individual players who display the type of effort he demands, could give the Spartans what they need to turn a talented roster into a championship team. And Howard's new-to-the-varsity-scene players met a very difficult first challenge with poise, playing Glenn Hills to a first half tie after making 7 three pointers, which in one half was more than any other team has managed to make in an entire game all week.

Because the familiar Wolfpack faces from last season's region championship team have all been lost to graduation, consider this your introduction to a fresh pack of sharpshooters that Howard, a former Augusta University star, will now mold into Greenbrier's next generation:

The honeymoon was cut short as soon as the second half began, after Glenn Hills turned up the pressure defensively and went on a 16-1 run that spanned a 15 minute stretch. The combination of speed, tenaciousness, energy, experience and size of John Whitehead (6-5, 176), Emmanuel Jones (6-7, 180), Antonio Jones (6-3, 161) and Naquan Pernell (6-0, 184) simply overwhelmed the Wolfpack during second half.

In addition to the intensity that Cunningham has already injected, he also seems to bring some creativity to the offensive scheme that makes good use of two unparalleled talents in Whitehead and Jones. Playing without a traditional point guard, Whitehead, who led all scorers with 15 points, split time between dribbling the ball up the court and receiving it in the post. The specter of his starting slightly from the left, using a screen from Jones, getting a head of steam with his strong hand heading towards the middle of the paint for a sweeping slam can be something for which a defense prepares and stops. And to Howard's credit, his players quickly adjusted and loaded up the paint to prevent it from happening a second time. But I can imagine action like this will catch many a team off guard next season and give Glenn Hills fans something to behold, like you and I are able to do with a bird's eye view of the play here:

The reason Whitehead and Jones are so exciting to watch play is both of them mix size with another key ingredient in such a way that separates them from every other player in the area, and from any local player I've watched for many years now. Of course, Whitehead's athleticism is striking. But Jones's shooting touch and grace handling the basketball and finishing soft floaters, runners and off balance jumpers moving towards or away from the basket, are every bit as graceful as Whitehead's force is impactful.

And Jones is huge now! Last year at this time he had yet to become a full time varsity player. Entering his senior season, I'll say that as long as he is academically qualified, any Division I coach in Georgia or South Carolina (to begin with) that isn't giving him at least one hard look isn't doing his job completely.

These are the full game highlights from Wednesday's first game at Butler:

Game 2: Westside 45, Josey 26

Another new head coach is Westside's Jerry Hunter, who was at the helm when Laney won a class 2A state championship in 2012. Hunter also led the Wildcats to the semifinal round of the playoffs in the two preceding years. Interestingly, while coaching Laney, the only post season loss Hunter suffered to a region opponent came in 2013, his final season before taking a break from basketball, when Westside, led by former Augusta Chronicle Player of the Year and South Carolina Gamecock standout Frank Booker, defeated the Wildcats in the championship game of that season's region tournament.

So it was poetic that Frank watched from the bench while his younger brother Felix Booker buried a three right in front of him to punctuate a 12-3 second half opening run by Westside that led to an impressive win in the first week of Hunter's return to the sideline, marking not only Hunter's return, but hopefully the return of the proud Patriot tradition of championship basketball.

Westside has the ingredients to catapult themselves into the top half of the area's nine team class 2A region, which is no easy feat when you consider that of the eight participants in the last two season's state playoff final four groupings, three of them came from our area's region. Booker, Camrehn "Shaq" Briddell and J'Quan Collier are a few of the many standouts from Wednesday's convincing victory who you will see in these highlights from the game:

Game 3: Augusta Christian 51, Jenkins County 44

Augusta Christian's depth and its shot making, which was enhanced by an attractive style of unselfish play and some creative playmaking, overwhelmed Jenkins County, especially during a 19-8 run that spanned the first 13 minutes of the second half and established an insurmountable 49-32 Lion lead. After AC's breakout season last year, in which the Lions were able to escape the cellar of a brutally difficult SCISA region and move into the middle of the standings, things look bright for new head coach Brandon Dotson's team, which has a roster full of returning impact players.

Three such returnees, who all played major roles in Wednesday's victory, were rising juniors Tristen Trent (16 points) and Johnny O'Keefe (13), as well as Ahmad Hunt, who made his mark as a freshman early last season when the Lions went on a lengthy winning streak.

My sense is the Jenkins County's fans should be similarly optimistic after a week of preseason action because the War Eagles from Millen have a dynamic playmaker at the point guard spot in Brandon Goodman, a rising junior who showed the ability to make plays at the rim after beating his man repeatedly off the dribble.

Jenkins County will also get one more season out of James Evans, who averaged 20 points per game as a junior. The 6-4 wing whose ability to soar above the rim and finish with authority proved to be second to no player at Butler with the exception of only one.

Game 4: Laney 49, Butler 22

After an inspired first half by a shorthanded Butler group that was led by standout rising junior guard Richard Visitacion, Laney clamped down on its region rival and ran the Bulldogs off the court, outscoring Butler 33-3 in the second half.

Three of the most consistent Wildcats led the way again for the six time region champions: Jonathan Taylor (11 points), Dykese King (11) and Dajuan Collins (10).

It is Taylor who I'll focus on here. The senior transfer from Aquinas attacks the basket ferociously, using long strides to zoom past the initial defender and usually the helpers too. And he drives and finishes with his left hand even better than his right. But I think the most impressive attribute Taylor possesses is his relentlessness. He is always slicing through the defense, never playing around it. With a shooter like Collins as a target on the perimeter when the defense is drawn by his rim runs, and playmakers like Luther Reid, Jordan Stringer and King also on the floor as well, Laney will surely once again be a force in class 2A.

Regarding Visitacion's performance, I'll share below my Facebook status update, posted during the first half, that states my position about his play Wednesday:

To that I'll add that he told me after the game he was hobbling because of a sprained ankle suffered in Monday night's win over Evans. Because of his injury, Richard easily could have taken the night off while his varsity teammates were at Jones County High School playing in a separate scrimmage. Instead he assumed point guard duties, which are usually handled by fellow junior Ronnie Striggles. And in addition to putting a scare into Laney for 20 minutes, he showed he is as good playing the 1 as he is the 2. I was not the only person in the stands who was impressed. After the game the head coach of our very own top 20 Division II team asked me about Butler's point guard because he liked the way he ran the team and made decisions. And he didn't even know Richard was playing on one wheel.

Game 5: Evans 39, Thomson 23

The play of rising senior Christian Chambers wrote my story for me in Wednesday's second to last game. Specifically his play during the 13 running clock minutes that began with 30 seconds remaining in the first half, and ended after Chambers had scored 18 of his game high 20 points, and turned what was for the first 19 minutes a sleepy game which Evans led 11-9, into a runaway victory by the Knights that was well in hand when Chambers exited for good with his team leading 37-17 with 7 minutes left on the clock.

Chambers has been the top scoring threat in town for at least two years running now. And his shooting touch mixed with his athleticism, his first step and his ability to handle the ball and change speeds might make him a Division 1 prospect. Wednesday's 13 minute run was the most impressive individual performance in the first week of action at Butler.

Here are the full game highlights from Wednesday's second to last game:

Game 6: Cross Creek 37, Hephzibah 34

In the most competitive matchup of the day, Cross Creek continued its positive first week momentum to earn a second impressive victory in two tries by finding ways to combat Hephzibah's quickness, handing the Rebels their second close defeat in three days.

The Rebels appeared to be on track to knock off the Razorbacks when they forced turnover after turnover by pressuring Cross Creek over all 94 feet of the court. Hephzibah even forced Kobe Stewart, Cross Creek's 6-6 standout point guard, to the bench with three fouls, all suffered when Stewart used his off hand to try to ward off Hephzibah's pesky defenders.

But Cross Creek adjusted nicely and went on a 17-6 second half run that began with a sweet fade away jumper by Corey Trotter over his right shoulder on the right block, and included 8 points scored in 45 seconds by Josh Dorsey, as well as a pair of dunks by Stewart and Monroe Atkins, helping the Razorbacks claim a 34-23 lead with 5:59 left in the game. 

With the win, Cross Creek cemented itself alongside Laney and Glenn Hills as the hottest teams in the league entering week two of summer league action at Butler.

Click here to learn all about the opening day of the boys high school basketball summer league at Butler:

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The summer season began with Cross Creek, Josey, Laney and Glenn Hills shining on the first day of action at Butler

Every June the hoops community gathers at Butler High to watch the summer league.

The high school boys summer league is an eight session season played every Monday and Wednesday in June at Butler High School. Fans, parents and high school players present and past seem to all gravitate to the games, which begin at 3:00 and end at 8:00. Monday's opening session featured impressive performances by teams like Laney and Cross Creek, which finished at or near the top of their region's race last season. And traditional powers like Josey and Glenn Hills, which ended last season on a sour note, showed they are determined to begin the summer on the right foot.

Individuals distinguished themselves as well. Cross Creek's Kobe Stewart and John Whitehead and Emmanuel Jones of Glenn Hills showed why they were invited to the GHSA Top 100 Camp (June 28-29). All three used some combination of size, skill and athleticism to wow the crowd at different points. Laney presented its case for why it should be the favorite to win a seventh consecutive region championship when the combined forces of three returning starters from last season's final four team, and two "returning transfers" who were once Wildcats, and once again will be, put on the day's most impressive rout. And Josey gave its faithful fans reason to believe its two year drought might be ending soon behind a strong effort from both a familiar name, and a new one.

Josey's game was the first of the day and by far the most competitive. So let's get deep into the details from that one to start things off:

Game 1: Josey 48, Hephzibah 44

Maurice Williams, younger brother of Josey legend Darius Williams, who is entering his senior season at Prairie View A&M, led the Eagles with 19 points on the way to a somewhat surprising win over a Rebel squad that returns all the key players from last season's region runner up squad. Williams played a physical game and attacked the basket and the offensive glass with abandon. He also made key mid range jumpers to help the Eagles maintain a two or three possession lead throughout almost the second half.

It was during that second half that Kedar Bodie first made his presence known on a varsity court. The Butler transfer who helped lead the Bulldogs to a junior varsity championship last season scored on a baseline jumper to give Josey a 32-24 advantage, its largest lead of the game, with under 12 minutes remaining. The well built sophomore showed skill beyond what most players his age possess by "sweeping" out of the triple threat position and creating enough space to step into a sweet one dribble pull up jumper that swished in nicely.

Bodie would also slam the door shut on Hephzibah's late game surge, following an 8-2 Rebel run with 4 straight points that put Josey ahead 46-44 with 39 seconds remain after he made a 14 footer fading away on one foot. Those final 3 minutes of back and forth action made for the game's most compelling stretch because three of Hephzibah's top contributors got into a rhythm and appeared to be on their way to sparking a Rebel victory.

The stretch began when rising senior Robert Johnson swished a pretty turn around jumper from the right block, which was immediate followed by an impressive slam by Josey's Williams that gave the Eagles a 42-38 lead. But before you could blink, Jaylen Blount answered on the other end with a deep three from the left wing and Quentin Friendly turned a steal near half court into a three point play to put the Rebels ahead 44-42. Bodie's poise was impressive, as the youngster attacked the basket to draw a foul on the next possession and calmly drilled two free throws before making the go ahead bucket on the next play, which was enough to earn the win with the help of a pair of free throws by Aragus Creech with 5.6 seconds left on the clock.

It should be easy to see why I think Bodie has potential when you combine the shot making he showed in the second half of yesterday's game with the athleticism he displayed last Winter in the championship game of the Richmond County JV tournament:

Bodie scored 12 points to add to the 19 from the senior Williams.  Blount led Hephzibah with 15, while Johnson added 10 and Friendly chipped in 9. These are the highlights from the full game:

Game 2: Cross Creek 56, Butler 43

I would say the consensus among the area's most attentive fans at Butler yesterday was that Cross Creek showed itself to be the league's team to beat when the Razorbacks convincingly disposed of Butler 56-43 in the second game. Led by three players with listed heights of 6-4 or taller, the runner up in the area's class 4A region last season might enter next season as its team to beat as well.

Kobe Stewart, a 6-6 guard who can do it all, probably showed the most potential of any player on opening day. The smooth lefty drew praise not only from the in person viewers. But even Don Coleman, Butler's all time leading scorer who will play his senior season next year at South Alabama, noticed on Twitter the work put in by one of his younger proteges, saying Stewart looked like a "baby Kyle Anderson out there."

Almost as impressive to me was the inside play of Cross Creek's low post duo of Monroe Atkins (6-5) and Corey Trotter (6-4). In addition to their size and ability to rebound and finish in the paint, both showed a knack for handling the ball and knocking down free throws and mid range jumpers.

The size and skill of the Razorbacks certainly overshadowed the speed and tenacious play of Butler, which will be led this season by its returning backcourt duo of Ronnie Striggles and Richard Visitacion, who both showed last season they can help lead a winning team. Their potential comes through in the full game highlights below. Wednesday's session will be telling for both of these teams because Butler will try to get on track against a red hot Laney squad and Cross Creek will get the chance to extend its strong play against what should be a hungry bunch from Hephzibah.

Game 3: Glenn Hills 50, Jenkins County 21

The four games I covered ended with two blowouts. The first was between an overmatched Jenkins County squad and a highly talented group of returning players from Glenn Hills, which sputtered at the end of last season by losing three straight post season games, two in the region tournament and one in the first round of the state playoffs. That stretch was one of the most surprising developments of the season because the Spartans exited the regular season with a 21-4 record and a regular season region championship under their belts.

Led by returning seniors Naquan Pernell (14 points), Antonio Jones (13), John Whitehead (12) and Emmanuel Jones (10), the Spartans took a first step towards making the most of the summer preseason under new head coach William Cunningham, who starred at Glenn Hills in the 90's before playing college basketball at Temple and professionally in various places, including multiple stops in the NBA.

Game 4: Laney tops Evans

After each transferred and played their junior seasons elsewhere, seniors Jonathan Taylor and Dykese King have returned to Laney. They will join juniors Jordan Stringer and Dajuan Collins and senior Luther Reid to form what might be the most skilled starting five in the league at Butler. The group played like a well oiled machine Monday, building up a 34-10 lead over Evans, a sweet 16 round class 6A state playoff team last season, only 2 minutes into the second half.

Laney will be tested Wednesday when the Wildcats face region rival Butler. And Evans will get the chance to get on track when it faces Thomson, which beat Westside Monday in the only game I didn't get to watch.

Wednesday's Schedule

Greenbrier vs Glenn Hills - 3:00

Westside vs Josey - 4:00

Laney vs Butler - 5:00

Thomson vs Evans - 6:00

Cross Creek vs Hephzibah - 7:00