Friday, July 19, 2019

Waynesboro native Brandon Gardner was invited to the most prestigious camp in the nation for rising ninth graders despite playing less than two years of organized basketball

Waynesboro native Brandon Gardner, a 6-5 Freshman with a wingspan of 7 feet

The CP3 Rising Stars Camp, which will be held this weekend in North Carolina, has become "the platform for incoming high school freshmen to have their talents tested and recognized on a national stage," according to the event's website. It's hard to argue with that because further evidence can be found on the site, which shows on its "CP3 Hall of Honor" page the names and images of many NBA draft picks and college basketball stars among the former campers. And the claim made about the camp being the most well attended by high school hoops media companies is nicely backed up on its media page as well.

As you can see in the tweet above, last week's Nike Peach Jam tournament featured a notable camper from the camp's 2016 session, Brandon Boston Jr. (AOT, Norcross HS). Boston is ranked #7 in the class of 2020 by ESPN, and he represents further proof that Chris Paul's brain child probably is "the first major step toward a successful high school basketball journey and beyond."

The list of this year's attendees, which was determined after a review of more than 10,000 travel basketball players, includes another camper named Brandon. But unlike Boston, Brandon Gardner, who grew up in Waynesboro before moving to South Carolina last year, is not yet a household name. In fact, the 6-5 fifteen year old has defied any "reasonable" expectation for what he could accomplish before entering high school by being invited to this weekend's camp. For even though he helped lead Bethune-Bowman's high school team to a South Carolina class 2A state semifinal round finish as an 8th grader last season, Brandon was cut from from the Burke County Middle School team less than 24 months ago when he tried out as a 7th grader who at the time had never before played organized basketball.

From playing in the dirt to playing on the big stage

Brandon Gardner in Waynesboro in 2012

Even though he showed promise playing in that league some 22 months ago, I don't think anybody would have predicted he would enjoy the kind of success he has had between then and now:

Since then Brandon has grown to be 6-5 with the wingspan of a 7 footer, he has been gobbling up recognitions left and right, and in ninth grade he will attend Gray Collegiate, a South Carolina high school hoops power.

Below former Westside state champion, Duke star and NBA first round draft pick Will Avery praises Gardner:

"Although he never played organized ball, he always played in the dirt in the yard," Gordon further explained to me when I asked about Brandon's recent progress. "He's always loved the game."

For fostering Brandon's development, Gordon credits not only Avery's developmental league, but also Rich Cook, Brandon's first organized basketball coach in that league, as well as Darius Wiley, Brandon's AAU coach who will take him to this weekend's camp, which can be followed on a live stream feed at

Coming soon: More standout incoming freshmen from the area

Gardner's story proves that hard work and good fortune can transform today's beginners into tomorrow's stars. So it is impossible to know today which rising ninth graders will make an impact at the high school level in the years to come. But what I can and will do soon is show you which players have caught my eye while playing exceptional basketball on the summer circuit and during the middle school season right before that. I have a list of more than 10 players who will be featured soon in that post.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Information about this weekend's football, basketball, cheer and dance camps organized by a real life hero

Today in between the action at the Burke County football camp I got a dose of inspiration by learning more about Marquez Gibson's 5th Annual Skills Camp, which will be held this Saturday and Sunday. Here are the details about the camp and about coach Gibson, who is a real life hero for dedicating so much of his time and effort to the causes described in the interview and in the space below:

ASAP Performance 5th Annual Skills Camp Details:

Saturday, July 20 at Josey from 7:30 A.M. to 2:30 P.M.

- Football skills and Cheerleading

Sunday, July 21 at Laney from 1:30 P.M. to 6:30 P.M.

- Basketball and Dance

- FREE Registration; FREE T-Shirts and FREE bags each day; and 250 trophies will be awarded

From the interview:

"Growing up, we didn't have an opportunity to go to camps. So my way of giving back is through education and sports." - Marquez "Furley" Gibson

The camp is hosted by Cycle of Poverty Breakers, a 501c3 coach Gibson formed. Sponsorships and donations are appreciated.

30-40 volunteers will contribute each day.

Gibson teaches math at the East Georgia campuses in Augusta and Swainsboro. He coaches football at Laney. And he has his own SAT/ACT preparation software that he uses to help students improve their math scores on standardized test.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

An In Depth Conversation with an Insider about the Peach Jam Preparation and Experience of AOT's Sharife Cooper, Brandon Boston and Dylan Cardwell

AOT, the Atlanta based AAU team that captured the attention and adoration of so many local fans during their 4-2 run in last week’s Nike Peach Jam, which finished when the Runnin’ Rebels fell in overtime to Boo Williams Saturday in the quarterfinal round, had on its coaching staff Augusta native Michael Stokes. Stokes has a long history of coaching on the Nike EYBL circuit and in the Peach Jam. So he is the perfect person to talk to about Sharife Cooper, AOT's dynamic point guard who dominated the competition last weekend, and about his teammate Brandon Boston, ESPN's #7 ranked player in the class of 2020, who resembles some of the game's best ever players. Stokes also has a unique perspective about what it will take, for example, for the next local player to make an impact on a stage like the Peach Jam, because Mike has worked closely with some of the best guards to ever play in Georgia, like Colin Sexton, Ahmed Hill, Ricky Moore and Vonteego Cummings.

Those are the topics discussed in the interview above, which began with me asking him these two questions:

1) The play at the Peach Jam of AOT’s Sharife Cooper has captured the imagination of basketball fans here. He has become the favorite player of so many fans of all ages. His "resume" includes a MaxPreps national high school player of the year award and several honors from the EYBL for his play on the circuit. He seemed to me to be the most dominant player on the court when AOT played Pro Skills, and also when they lost in overtime to Boo Williams in the quarterfinals.

But I look at his ESPN recruiting profile and see Cooper ranked #19 in the class of 2020. Why do you think he is ranked where he is, as opposed to something more like in the top 3 or 5 or something like that, and what does an analysis like this really mean when it comes to how much success a player might have at the college level or even in the NBA, if he is fortunate enough to have that in his future?

2) I recently shared my opinion that Aiken High School’s RJ Felton is currently in the best position of all of the area’s standout players to make an impact in 12 months in a tournament like the Peach Jam. You actually coached RJ last weekend in the Peach State Summer Showcase. And in last week’s Peach Jam, you were the assistant coach for AOT, which included Evans High transfer Dylan Cardwell in its starting lineup. And in addition to all that, you coached the last area player before Cardwell to make a major impact in the Peach Jam when Aquinas and Virginia Tech standout Ahmed Hill led your then Southern Stampede team to an E16 Peach Jam runner up finish in 2012 after a double overtime loss in the championship game.

What will RJ, or other area players, or even younger aspiring hoop dreamers, need to do to give themselves a chance to play on the biggest stage in high school basketball?

Saturday, July 6, 2019

A close look at a fantastic run by Evans, Burke County, Cross Creek and Washington County through the NCAA Georgia Team Camp

What can playing four games in June in a high school team camp that featured one-third of all the teams (150 total) in Georgia with the games being watched by hundreds of college coaches tell us about a team’s prospects for the following season?

I asked Kevin Kenny and Purvis Dukes, the head coaches of Evans and Burke County, that question after their teams went unbeaten in the NCAA Georgia certified (for evaluation by college coaches of all levels) team camp two weekends ago. Below are their responses and the full game highlight reels from 5 of Evans and Burke County’s 8 combined games, along with the highlights from 2 of Cross Creek’s 4 games, and 1 each from Washington County and Jefferson County.

Throw in my analysis of each team, including a review of the competition they faced, and my opinions about what their showing can tell us about where they each stand entering next season, and you have a complete review of the experience that the teams from the CSRA had in this first ever event of its kind.


Class 6A
Record last season: 24-5, 7-3
Post Season: Reached 2nd round of state playoffs

Any assessment of the results, both on paper or in person, achieved by the Knights at the camp had to be unquestionably positive. During the first three games, all shown separately in the highlights below, coach Kenny’s team sprinted out to big leads early, playing with a high level of enthusiasm and using impressive teamwork that amplified the team’s biggest strengths, a deep core of talented perimeter players who can all shoot, run, jump and score. In the highlights below, watch for Christian Chambers (6-2 Sr), Brasen James (6-3 Soph), Rashad King (6-3 Jr), Joshton Mincey (5-10 Jr), Daniel Simpson (6-4 Sr), Jaydynt Stephens (6-1 Soph) and Jourdain Spann (6-0 Soph) to see why I think Evans might have the most talented roster in our area.

Brasen James (Evans)
After lunging to first half leads as large as 21 (vs Dacula), 10 (vs Cherokee Bluff) and 12 (vs Hiram), Evans held off a second half surge every time, and twice went on to win by more than 15 points. But the most impressive result on paper was a win in the final game of the weekend over class 3A defending state champion Morgan County, a game I can’t describe because it was the only Evans game I didn’t watch.

Below are the highlights and a brief look at the opponent's recent history for the first three wins by Evans. But first let’s see coach Kenny’s response when I asked him what he took from the weekend:

I think the biggest thing to take away from it is a confidence and team chemistry factor.  We struggled early in the summer but turned it around to be honest after the Westside (Butler summer league) game. After that we played 100% better and going into the GHSA weekend felt good where we were at. Then to go 4-0, you could tell they felt they could play with anybody. This translated into the very next 3 days (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday ). We beat Glenn Hills Monday and Cross Creek Tuesday and Josey (by 18) on Wednesday . Not only did they feel they could play with anyone, but they could win the close games. Glenn Hills by 4, Cross Creek by 4. So to sum it up, team chemistry was very, very good and confidence in themselves, their teammates and the system was a huge factor this summer. 
- Kevin Kenny (head coach, Evans)

NCAA Georgia Team Camp Results (Evans)

Evans 61, Dacula 45 (Game 1)

Background: Dacula
Class 6A
Recent season results:
2018-19: 12-16, 7-4; reached 1st round of state playoffs
2017-18: 16-11, 7-3; reached 2nd round of state playoffs
2016-17: 20-9, 8-3; reached 2nd round of state playoffs

Evans 45, Cherokee Bluff 43 (Game 2)

Background: Cherokee Bluff
Class 3A
Recent season results:
2018-19: 15-11, 6-6; lost in 1st round of region tournament

Evans 50, Hiram 33 (Game 3)

Background: Hiram
Class 5A
Recent season results:
2018-19: 11-16, 5-1; lost in region tournament quarterfinals
2017-18: 23-10, 11-5; reached semifinal round of state playoffs
2017-17: 11-15, 9-7; lost in 1st round of region tournament

More from coach Kenny:

One more thing. Not to take anything away from Westside, because they will be pretty good, but we only scored 26 points against them (in the summer league) for the game and the kids realized we have too many scorers to only score 26 for a whole game. The very next game we had 28 at the half and that’s when I think everything clicked. Sometimes it takes one little thing for kids to “get it” and I think that was it.

I agree with coach. We won't see any more 28 point halves from this crew.

Is Burke County "back"?

Class 4A
Record last season: 6-15, 1-7
Post Season: First round region tournament exit

The Bears missed the state playoffs last season after a run to the class 4A quarterfinal round in 2018. Coach Purvis Dukes's group is always one of the most disciplined and hardest playing teams we see, with one piece of evidence being the charges taken in the videos below by Dexter Jones, a player who epitomizes Burke County's team identity.

Purvis Dukes will have Burke County back on the winning track.

Fans in Waynesboro should look forward to a resurgence in the team's fortunes in the coming season if Burke County's performance at the team camp is any indication. Before reviewing the results below, let's see what coach Dukes thought of the experience:

Guys understood that this was a first of its kind event for high school players to play with their teams. Teams were well prepared because of the opportunity presented to play in front of so many college coaches. I watched several teams play and the players and teams got after it. This definitely was a first class event.

- Purvis Dukes (head coach, Burke County)

Roderick McBride (Burke County)

I'll add that learning more about his players and watching them thrive in that event was one of the highlights of my weekend. The Bears have a formidable starting five: Roderick McBride (Sr), Bobby Little (Jr), Dexter Jones (Sr), Tim Wright (Sr) and James Mable (6-4 Jr).

Burke County 53, Locust Grove 39 (Game 1)

Background: Locust Grove
Class 5A
Recent season results:
2018-19: 5-21, 2-12; lost in first round of region tournament
2017-18: 5-22, 2-14; lost in first round of region tournament
2016-17: 6-20, 3-13; lost in first round of region tournament

Burke County defeated Perry (Game 2)

Background: Perry
Class 4A
Recent season results:
2018-19: 5-18, 2-8
2017-18: 15-11, 4-6; reached 1st round of state playoffs
2016-17: 22-9, 7-3; reached 3rd round of state playoffs

Dexter Jones (Burke County)

Burke County 47, Lakeview 33 (Game 3)

Background: Lakeview
Class 1A
Recent season results:
2018-19: 20-9, 7-3; reached 1st round of state playoffs
2017-18: 21-8, 15-0; reached 2nd round of state playoffs
2016-17: 25-6, 15-0; reached 3rd round of state playoffs

Burke County defeated Carver-Atlanta (Game 4)

Background: Carver-Atlanta
Class 5A
Recent season results:
2018-19: 12-14, 6-8; reached 2nd round of state playoffs
2017-18: 3-20, 1-13
2016-17: 17-14, 5-9; reached 3rd round of state playoffs

Cross Creek

Class 4A
Record last season: 16-10, 5-3
Post Season: Reached 2nd round of state playoffs

Cross Creek played more than 30 games in June, so one had to expect for the Razorbacks to let down in at least one. That inevitability occurred when Apalachee sprinted out to an early lead and never looked back in Cross Creek's second team camp game. But the Razorbacks sailed through the other three contests on the strength of its unparalleled size. Unparalleled in our area, and certainly in Cross Creek's region, at least.

Kobe Stewart (Cross Creek)

Cross Creek's lead guard and playmaker is senior Kobe Stewart, who stands 6-6 and recently received a scholarship offer from Presbyterian. And this summer he was often surrounded by these four long athletes who have also shown strong fundamentals to go along with their length: Monroe Atkins (6-5 Sr), Corey Trotter (6-4 Jr), Makhi Climons (6-3 Sr transfer from Richmond) and Josh Dorsey (6-2 Jr).

Cross Creek defeated Alcovy (Game 1)

Background: Alcovy
Class 6A
Recent season results:
2018-19: 9-17, 3-8; lost in first round of region tournament
2017-18: 11-15, 4-6; lost in first round of region tournament
2016-17: 6-22, 0-10; reached 1st round of the state playoffs

Apalachee 51, Cross Creek 39 (Game 2)

Background: Apalachee
Class 6A
Recent season results:
2018-19: 11-17, 2-8; reached 1st round of the state playoffs
2017-18: 11-17, 3-7; reached 1st round of the state playoffs
2016-17: 11-15, 4-6; lost in 1st round of region tournament

Cross Creek defeated Arabia Mountain (Game 3)

Background: Arabia Mountain
Class 5A
Recent season results:
2018-19: 6-19, 4-8; lost in 1st round of region tournament
2017-18: 12-13, 4-9; lost in 1st round of region tournament
2016-17: 11-12, 6-7; lost in 1st round of region tournament

Cross Creek 56, Whitfield Academy 39 (Game 4)

Background: Whitfield Academy
Class 1A
Recent season results:
2018-19:10-15, 7-9; lost in region tournament
2017-18: 10-17, 4-10; reached 1st round of state playoffs
2016-17: 20-9, 13-1; reached 2nd round of state playoffs

Washington County and Jefferson County

Jarden Maze (Washington County)

These are two teams I want to follow more closely next season. Washington County needs no introduction because some of the best athletes and teams in the history of CSRA sports have come from the school in Sandersville. The Golden Hawks hoops program benefits from the leadership of its veteran head coach, Carlos Hope. WACO is a perennial power in class 2A, and Hope's team played the most difficult schedule of any area team at the NCAA Georgia event. Despite losing 44-41 in its opening game against Lambert of class 7A, Washington County showed it can compete with any program of any size. The Golden Hawks were led by senior guard Jarden Maze, who has been praised heavily by recruiting analysts throughout the offseason.

Washington County would go on to win two and lose two in a four game slate that also included class 5A state runner up Fayette County.

Jefferson County was not as fortunate in the winning department. But by making the trip to Atlanta with only 7 players, including several freshmen and sophomores, and pushing Alcovy of class 6A to overtime, the class 2A school from Louisville proved that success isn't always measured in wins and losses, especially in June.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Deane Williams signs professional contract after leading Augusta to a conference championship and NCAA tournament sweet 16 run

Deane Williams forces overtime with a dunk against Georgia College.

Following a historic senior season in which he led Augusta University to a Peach Belt Conference regular season and tournament championship and a spot in the sweet sixteen round of the NCAA Division II tournament, Deane Williams recently became the latest Jaguar to sign a professional contract. The 6-8 forward who earned PBC Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and first team all conference honors, as well as spots on the DC2CCA All-Region and NACA All-District teams, inked a deal to play for the Keflavík Icelandic Basketball Club in Reykjanesbaer, Iceland.

In a recent interview Williams described to me what it meant to him to inspire so many Augusta fans, young and old, during last season’s run, which included a 15 game winning streak that survived for 50 calendar days and included a trio of conference tournament wins in front of thousands of fans in Augusta’s home gym during the PBC tournament:

"That means a lot to me. Basketball’s way bigger than me, so I just try to make it enjoyable to watch," Williams explained. "I hope sometime in the near future I can come back and play in an alumni game. That would be awesome."

Deane Williams and Keshun Sherrill at the Dip Metress Basketball Academy

Williams, who averaged 16 points and 9 rebounds last season, joins four more former Jaguars in the professional ranks: Keshun Sherrill (2017), KJ Sherrill (2014), Garret Siler (2009) and Ben Madgen (2010). Sherrill and Williams, who were teammates for two years, each led the Jaguars to conference championships during their senior seasons, and they each earned conference player of the year honors during their final season. The duo recently worked together as counselors at the Dip Metress Basketball Academy, and Sherrill had kind words, wrapped in some sarcastic humor, for his slightly younger friend:

"When I first saw them earlier this week, I told Deane and Miguel (Arnold), who won freshman of the year last season, like I once did, ‘welcome to the club,’" Sherrill joked. "When I watched the team last season from the Netherlands, I really didn’t enjoy the fact that Deane seemed to block all the shots, finish all the spectacular dunks and and win defensive player of the year in the conference."

Next season Augusta will return several players from last year’s championship team. Jags fans will look forward to cheering on the future Jaguar seniors who will try to hang championship banners and possibly reach the professional ranks as well.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Players and fans were overwhelmingly appreciative for the gift that was David Beard's Clash of the Classes alumni and Top 20 Area Showcase games

Clash of the Classes host David Beard

The players and fans who experienced the Clash of the Classes alumni tournament and the boys and girls high school Top 20 Area Showcase games at Richmond Academy this weekend expressed genuine enthusiasm and gratitude for what the event’s organizer, David Beard, had put together for them. The appreciation for the gift he gave his community could be seen when the greatest players from the past two decades of Glenn Hills basketball turned in an inspiring performance in topping what many considered the favorite, Laney, 99-74 in the alumni tournament championship game.

Clash of the Classes champion Glenn Hills

Aubrey McRae (‘2014), fresh off a stellar senior season at Clayton State, proved that basketball remains a young man’s game by scoring 33 points, burying 6 three pointers in the process, on his way to game MVP honors. But more seasoned Spartans like Reggie Middleton and Jerel Stephenson (‘2008) also showed they have much more left in their tanks by carrying the Spartans during key stretches of play.

McRae showed his pride after the game by claiming to be a #Spartan4Life on Facebook, while Middleton celebrated by posting a picture taken alongside fellow Glenn Hills (2008) state champions Stephenson and Chris Reynolds, and pointing out that everybody who said the trio was “too old,” or “washed,” had been proven wrong.

Truth be told, it made good sense to predict a Wildcat win. Laney’s squad included greats like Rod Hall (‘2011), who finished a four year run as Clemson in 2015, and former Benedict College standout Xavier “Da-Da” Collier (‘2006), a player age never has been able to slow down, as well as Harold Doby (‘2010), a three year starter for Augusta University.

But Sunday belonged to Glenn Hills, which blew the game open with a 26-8 run that lasted for the first 6 minutes of the second half, and ended with McRae’s fourth three pointer of the quarter, which came immediately after teammate Daniel Quarles blocked Hall’s shot on the other end to ignite a fast break. McRae’s 22 point second half outburst followed a strong first half by Middleton and Stephenson, who scored 13 and 10, respectively, before intermission.

Aubrey McRae: Clash of the Classes championship game MVP

A true testament to the kind of appreciation heaped on Beard, who graduated from Glenn Hills and sank a couple free throws himself in the win, came when even Laney’s players and supporters, who were smarting from a blow to their collective pride after a sizable loss, expressed their gratitude for chance to participate. Doby told me after the game that he felt good, even though he hadn’t played basketball in two years, and that he plans to play in a men’s league soon. Even Chris Thomas (‘2007), a Greene County assistant football coach, a former Benedict College football standout and the biggest Laney fan in the building Sunday gave Beard an enthusiastic stamp of approval, thanking him "for giving the city something to look forward to these next couple of summers!!!"

The High Schoolers Showed their Appreciation too

If you think the “former” players only expressed so much appreciation for the chance to gather and play ball in Beard’s event because they don't get as many opportunities to do so as the scholastic competitors do, I present to you the actions and words of the high schoolers who were given the honor of competing in the boys and girls Top 20 Area Showcase games.

Take Jordyn Dorsey, a rising junior for Cross Creek who zipped home from Columbia Sunday afternoon, minutes after finishing three days of team camp at the University of South Carolina, so she could participate in the girls game at 4:00 P.M. Dorsey arrived just in time to be interviewed by WRDW for a special news segment about the area's best player, who recently received a scholarship offer from Charleston Southern, a Division I program, despite the fact that she has two seasons of high school ball remaining.

Jordyn Dorsey (Cross Creek '2021)

Dorsey competed fiercely, but her Team Black squad found themselves in the same predicament every class 4A team in South Carolina has encountered during the past 3 high school seasons, overwhelmed by the unstoppable force that continues to be the North Augusta Lady Yellow Jackets.

The back-to-back-to-back state championship program was represented expertly by seniors J'Mani Ingram and Tyliah Burns, and junior Kiana Lee, who was named MVP after Team White's 42-27 victory.

Kiana Lee (North Augusta) - MVP Top 20 Area Showcase

The boys version of the Top 20 Area Showcase, which concluded the evening, also featured several players who wedged the opportunity to play with and against their elite local peers into a hectic June and July schedule that this year has become all about "exposure" to college recruiters.

The game's can't miss college prospects, Kobe Stewart (Cross Creek '2020), RJ Felton (Aiken '2021), Latavian Lawrence (Gray Collegiate '2020), Emmanuel Jones (Glenn Hills '2020) and John Whitehead (Glenn Hills '2020) all competed Friday and Saturday in NCAA certified team or individual camps before darting over to Richmond for a fun day of fellowship and competition at Richmond.

Team Yellow topped Team Red 82-75 in the Top 20 Area Showcase

Jones was named MVP after scoring 28 points for the victorious Team Yellow, which defeated Team Red 82-75 after holding off a second half comeback attempt led by Felton and Lawrence. The 6'7" wing posted on social media Sunday night that he was "blessed" and had "so much love for this game," which is fitting because, in a way, like I said earlier, between Beard's creation, Glenn Hills's alumni tournament championship game triumph and Emmanuel's MVP honor, the day belonged to Glenn Hills.

But the gift Beard gave made an impact far beyond an affiliation with a particular school. And the impact it made will last a long time. I can't wait to watch what Beard's creation will grow into, and what he will give us in the future.