Monday, October 31, 2016

Splash Brothers - Eric and Josh Graham

Splash Brothers Josh Graham (left) and Eric Graham (right)

After the offseason remake of the NBA's Golden State Warriors' roster, the "splash brothers" name no longer fully describes the heart of the NBA's most buzzed about team. But that doesn't mean the name has to die, because we have our own set of actual brothers who can carry it right here in town. As you can see, junior Grovetown guard Eric Graham, and his eighth grade (Columbia Middle) brother Josh Graham have the kinds of sweet strokes that quickly show you they are pure shooters.

As a sophomore, Eric averaged 15 points per game and shot 42% from deep, making 3 threes per game. He scored double figures in 17 of 23 outings. And he played his best during the season's most important moments. After burying 5 of 6 threes and scoring a team high 18 points in a region tournament win over Lakeside, he made 5 first quarter threes the next day and nearly engineered a shocking upset over then #1 ranked Warner Robins, the eventual region champs. 

The 6'2" guard also has a knack for the dramatic. Here is my account of his game winner against Aiken in last December's North Augusta Christmas Tournament quarterfinal round game:

Graham's heroic shot came after a 5.7 second sprint to the hoop that started on the opposite baseline. The sophomore split two defenders near half court and dropped the shot over a third. He also made the basket that tied the game at 67 with 26 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and forced overtime.

Younger brother Josh also has Eric's knack for changing games with a deft shooting touch. He did so in a pair of Nike Invitational Tournament AAU games at Richmond Academy in July. Both times I watched Team Power's eighth graders, many of whom will lead the way this season for the best middle school teams around, Graham poured in shot after shot. I left thinking I hadn't seen him hit the rim all weekend!

When I saw big brother Eric, who was sitting on Team Power's bench cheering on his brother and his teammates that day at Richmond, I asked him who is the family's best shooter? He gave me essentially the same answer then as they both did Wednesday in this interview at Columbia Middle's practice. (They don't know, which makes sense because I don't either!)

Of course it's good that the brothers don't brag at each other's expense. And it's even better that seemingly every time in recent memory I will have seen Josh play (at Richmond in July, at Columbia Middle's practice Wednesday, and at next week's Columbia versus Grovetown Middle showdown), I also will have seen Eric supporting him.

Two real life brothers who are good to each other. Two brothers who splash shots in from everywhere. Splash brothers. I told you they can carry the name.

The next "AugBball Game of the Night" dates for Eric and Josh's teams:

Grovetown Middle @ Columbia Middle - Wednesday (tomorrow), Nov 2

- For live highlights and updates, follow @AugBball on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Richmond Academy @ Grovetown - Tuesday, November 15

- For live highlights and updates, follow @AugBball on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Read Keenan Mann's introduction of Clint Bryant so he can turn you into a Jags fan like he did me 30 years ago

Keenan Mann (left); Brian Schmall (middle); William Lester (right):
The first three signees by then (1988) first year
Augusta Universtiy head coach Clint Bryant.

Clint Bryant was inducted into the Augusta City Classic Hall of Fame Friday, and the longtime Augusta University athletic director and former basketball coach was introduced at the event honoring him by former player Keenan Mann. Mann's introduction speech (posted below) gives a view into the results when coaching and being coached are done the exact right way.

Keenan's contributions to AugBball over the years are some of the very best posted at this blog. Don't forget to check out as many of his writings, which I share at the very bottom of this post, as you can. I promise they are all worth a close read. But before I turn it over to Keenan I'll give the two reasons I am posting his script from Friday's event immediately after getting my hands on it:

1) Everything Keenan writes is awesome. I know I'm repeating myself. But it bares repeating. Check out the links at the bottom. And share them with others. You'll make somebody's day.

2) Readers of AugBball know I'm a huge Augusta University hoops fan. That didn't happen by accident. 29 years ago, when I was in seventh grade, my dad started taking me to Jags games. It was Clint Bryant's first year as the school's new coach and athletic director. Keenan Mann was a freshman small forward who ran the floor, dunked on guys, blocked shots, made threes, and killed in the post. Fellow freshman Brian Schmall was the point guard and team leader who was so good beating guys off the dribble that I took everything I could figure out that he was doing and practiced it day after day with a chair as the defender in my driveway. And William Lester was a lighting quick 5'11 guard who would dunk with two hands off the stride.

Those four guys are featured in Keenan's introduction of Clint and they started my fandom of the Augusta University hoops program. Of course my devotion to the Jags is still growing three decades later thanks to men like Dip Metress, who arrived as the team's assistant coach during coach Bryant's second season, and players like Keshun Sherrill, whose senior season I can't wait to watch, beginning this Saturday at Wichita State.

It's my aim this week to share as many stories from die hard Jags fans as possible in anticipation of this weekend's season opener. Keenan is right with me in loving today's Jags. When you go see home game this season, I bet you'll see him at the scorer's table right beside the team's most loyal followers. If a guy as smart as Keenan rarely misses a chance to see Augusta University play, maybe you'll want to think twice before missing them too.

The winning tradition that we see today was born in 1988 during the conversation between "Coach B" and Keenan described in the following speech about his beloved coach. Now I will finally shut up and let you read it... Enjoy it and share it.

Keenan Mann's introducing his former coach Clint Bryant:

I don’t do this very often. I mean, I’ve spoken to a large assembled group before and I’ve worn a tuxedo before. But I’ve never spoken before such an esteemed gathering and the last time I wore a tux, which was 19 years ago, was the first time I wore a tux. That was a special day and so is this one.

So how did I come to be standing here tonight? Well I’m about to read you some things that will help me explain that. And I know reading can be bad form in speech giving, but given that it’s even worse form to stand up in front of a bunch of people and completely forget what the hell you were going to say, you’re all going have to put up with some of it from me. That wasn’t an apology, it was a warning.

In between the reading and a story or two that I’ll also relate to you, I hope to have completely answered how I came to be here tonight.

With my warning out of the way, I’d like to read the following to you:

· He was born in 1937 in Washington DC

· He played three years for Villanova University, finishing his career with 835 rebounds, which is still good enough for 11th all time

· Three years after his college playing days were over he became an assistant coach at Villanova

· After 6 years at Villanova he became an assistant at the University of Maryland where he stayed for 3 years

· Then he took his first head coaching job at Washington State University where he stayed for 11 years

· After a successful run at Washington State he moved to the University of Iowa where he became the first black head basketball coach in the school’s history.

· After three years there, he became the head coach of the USC Trojans where he remained for 8 years.

· He retired from coaching at the age of 57 after a car accident forced him to undergo a grueling and extensive rehab regimen.

· Since retiring from coaching, he has worked for Nike as the Director of International Basketball.

· During that time he has written two books on basketball (War on the Boards and The Rebounders Workshop)

· He has also done color commentary for CBS sports and Fox Sports net.

Among his coaching accomplishments are:

· 6 NCAA Tournament appearances

· 2 NIT Appearances

· 3 time Pac 10 coach of the year

· Gold medal as an assistant on the 1984 US Men’s Olympic team

· Bronze medal as an assistant on the 1988 US Men’s Olympic team

· Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee in 2015

· College Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee in 2013

That’s a partial list of Coach George Raveling’s accomplishments. And Coach Raveling was the guy originally slated make Coach Bryant’s induction speech tonight, but he fell ill earlier this week and Coach Bryant called me to ask if I would deliver a speech in his stead. I’m not sure how Coach expected me to react but, I immediately told him I was in. What I didn’t say Coach is that you could’ve even stipulated that I needed to wear yellow tights and a pink halter top while delivering my remarks and I would have still done it. But only once. Seriously, considering the resume I just read to you and my own which is quite feeble in comparison, I consider my standing here tonight in this capacity, quite an honor. Perhaps even the honor of my life.

And it’s for that reason that I’d like to pause here and say thanks to you Coach, and to Trish (who showed up for another big game tonight), and to Lauren and Kristen for considering me worthy of the task before me. I am humbled beyond my ability to convey.

Oh and I should say to Lauren and Kristen, that I’ve always viewed the two of you like little sisters. Your father became like a father to me at a critical time in my life. Looking back though I got screwed on the weekly allowance spilt. The three of us will need to talk about reparations soon, but we can “take that discussion off line”, as they say.

Tonight is about Coach Bryant.

Now for one of those stories. I’ll try to set the scene for you. It’s my senior year in the days leading up to our first game of the season. I’m a co-captain and I’m the guy who makes the speech in the players only huddle before our games. (Note this was before all the dancing and silly stuff that you see in some huddles and thank God for that). Anyway, knowing I’d need to have something to say, I’d been searching for just the right thing when I came across it in a movie that was popular at the time. The movie was really, really dumb, but this line was proof, to me at least, that there is wisdom to be found everywhere. So anyway, now it’s almost game time and we’re all assembled center court, bent over in a circle, with our arms over the shoulders of our teammates to the right and left. I talk about how we’ve been preparing all summer and pre-season for this and that its time to make it pay off and then I bring up Coach Bryant’s name. And remind everybody in the huddle of the privilege he has afforded us. We’re going to college for free. He’s seeing to it that we’re treated first class everywhere we go. All our meals paid for. Free shoes, sweat suits etc. And I tell them them we owe him and, using a direct quote from the movie, I say, “sometimes you gotta pay what you owe." Over the course of that season I varied my opening remarks, but I always ended it with the same seven word admonition. Sometimes you gotta pay what you owe. The idea was that we’d remit payment to Coach by giving 100% effort. Coach, you never knew that but each game that year we played for you. We didn’t win them all but we were all trying to pay you back.

And when you asked me a couple of days ago to do this I reached out to a couple of guys and asked them to say words tonight long distance.

 Here’s the first:

I would like to congratulate you on your accomplishment for the evening, and sorry I could not be here. I would like to say thank you. Thank you for making dreams come true. Thank you for first visiting Tallahassee when no other major schools were coming to scout me. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to play college basketball. Thank you for allowing my family to see me go to college and graduate. Thank you for allowing us as kids to grow and become men and leaders in our communities. Thank you for allowing Keenan and myself to become roommates and building on a friendship that has lasted ever since. You will always be remembered from riding in the Blue Goose (Augusta’s travel station wagon) to the late night run in Santa Barbara California.

Thank you,

William Lester your 1st freshman signee for the 1988-1989 season.

And here’s another:

Coach Bryant,

As much respect as I have for you as a basketball coach, it pales in comparison to the respect that I have for you as a person. The life lessons that you taught me and my teammates, for example, the sayings that were on the practice schedule everyday and discussions about their meaning at center court that had nothing to do with basketball, I've taken with me and gone back to when dealing with different situations in life.

Over 25 years later, not a week goes by when I don't refer to you or something that you said to me and/or my teammates when I was in college. To this day, you still reach out and provide words of encouragement when I need something or am going through a rough time. Quick example, when I had some health issues a few years back, you sent me an email that I still have saved to this very day and read every so often. What you wrote in that email will never be forgotten and helped me get through what I was going through.

I'm forever in debt to you for believing in me and offering me a scholarship when nobody else did, but more importantly, for being a father figure and teaching me about life outside of basketball.

Congrats Coach B

Brian Schmall, your 2nd freshman signee for the 1988-1989 season

And one more:


Twenty-eight years ago, I walked into your office for what I suppose looking back was a recruiting visit. Lots of the details escape me now, but I remember how you grabbed me around my shoulders with those giant paws of yours and flashed that 1000-watt smile at me. You sat me down and told me you were offering me a full scholarship. Then you told me a little about yourself and what was important to you. At the top of your list was helping young men like me get college degrees so they could lead productive lives. Winning basketball games was on your list too but you were realistic. You knew we were at least a few years away from that so you prioritized “getting better” (that phrase still drives me by the way). It meant getting more talented players but it also meant working hard each day. You were so honest with me that day. You’d never seen me play but I had come highly recommended by Coach Don Brock and one of your newly hired assistant coaches, Gerald White. Still I was 6 feet 6 inches tall and about 160 pounds, soaking wet with $10 worth of quarters in each pocket so you told me I probably wouldn’t play much. You actually said I’d be a “project.” I didn’t flinch. I was happy to be getting an opportunity to play college basketball – for free. You went on to tell me some other things that day (like how fast the time would go) but I’d already heard enough. If I’d have had the presence of mind, and if the now famous movie line had already been etched in my memory, I’d have told you, “You had me at scholarship.” But it wasn’t just that, it was the that paternal aura you gave off. I felt like I’d known you all my life after about 15 minutes.

And boy did you stick to your word about me not playing much as our freshman year got under way. I was so deep on the bench in the first few games that I would use the time to catch up on homework. But I hung in there and you kept encouraging me. And 5 games into the season I had earned enough of your confidence to start my first college game – a road contest at South Carolina State University. We lost, which we did a lot that year, but I played very well and you decided as a result to keep me in the starting line up for the next four years. And I turned out to be such a good project that you put my jersey in the rafters when my playing days were done. I’ve often asked myself why and how in the hell did I end up having the career I had and today I’ll answer that question for you: Because for four years you allowed me fail on the basketball court while maintaining very high expectations. There was never any pressure. Just high expectations. It was the very definition of being put in a position to succeed.

Oh and you were right about how fast the time went. I don’t think you know or remember this but I was sitting in the locker room after my last game – still in uniform, incredulous, numb, and stunned that it was in fact all over and that it had gone so fast, when you walked in looking for me. You came straight to where I was sitting and motioned for me to stand and gave me the biggest hug I think I’ve ever had. I don’t think you noticed this, but I cried like a baby while we were hugging and did my best to hide the tears when our embraced ended. You never said a word. But in my heart I heard, “I told you how fast it was gonna all be over. I hate that I was right. I’m gonna miss working with you every day. I’m proud of you. I love you.” And the feeling was mutual.

I could go on an on about what I learned from you. The basketball stuff was important, but largely irrelevant now. You were my first role model as a young adult. I watched how you did things. I watched how you acted like you belonged in every room you entered. I watched how respectfully you talked to people who had earned your respect. I watched you take people to task (perfect strangers as well as acquaintances) who thought they could slight you without consequence. I watched how you treated the people in your charge – always with class. I watched how you dressed- always with class. I watch you care about people you didn’t have to care about. And I’m so glad I got to watch all that. The examples have all served me so well in my life.

Keenan Mann,

Your third and final freshman signee for the 1988-1989 season and the first of your signees as head coach for Augusta College to earn a college degree.

So that’s how I came to be standing here tonight. Coach Bryant called me off the bench one more time. Hopefully I’ve proven again that I was ready.

And I figured the best way to tell you about who he is would be to tell you what he did for the first three young men that he made a part of his program and his life when he moved to Augusta. I should note that all three of us graduated and are doing just fine now.

If I could huddle all the guys one more time and give one last rah-rah speech with full knowledge of just how valuable the experiences and the education would actually be in terms of the choices it made available and the doors it helped to open, I’d modify my closing line. I’d say, “guys I know I told you all those years ago that ‘sometimes you gotta pay what you owe’, but I’ve come to realize now that sometimes its impossible to repay people for the things they’ve done for you – but you should still try. And in the very least you should say thank you.

So, thank you coach Bryant, from one of the most grateful people in this room tonight.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 2016 Augusta City Classic hall of fame inductee, Mr. Clint Bryant.

Links to other AugBball posts by Keenan Mann:

A Local Basketball Legend Is Honored - Again

One of the Greatest Jags


"Walk On"

A letter to a hoop dreamer

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Georgia Kingz start new season tonight at 6 at Butler High

Making it to season two for any semi-pro sports team is no easy feat. So hats off to PJ Meyers, Robert Turner, Chris Washington, Santoine Butler, Xavier Collier (all shown in the video above) and the Georgia Kingz ABA team that tips off its second season against the Gainesville Heat tonight at 6:00 P.M. at Butler High.
This season's schedule has twice the
 number of games of last season's.

The Kingz won 10 of their 11 games last season. And now that Meyers, the team's owner, and the guys have proven their staying power, this year's schedule has expanded significantly. The team from Augusta will also play in the ABA's "Georgia" division, to which Sunday's opponent Gainesville also belongs.

Since the Kingz were founded, many of the best area players from the last decade have filled the roster. Former Richmond Academy players Tommy Williams and Don Quarles are the newest additions. Williams was Augusta University's second leading scorer (13.1 ppg) and leading rebounder (8.2 rpg) last season. Quarles was a two year starter at Paine.

I highlighted the Kingz twice last season (the links to those reports are below). The team scored nearly 140 points per outing last season. And at one time Meyers was averaging 50 (!) points, and Turner over 30, per outing.

Don't miss the tip-off season two of ABA action from our Georgia Kingz!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Flashback Friday with Joel Embiid, the GAIS Eagles, and Buck Harris's historic 2015 Laney squad

Buck Harris led the 2014-15 Laney Wildcats, the
best team this area has seen in the last decade.

Two seasons ago, Buck Harris's Laney Wildcats captured the attention of hoops watchers throughout the state of Georgia when they blitzed their way through their regular season schedule in stunning fashion, winning 29 straight games against a who's who of the peach state's most accomplished programs. But last night's debut of the NBA's most highly regarded rookie, Philadelphia's Joel Embiid, who some have projected may one day be a Hakeem Olajuwon type player, reminded me that I actually may have been before Buck in scheduling the best of the best to test his high school team.

For when the GAIS Eagles (the team I last coached) opened the 2012-13 season, it was against The Rock, a high powered program out of Florida which featured the 7 footer Embiid, then a senior, just days before he signed with Kansas, which I reported on at the time here.

Watching Embiid score 20 points in 22 minutes in his much anticipated NBA debut made me recall the first time I saw the giant center from Cameroon who moves and shoots with the grace of a sharp shooting small forward. Here's how I told the story of walking in the gym to see Embiid stroking threes in warmup to a couple friends in Facebook thread:

"My main guys were seniors so we scheduled all these prep schools and high powered high schools. The first school on the schedule was "The Rock," Embid's school. Scottie Wilbekin had played there and his brother Mitchell was a junior on the team at the time.
Anyway, we didn't know Embid, but when we walked in he was shooting threes from the top of the key, and making moves off the dribble and shooting all these jumpers, while a guy was rebounding for him. That was the first thing we saw. Matt Miller and I stood there and watched him for a while and finally I said, trying not to spook him too bad but just telling the truth, "that guy looks like Durant with how tall he is and the way he shoots. But we're still gonna kick his butt." The second part was just me saying that to try to keep our competitive spirit up. All our guys were 6'1" and under except TJ Massenburg, who at the time was only in the 8th grade.
Anyway, once the game started he played around the bucket. But he was awesome! That was TJ's first varsity game and he had to play against Embid, who signed with Kansas like a week later. We hung with them for a half then lost like 80-52. Embid scored 12 and their team made 12 threes. They were probably the best high school team I've watched up close when you combine the talent and the discipline. That coach at The Rock was a great one."

Even if I didn't want Matt to think I was worried about our chances in that first game of his senior season, I was obviously worried that Embiid's team would quickly run away from us. And The Rock almost did just that. But anybody who watched that Eagles squad play wouldn't be surprised to hear that in a matter of about 3 minutes, Austin Crown, who, like Miller, scored over 3,000 career points as an Eagle, turned an 11-0 first quarter deficit into a more manageable 21-15 score leading into the second.

As you know from the story above, we weren't able to hang with the Rock for 32 minutes. But as I describe in this post recounting that "GAIS's unusual weekend," we DID end that weekend with a win over eventual McDonald's All American and current South Carolina Gamecock PJ Dozier's Spring Valley squad in the Will Avery Hoops Preview at Evans the day after facing Embiid.

Long time AugBball readers know I was impressed with my old coach Buck Harris's 2014-15 run. And I've always encouraged coaches to schedule like he did that season. But recalling that weekend makes me question whether he learned that trick from me! Facing a lottery pick who has the NBA audience buzzing in anticipation of an All Star and beyond career Friday morning and a McDonald's All Ameican Saturday evening is tough to beat when it comes to scheduling the best. And if that pair of games doesn't prove my point, consider that between those two games, we also played two games against these two guys Friday afternoon and Saturday morning!

Evan Payne in the most impressive AugBball highlights you've probably never seen

The 7 footer who was the fourth best player the GAIS Eagles faced in that 36 hour period

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

AugBball News: The NBA tips off; preseason honors awarded to college hoopers of local interest; and the middle school seasons tips off in one week

For the first time I can recall, the buzz about the first official games of the new basketball season has been electric during the past 24 hours. But I think everybody is up to speed with Tuesday's dominant performances by the Cavs and the Spurs. So I'll save what I have to add to what I've already posted until last and start with news about local college players earning preseason honors, and also with a preview of the first game I'll feature (in exactly one week) in our area.

Keshun Sherrill named to preseason first team All Peach Belt Conference team

The list of honors compiled by Augusta University senior Keshun Sherrill is impossible to list at one time. But this graphic from does as good of a job as possible:

Add to it that with a season left to play, the best Jaguar to ever suit up (in my opinion) is already 9th on the all time Peach Belt Conference scoring list with 1609 points, and you can understand why it's my goal not to miss any of Keshun's games in this his final season.

My first opportunity to see Sherrill and the Jags is Saturday, November 5th, when they visit national powerhouse Wichita State. I previewed that matchup, and I shared this playlist of videos from some of my favorite Keshun Sherrill moments from the past two seasons in part one of my AugBball college hoops preview.

Gilbert, Georgia's 2016 POY, earns AAC preseason ROY honors

Alterique Gilbert, who earned 3 state titles and was named Georgia's best high school player during his 4 seasons at Miller Grove, has brought with him to UConn the highest of expectations. So it is no surprise that he was voted the American Athletic Conference preseason rookie of the year. UConn coach Kevin Ollie, who has a national championship on his resume already after only four seasons at the helm, said in an interview that having a leader like Gilbert helps him "sleep better at night."

I described why I'm so interested in Gilbert and UConn in part one of my AugBball College Hoops Preview. He reminds me of his assistant coach, former UConn national champion and Westside High School legend (and good friend) Ricky Moore. But even if it weren't for his local ties, I think an image like this, taken during UConn's "First Night" event to present the new team to its fans, would have me captivated nonetheless!

*Special note: Gilbert's third state title went through Richmond Academy by way of a difficult win in the sweet sixteen round of last season's 5A state playoffs. I've been told this SUVtv documentary, Reclaiming the Crown, about Miller Grove's 2015-16 season, gives a lot of attention and credit to our Musketeers. Also, a key member of Miller Grove's team was Laney transfer Colin Young, who I expect is featured too. So check it out!

Columbia Middle and Grovetown to battle for bragging rights 

Every season, the area's first games come from the abnormally early starting Columbia County middle schools. But no matter when the games start, I am convinced that a higher than usual portion of our area's best young players are coming from this section of our area. And one of the first pieces of evidence was last season's barn burner of an opener between Grovetown Middle and Columbia Middle.

AugBball Flashback: Grovetown vs Columbia Middle (2015)

Grovetown Middle's 31-30 win last October was decided when Chris Williams, now a freshman at Grovetown High, made the game winner seconds before time ran out.

And weeks later Columbia's Christian Chambers returned the favor, scoring 33 points in a 57-46 win that locked the teams, which each finished with 13-1 records, for good in a tie at the top of the County's standings.

Grovetown vs Columbia Middle, Part 3

Williams and Chambers are two of the area's best five freshmen. And I place at least three former classmates of theirs, Grovetown's Ricky McGhee and Columbia's Josh Graham and Julius Brown, in the same place on this season's list of the area's best middle schoolers. McGhee is a 6'3" guard who is highly skilled and very experienced despite being only 13 years old. He played a major role in both showdowns with Columbia last season. And I watched Graham light it up from deep on at least two occasions this summer while playing with Team Power's 8th grade AAU team, which includes most of the area's best middle schoolers. Finally, Brown was instrumental in Columbia's payback win over Grovetown last season, as you can see at the second link directly below.

Link to AugBball's game report of Grovetown vs Columbia, Part 1

Link to AugBball's game report of Grovetown vs Columbia, Part 2

Stay tuned to AugBball's coverage of the town's first official game of the new season:
Grovetown vs Columbia, Part 3 - Wednesday, November 2

Breonna O'Conner named to first team all PBC team

Senior Breonna O'Conner earned preseason first team All Peach Belt Conference honors after consistently proving herself one of the league's top performers as a junior last season, her first at Augusta University. She scored in double figures in 29 of 32 games, finished fifth in the league in points per game (15), and scored 32 points in a win over Anderson University to lead the Lady Jaguars to the second NCAA tournament sweet sixteen round appearance in school history.

Augusta finished last season ranked #25 in the nation. I will feature the Lady Jaguars at AugBball for the first time when they open their season November 22 at home against Fort Valley State.

O'Conner also finished second in the PBC with 78 steals last season

Two "super teams" tally season opening blowout wins

I've never been as fascinated by the beginning of the NBA season as I am now. So my fretting about whether Kevin Durant's move to Golden State will "hurt the league" was surely nonsense. And if there were any doubts about that when the first jump ball of the new season was tossed in Cleveland Tuesday, first Lebron James and Kyrie Irving, and later Kawhi Leonard and (out of nowhere) Jonathan Simmons proved there is so much more to be excited about than only the league's new supposed super team.

I summarized the story of the NBA's first evening a post this morning. It included my favorite five plays as "vined" by my favorite internet basketball guy. But I forgot one, Simmons's Lebron-esque run down block on back-to-back MVP Steph Curry's layup.

Even more interesting than that block, not to mention Simmons's game ending flush and his nearly perfect season opening stat line, is the story of how he came to be an NBA player. After graduating from a Houston high school in 2008, Simmons played seven seasons of basketball for various junior college, college, and semi-pro teams (only one of which, the University of Houston, I've ever heard of!) before earning a roster spot in San Antonio. I bet Spurs fans are happy this former member of the Sugar Land Legends and the Austin Toros didn't give up on his NBA dream before it came true!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Cavs and Spurs dominate the Knicks and Warriors on the NBA's opening night

The Cavs played to top form Tuesday. But the Spurs spoiled
the party for the NBA's new "super team" Golden State

The NBA tipped off Tuesday with highly anticipated matchups involving the two teams it seems everybody expects to battle next summer in the NBA Finals for the third straight time: the Cavs, who opened with the Knicks; and the Warriors, who drew the Spurs.

The result in the opener was no surprise. Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving picked up Tuesday where he left off last June, when he averaged 27 points in the Finals against Golden State in an MVP caliber performance.

In the 117-88 win over New York, Irving scored 29 points, while the actual MVP of last season’s Finals, Lebron James, tallied a triple-double. James picked apart the defense with sweet dishes running Cleveland’s offensive sets, picking up 14 assists to go with his 19 points and 11 rebounds.

And he got loose in the open court during the second quarter to finish a play reminiscent of one of his handful of signature plays from last summer.

If last season’s champion Cavs were flawless in their opener, the team 70% of NBA general managers predict will win this season’s title, the Golden State Warriors, looked like they missed the memo about the season officially starting.

But San Antonio’s 129-100 whipping of Kevin Durant’s new team had much more to do with Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs forward with a Finals MVP and back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards to his name, than it had to do with Durant or Steph Curry, or with the other two All NBA Warriors players for that matter.

Leonard scored a career high 35 points and Lamarcus Aldridge added 26 as the pair lit up what on the season’s first day seemed like a vulnerable Golden State defense. I’ll resist the temptation to draw conclusions about the egg the Warriors laid on opening night. Instead I’ll just marvel at Kawhi “the Claw” Leonard, whom my son declared before tip-off to be his favorite player.

Smart kid!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Does Durant's move to Golden State hurt the NBA?

The NBA season tips off Tuesday with a great first week of games, and I will be watching and telling stories about as much of it as I can. With these final AugBball NBA Preview post(s), I'll share some of my opinions that I didn't work into parts 1-3, which you can find at the links at the bottom.

I have two problems with Kevin Durant's move to Golden State and the consensus reaction to it.

First, it essentially eliminates OKC as a top tier team. No team has been better than OKC this decade. Championship counters can use their kindergarten formulas to say this team or that team has been better because OKC didn't win a title. But injuries are real and they affected the final outcomes. And a clear headed look would say that Lebron James's Heat, his Cavs, the Warriors, and the Spurs have not been on a different level than the KD/Russell Westbrook led Thunder. So as a selfish fan, the league just got worse because it lost a great team. The coverage of KD's decision was blanketed by damage controlling writers and talkers who vigorously defended Durant's "right to choose where he works." That's elementary and goes without saying. But a fan's "right" or purpose is to like or not like stuff and I think it's as valid for a fan to hate that KD left OKC as it is for KD to do what's in his best interest.

Second, as Jeff Van Gundy has said, the joy and the unpredictability of the NBA fan experience took a huge blow.

The consensus seems to be there are only three logical conclusions to this story:

1) Golden State wins it all and nobody is left in wonder because they would be dramatically underperforming if they don't win it all.

2) They will "choke." At least I assume that's how the media would treat anything but a Warriors title run. 

3) The third possibility is that Lebron continues to prove he's made of steel and he engineers an upset of epic proportions. We (at least I) would then conclude that not only is he as good as MJ was, but better. But of those three outcomes, only one is interesting and unpredictable. If KD hadn't gone to the Warriors so he could "shoot open threes and layups," we would be expecting the Thunder and Clippers, and many other teams, to have a chance to capture our imaginations.

What do the media members think?

A couple NBA preview shows recently talked about the consensus opinion among general managers (69% say the Warriors win it all, 31% say the Cavs, and only 1 GM says that ANY OTHER TEAM will make the Finals on each side) that the NBA is a two team race and whether or not that is a good thing for the fans and the game. You have read Chris and my opinion. Now hear theirs:

Link to full Zach Lowe interview, which I edited from to make the video above.

Do you think Durant's move to Golden State damaged the game?

Are you more interested in the 2016-17 NBA season now than you were the day after the Cavs completed their historic comeback to win last season's Finals?

Let me know what you think. And stay tuned for more short posts with my opinions, and those of my expert friends, about this season's NBA!

Links to prior AugBball NBA Preview posts:

Part 1: Lebron James is the best player/coach/GM combo in the league, and that's the biggest NBA "story line"

Part 2: AugBball NBA Preview Part 2 with special guest contributors Dr. Kirk Munsayac and Glen Miller

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Rich Basketball Tradition was on Display Thursday at the 2nd Annual Glenn Hills Alumni Game

Anybody needing an education in the rich basketball tradition at Glenn Hills would have learned plenty visiting Michael E. Curry Gymnasium Thursday for the second annual Glenn Hills Alumni Basketball Game. Spartan hoopers from the last 30 plus years, women and men, returned to play back-to-back games in front of a full house of fans and current and former students of the school.

Members of the two recent state championship teams played, including Tyesha Smith, a key leader on the 2002 Lady Spartans squad that won it all. Smith played at UNC Charlotte after graduating. Participating in the mens game were Jerel Stephenson and Chris Reynolds, seniors on the 2008 state title squad. Stephenson went from Glenn Hills to UNC Wilmington, and Reynolds to Campbell, after their championship run.

From left: David Beard (game founder), Ciara Lyons,
Bernard Bowman, and Jessica Morton
Current Lady Spartans coach Bernard Bowman, who led the 2002 team, was honored after the girls game with a plaque presented to him by former players Jessica Morton, who played her college ball West Virginia, and Ciara Lyons, a former Lander Bearcat.

Glenn Hills is the only area school I know that claims two former NBA players. Mike Curry (class of 1986), for whom the school's new gym is named, played longer than a decade in the league and has also been a head coach and an assistant coach in the "association." And William Cunningham (class of 1992) played for three NBA teams after graduating from Temple, where he was a starter on some of legendary coach John Chaney's best teams. His teammates included Eddie Jones, Aaron Mckie, and Rick Brunson, and the Owls reached the Elite 8 round of the 1993 NCAA tournament.

Cunningham, better known to us old timers by his nickname "Six", and his childhood friend and teammate Lamont Johnson answered a couple questions about each other in the interview included in the video above. The two made for quite the dynamic duo in the early 90's, Cunningham towering above all at 6'11" and Johnson, who played his college ball at Augusta University, jetting around the court at just over 5 feet tall.

The two currently team up as members of Laney's coaching staff. But Thursday night made it clear they will always be Spartans at heart.

Coaches, don't miss Dip Metress's free open practice Sunday; plus a bonus video showing Metress and Virginia Tech's Buzz Williams in action!

Please help spread the word about Sunday's clinic!

Augusta University head coach Dip Metress will hold a free “open practice” Sunday at 1:30. Coaches of all levels are invited to watch Metress, his staff, and his players in action. Share this with a coach who may be interested so the opportunity to learn from one of the greats is available to as many people as possible.

I made this video to show how two coaches I’ve followed closely, Metress and Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams, are good role models for those leading teams. Coaches and leaders in other fields often talk about the “culture” they want to develop within their team or organization. Here you can see Metress and Williams, who coaches Aquinas graduate Ahmed Hill, in action during recent weeks as they teach their players life lessons and instill values that they hope will define their respective “cultures.”

If you’re a coach, I hope you enjoy the video and I hope to see you Saturday. The details for Augusta U's open practice are in the flier at the top.

Links to stories about the Jags and Hokies:


AugBball College Hoops Preview Part 2

In part 2 of the college preview, I share six stories involving players familiar to many of us who are competing on the men's side, including the following:

Ahmed Hill (Aquinas --> Virginia Tech)
Christian Keeling (Laney --> Charleston Southern)
Frank Booker (Westside --> Florida Atlantic)
Tookie Brown (Morgan County --> Georgia Southern)
Tamyrik Fields (Aquinas --> Augusta University)
Jashawn Brooks (Laney --> Augusta University)
Matt Miller (GAIS --> USMMA)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Boys High School Hoops Preview, part 1: Which players and teams will fill the void left by last year's best graduates?

Several NBA and college hoops previews have been posted here already, and now I begin this season's high school basketball previews. I'll get warmed up by sharing a recent Twitter discussion, including a lot of opinions and highlights from me, between a few of this area's most dedicated high school hoops watchers about which players will fill the shoes of last season's most accomplished seniors, namely Laney's Christian Keeling and Zep Jasper, Richmond's Madison Williams, and Thomson's San Antonio Brinson, who all have proceeded on paths to play Division I college basketball.

Featured above: Zep Jasper (College of Charleston); Christian Keeling (Charleston Southern); Madison Williams (Illinois State); and San Antonio Brinson (NJIT).

The discussion begins...

Currently I think Richmond Academy will be our area's best team. So the Musketeers' returning trio of 6'5" senior forward Moses Williams, fellow senior guard Jason Weaver, and junior guard DT Stephens is my first prediction for which core group can replicate the success Laney and Richmond's leaders were able to accomplish last season.

The response from @AugHoops calls out three promising pairs, who all play for teams widely expected to make a significant step forward this season: Josey, Aquinas, and Lakeside:
The Josey call is a good one. The Eagles are the only team that made it through the Butler summer league schedule unbeaten, and this will be the third season the four returning Eagles starters will be key contributors for a state tournament caliber team:

Aquinas is a popular pick to be a serious contender for being the area's best team. It's a choice I can get behind because of what I'll call the Fighting Irish's "formidable five" juniors (Tre Gomillion, Dajuan Hill, Trent Bowdre, Gerald Merriweather, and Cameron Gardner), whom I show in this video:

And Lakeside's mix of shooting and playmaking on the perimeter - think sophomore Kalen Williams and junior Brad Hilley - and scoring and rebounding in the paint from seniors Deon Berrien, Kresean Hall, and Tucker Gilbert make it easy to see why so many of us are anticipating a great season from the Panthers.

There is a hotbed of talent at the private/independent schools

Daron Lewis, who played at Augusta Prep, coaches youth basketball, and watches his share of high school hoops, rightly called out the play of Westminster’s Jelani Watson-Gayle (senior) and Michael Dukes (junior). The pair can lead the Wildcats, who play Richmond Academy November 29 for the first time ever, to a GISA state title after last season’s trip to the quarterfinals.

Westminster’s pair aren’t the only gifted players competing on teams in the independent leagues. The GHSA allowing Westminster, Augusta Prep, Alleluia, Augusta Christian, and Curtis Baptist to compete against its teams is a change perfectly timed for a hot streak in area private school talent.

Alleluia’s Ben Dresser is the team's leading returning scorer during the past two seasons of the Angels reaching the GICAA state championship game. Alleluia won the title Dresser’s sophomore season. The town does not have a better scorer than Ben. He showed me that again last Saturday when he scored 40 points (33 in the first half on 9 threes!) in a 91-81 PQ Sports Fall League win over Queens Grant of Charlotte. Watson-Gayle, who plays with Alleluia in the Fall League, added 37 in a two player scoring exhibition.

Augusta Prep’s Ryan Jolly probably has gotten more attention from college coaches and recruiting sites than anybody current playing in the area. It’s easy to see why because his combination of shooting, passing, dribbling and thinking skills are truly impressive. The Cavaliers play in Westminster’s region, so the rivals usually battle several times. Last season’s matchup at Westminster had a unique a unique and fun atmosphere. Westminster’s student section may be the best in town. When they meet this season 3 of the top 5-10 players in the area may be on the floor.

Add Augusta Christian’s 6’5” pure shooting sophomore guard Nate Dunlop, and the independent leagues easily have 5 great candidates to be chosen for the coming AugBball Preseason All Area teams.

Back to the public schools: Butler and Glenn Hills

Replying to Daron's and my tweets about the independent schoolers, @AugHoops reminds us of Glenn Hills's potential.

After last season's struggles, 6'7" junior Timmy Sellers, a pair of newcomers in 6'4" freshman John Whitehead and 6'3" senior transfer Tony Sheppard, and returning guards Robert Drew (senior) and Eric Farmer (junior), led a much improved team to an impressive run through this summer's league at Butler.

And I couldn't agree more with @AugHoops for identifying Butler's Deandre Barton and Will Lambert as forces in the area hoops scene.

Butler will likely be many people's pick as the area's best team. These two, who I call the most athletic and physically tough players around, are big reasons for the optimism around Butler's chances this season. Here you'll see them take it right at last season's top duo in a close region tournament loss to Laney.

This boys high school hoops preview is only my first. Send me messages and feedback about the players and teams you think I should have included in this first post. I may already be planning to include them in parts 2 or 3. Or you may alert me to something I've missed. Thanks for reading and I'll see you in the gym!

Monday, October 17, 2016

AugBball NBA Preview Part 3: Why the "experts" are dumb for thinkingthe Hawks are worse for subbing Dwight Howard for Al Horford

Link: AugBball NBA Preview, part 1
Link: AugBball NBA Preview, part 2

Because of the addition of Dwight Howard, the 8 time All NBA performer and 3 time Defensive Player of the Year, to Atlanta's roster, I think the Hawks may become the first Eastern Conference team since the 2013 Indiana Pacers to challenge a Lebron James led team. But according to the apparently consensus NBA expert opinion, such optimism is not warranted:

Link to full episode

Zach Lowe and Kevin Arnovitz said as much in a recent "Lowe Post" podcast episode, labelling Atlanta one of the NBA's "most confusing teams." Lowe fretted that Howard has talked about scoring with his back to the basket and (gasp!) even making mid range jump shots rather than allowing the "advanced stats" to call the shots. The numbers that guys like Lowe and Arnovitz swear by would instruct Howard to screen the ball and "dive" exclusively like Deandre Jordan of the LA Clippers does so contentedly, for example.

The pair even suggests that by the time the All Star break arrives, Atlanta may be smart to trade Paul Millsap, Atlanta's three time all star power forward, in a sign of surrender. Apparently the logic behind Lowe and Arnovitz's worry that the Hawks could quickly plummet from a top 2-4 Eastern Conference team is that they will be worse for substituting Howard for long time Hawks center Al Horford, who fled to Boston upon the news of Dwight's coming home.

I am puzzled by such logic. 

Apparently the "ball movement/outside shooting/advanced stats" happy media members have concluded Horford is better than Howard, despite such "old fashioned" evidence like that to the right.

Howard is superior to Horford in every meaningful way. A clear headed "eye test" should reinforced by the two players' regular season and post season statistics, and by the regular season and post season records in the win column. (Those figures are in the right column.) Plus, Howard made his winning reputation in Orlando despite playing with inferior teammates.

Lowe labels Boston as a top 3 Eastern Conference team. So according to him the Hawks may plunge to the lottery after adding Howard and the Celtics will solidify their position near the top of the conference because of Horford's addition. Months after Atlanta bounced Boston from the first round of the 2016 playoffs in 6 games, mind you.

That podcast is not the only show to espouse such nonsense. Trey Kirby of "The Starters," a daily show about the league on NBA TV that I love, said last week in a matter of fact way that behind Kevin Durant, Horford was the off season's second best free agent to change teams. (When challenged about whether Howard is a "superstar," Kirby's partner Leigh Ellis mustered the weakest of responses: "He's better than Jared Sullinger." So I guess there's that.

Link to full episode

I believe so strongly that the "experts" have this wrong that I've watched closely as much of Howard as I can during the preseason to see if there are any early signs I have this all wrong. There aren't.

So I'm calling on a real expert, an AugBball's NBA expert, that is.

"Dr. Kirk" Munsayac is back for another NBA discussion (see our last discussion here) to inject some much needed common sense into the consensus expectations regarding our home team Hawks...

Chad: Kirk, The Cavs sat all their guys in their preseason game against the Cavs. And on a few possessions, skinny James Jones checked him. But that said, Howard was a dominant force in his first game in Atlanta (see video above). I'm hoping he can do his part to bring back post play to the NBA a little bit, but more importantly to make the Hawks a legit contender in the East

Kirk: Hard to say. We are still in that "NFL preseason games" kinda mode. So the jury is still out.

But lemme shed some light on why the Dwight Howard move was key for ATL's hope to contend: Reviewing the playoff matchups with the Cavs, it would be incorrect to pick the low hanging fruit and say "Lebron beat the Hawks." Yes, and no. The Hawks weren't surprised with the numbers LBJ put up. No one in the country should ever be. Its not like the Hawks walked away from it saying "dang, no one told us about this Lebron guy!" No, ATL knew what he was gonna do. And like most teams, they schemed to make LBJ shoot as many jumpers as you can.

The brilliance of the Cavs make up now is simple - Tristan Thompson. Yeah. He's the key. He's more "valuable" than anyone else (aside - DONT get me started on the topic of MVP and how that award has turned into "best player on the best team" and NOT a true measure of "value" ---- which bleeds into my tangent on how the Heisman has turned into "the QB/RB on the #1 team award" but I digress...). Why do you think Lebron fought for Tristan to get paid the ridiculous amount he got? It's genius. If Lebron's weakness is jumpshooting, then not only does he work tirelessly on improving that, but the simple fix is to get a guy who, every time LBJ misses a jumper, gets the offensive rebound and gives him the ball back! Boom. Ring.

That's exactly what they did to the Hawks and their undersized bigs. (Splitter was to be a somewhat answer, but was injured and lets face it, soft as a kitten wrapped in snuggle dryer sheets). So, when the disenfranchised Dwight spoke of "coming home.," ready to be loved again by his high school crowd, the Hawks weren't looking so much to get a bunch of buckets from the guy. They saw a guy who could and would put his butt in Tristan Thompson's stomach early and often.

Chad: I understand. One response I have is that Kyrie Irving really is (or was in the Playoffs at least) other-worldly good. Tristan Thompson is fantastic. And he did (wonderfully) all that you said during the first Finals too. That enabled the Cavs to almost have logged two heroic feats in Lebron's two years. Beating the Warriors without Irving and Love, and with Lebron and Thompson being for real the only two players doing ANYTHING, would have been just as magical as coming back from 3-1 last year.

But Kyrie was the difference in losing valiantly one season, and winning the next. I put Irving in the "fits perfectly alongside Lebron, more valuable than Thompson, maybe one of the league's 5 best players" category. Lebron kind of broke the system last season by going back to pickup game "iso-ball" when all the NBA watchers were in love with the "Spurs/Warriors way." He reminded us nobody will be able to guard him until he quits. And having Kyrie there to take the possessions when Lebron couldn't or didn't want to is the perfect fit. Not to mention Irving, to Glen's point in the last preview, found Curry and exploited him. I guess I'd say Kyrie has to be the world's second best "clear it out and let me take him" player. Behind Lebron. The handful of guys I can think of who are closest are Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Steph Curry, I suppose.

Anyway, I totally agree that a need for rebounding was the logic for signing Dwight Howard. But I do hope to see an extension of what Lebron has done in Cleveland to what Dwight can do in Atlanta. Throw the ball in to the big guy and let him destroy all these three point shooting big men around the league.

But more than anything I'm just being an optimistic home town team Hawks fan. If the Hawks catch lightning in a bottle, we are suddenly 2 1/2 hours away from the best basketball in the world. Eastern conference and (a guy can dream) NBA Finals time for us!

Kirk: Tristan Thompson needs to be a fine example of the "extinction of the big man" topic. I believe he did more for big men the last two seasons than the superstars. With schemes shifting to the Euro-ball style of court spreading bigs shooting corner threes, and bigs wanting to have cross overs, it is fantastic to see a guy like Tristan show young players that "hey, I can get down low, scrap and clean the boards and not even score but one or two buckets and STILL have the ultimate impact on a game and STILL get paid."

Chad: But don't you want Howard to be the model instead of Thompson? I do because Howard, though awkwardly, still gives hope that the Ewing/Mchale/Dream/Shaq of old type player will yet exist. Thompson is a great player and a great winner. But aren't Andre Drummond, Deandre Jordan, and Hasaan Whiteside the same kinds of players when it comes to being told "hey big man, just set this ball screen for the 6'1" guy and dive to the rim. Don't shoot unless it's a dunk and we don't really care too much if you can make a free throw?" I think that is undervaluing what a good post player can do for a team.

As a low post scorer, Dwight is a very poor man's Ewing/Mchale/Dream/Shaq. And maybe there's a better example of a current player who can carry their torch. But those guys could play, including making free throws. And they were always so much more valuable than the little guards. I want there to continue to be those kinds of players. Not exclusively. But I liken it to what you said in a recent Facebook post about diversity of thought and tolerance. Different styles and ways of playing is fun. Everybody copying the Warriors and deciding their way is the only way is boring and shortsighted. So I guess I'm rooting for Dwight, or somebody, to preserve the low post model in some way.

Kirk: I'm with you. Im a fan of dwight now - as my Hawks devotion wills me to be

Actually, the big man's role is more safe now than it has been in past ten years, honestly. With Dwight, Jahlil Okafor, Whiteside, Rudy Gobert, Karl Anthony Towns, Drummond, and Boogie Cousins, we have some traditional bigs that are still a problem from most defenses. Heck, an effectively performed pick-and-roll with a good big is just about all you need to torch any team. My example of Tristan is simply a nod of approval for a role model for that a high school center who is asking himself "man, do I need to hire a shooting coach to work on my 3s?" and being able to see, no brother, do what you do big man! It still works.

Hawks picked LAST in division
by the Sporting News
Chad: Last question Kirk. You listed several big men who give you hope that the position still exists.
You didn't mention Horford. Should I gather that you agree that the Celtics optimism and Hawks pessimism in the media is silly if the logic is that Horford makes the Celtics, who were beaten by the Hawks in six in last season's playoffs, better than the Hawks, who just gained Howard?

Kirk: Geez, dont get me started on Horford. All the NBA media guys said for years "Al Horford is not elite" and "a jump shooting 5 won't win rings," etc. He signs a max deal with the Celtics and it's "All Star Al Horford completes this dynamic squad ready to revive the Celtics to days of old!"

SMH. Get outta here with that crap.

Chad: Excellent I love it.

I don't know if this gives you the same reassurance it does me, but Jeff Van Gundy, the man whose basketball opinion I've never disagreed with, seems to think like us when it comes to how wrong the NBA talking heads have it when they say the Hawks will likely stink for signing Howard. Needless to say, I still haven't disagreed with the Notorious JVG:

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Elizabeth Metress's Winning Ways

At Augusta University’s first Men’s and Women’s hoops practices I hung out with Grovetown High multi-sport star Elizabeth Metress, a senior Warriors shortstop on the softball field and sharp shooting guard on the basketball court. Coach Dip Metress’s daughter is an even bigger Jags fan than I:

“I couldn’t sleep last night because I knew practice was starting at 8:00 AM,” Elizabeth told me as she worked the scoreboard during practice, the first of two Saturday for the Jaguars. Elizabeth has seen more Augusta University basketball than anybody besides her father, and she has seen a remarkable amount of winning basketball. During her 17 years, her dad’s teams have won 338 games and lost 124, a 73% winning percentage that almost every coach in the game would envy.

Coach Metress says Elizabeth has brought him good luck. “We have quite a unique bond that carries over from family to my profession,” he said in a message after the Jags' second practice Saturday.

A winner in the classroom

As a student, she has carried over the family’s winning habits to log a 3.95 GPA and a 1270 on her SAT (620 verbal, 650 math) while at the same time excelling in three sports. Those academic stats line up with the requirements to earn a Zell Miller Scholarship, the most ambitious, and lucrative, merit based academic award available to Georgia’s students that I’ve seen. Elizabeth already takes college courses at Augusta University under the dual enrollment program, and she is the vice president of the student council at Grovetown.

A winner on the court

Her athletic achievements are as impressive as any I’ve mentioned thus far. Metress was a key member of the Grovetown Lady Warriors’ hoops squad that won 28 of 30 games last season and earned a region tournament title in our area’s most competitive league. She was instrumental in what were by far her team’s two most impressive, and at the time most uncertain, victories of the season.

Her most impactful performance last season came at Grovetown’s most crucial moment. Last February, she blew open the region championship game against rival Cross Creek with a barrage of threes that sent the home crowd into a frenzy as the Lady Warriors avenged, for the second time, their only loss of the season and earned a number one seed in the state tournament.

About 60 days earlier, she delivered her teammates and herself a Christmas present when she scored 11 fourth quarter points, including 3 three pointers, to help Grovetown stay undefeated with a 51-48 win over North Augusta in the Yellow Jackets' Christmas tournament. That game was especially fun because the high fiving and celebrating that grew more intense after every Metress bomb gave a glimpse into the bond that she and fellow senior Destiny Marshall have formed, which developed over many years of competing first against, and now alongside, each other.

A winner on the field

In recent weeks Elizabeth and her teammates on the softball diamond became the first softball team to reach the state tournament in school history. The Warriors also topped Coffee High School 2 games to 1 last week to advance to the sweet sixteen round of the state playoffs.

The coming state tournament games at Cambridge High have momentarily taken Elizabeth’s mind off her final basketball season. “We have a basketball team meeting Monday, but coach Echols said I didn’t have to go so I can concentrate on softball right now,” Metress said when talking about balancing her busy schedule.

As you can see from the picture above, Elizabeth is approaching all of her activities, especially Saturday’s early morning, season opening Jags practice, with a smile and her special kind of enthusiasm. I think Jags fans and Elizabeth Metress fans can remain confident she will keep her winning touch for a long time.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

AugBball College Hoops Preview Part 2

Players with area ties dot the college basketball map at all levels of play. In anticipation of November's 2016-17 tip-off, here are six preview stories involving players familiar to many of us who are competing on the men's side, including Ahmed Hill (Aquinas --> Virginia Tech); Christian Keeling (Laney --> Charleston Southern); Frank Booker (Westside --> Florida Atlantic); Tookie Brown (Morgan County --> Georgia Southern); Tamyrik Fields (Aquinas --> Augusta University); Jashawn Brooks (Laney --> Augusta University); and Matt Miller (GAIS --> USMMA)

***And click this link to see my first college hoops preview, which features Ricky Moore and Alterique Gilbert (UConn); Don Coleman (Butler --> California); and Keshun Sherrill (Augusta University)***

Hill is back to play on the nation's biggest stage

Ahmed Hill (Aquinas, class of 2014) followed a spectacular high school stint - he scored the third most points in Georgia hoops history (3,024) and averaged 30 points and 12 rebounds as a senior - with a solid freshman season for the rapidly rebuilding Virginia Tech Hokies. During the 2014-15 season, Hill logged 9 points and 4 rebounds per game, and he started 30 of 33 contests. After arriving in Blacksburg, Hill quickly gained the reputation as an exceptionally hard worker on the court and in the classroom, earning 33 minutes per game of playing time in the team's 18 ACC games and making the honor roll in a semester during his first year on campus.

Sidelined last season with an injury, the explosive athlete with a sweet stroke who teammate Seth Allen calls "Money-Med," according to Hill in the video above, watched coach Buzz Williams orchestrate a massive 12 month turn around as the Hokies (20-15, 10-8) won 9 more games overall, and 8 more in ACC play, than the previous season.

Cleared to play in June, Ahmed hit the ground running leading into his sophomore season:
And after four days of coach Williams's "boot camp," which tipped off this season's official practices, Hill had won team "MVP" honors twice:
Hill's reintroduction to Virginia Tech's rotation, to which 7 of last year's top players return, should help speed up even more the team's improvement process. Athlon Sports tabbed the Hokies as the nation's #22 preseason team, citing wins last season over Virginia (last season's #4) and Miami (last season's #7). Hill was the team's fourth leading scorer two seasons ago, including a career high 19 in a loss at Florida State.

Of course, Virginia Tech's conference schedule, which includes a New Year's Eve home game against preseason #1 ranked Duke and a January 26th visit to #6 ranked North Carolina, as well as games versus #9 Virginia, #16 Louisville, and #21 Syracuse, gives Ahmed a special opportunity to play against college basketball's very best programs.

But before league play tips off, a game of special interest to you and me will be against Charleston Southern, the new home of Christian Keeling of Laney, on December 20th in Blacksburg. 

Keeling arrived in Charleston and quickly generated, along with a pair of fellow freshmen, a significant amount of buzz about the Buccaneers' latest recruiting class:
With Christian and Ahmed, who both earned Augusta Chronicle Player of the Year honors during their respective senior seasons, squaring off before Christmas, I am reminded of a pair of Martin Luther King Day games in 2013 and 2014 that were as highly anticipated, and entertaining, as any high school games our area has recently seen.

Those games were played during Hill's junior and senior seasons when he was the area's undisputed king of the hill, and Keeling, then two years behind Ahmed, was just beginning to earn his reputation. It would have been difficult then to imagine Christian making an impact similar to Ahmed's. But Keeling's play as a senior, when he averaged 23 points per game, leading Laney to a 14-0 start, a 26-3 overall record, and an Elite 8 state playoff finish, sparked the imagination and adoration of local fans every bit as much as Hill did two years before.

No fewer than seven current and soon to be Division I and II players shared the floor during those memorable MLK Day thrillers at Evans High. It will be fun to see two of this decade's best battle again at the next level in December.

Booker is back after transferring from Oklahoma to Mike Curry's Florida Atlantic University

Like Hill, Augusta's sharpest shooter Frank Booker (Westside, class of 2013) must be itching to take the floor after a year away from live action. The former Patriot last played for the Oklahoma Sooners during their 2015 march to the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA tournament. Booker made 4 of 6 threes in the team's second round win over Dayton that year.

Soon after, Frank transferred to Florida Atlantic, where he soon will begin his junior season after sitting out last year per the NCAA's transfer rules. His new coach Mike Curry is Augusta's most accomplished player after starring at Glenn Hills High School, Georgia Southern, and several NBA teams during a decade plus stint at the game's highest level. After retiring as a player, he spent a season as the Detroit Pistons head coach and worked as an assistant in Detroit and Philadelphia before moving into his current position.

Booker is not the only familiar face joining Curry this season. Freshmen Jailyn Ingram and Devorious Brown, fresh off winning two 3A Georgia high school state titles and a runner up finish in the last three seasons, are also new to the roster. Their road the last two seasons went through Augusta's Laney High. Their Bulldogs handed our Wildcats three of Laney's five  combined losses during the past two years, both times spoiling potential state title runs by what has been our area's best team during that time.

Booker and Ingram were among Florida Atlantic's leading scorers during the team's summer trip, a three game series in the Bahamas. Curry's new additions bring the habit of winning, Booker at Oklahoma, and Ingram and Brown at Morgan County. That habit will come in handy as Curry tries to build it into the culture at Florida Atlantic, which has compiled a 17-45 record these last two seasons.

Tookie Brown is still filling up the scoreboard. Now in Statesboro

Another product of that Morgan County dynasty, Georgia Southern sophomore Tookie Brown (class of 2015), burst onto the college hoops scene last season, leading the Eagles in scoring (18 ppg); earning All Sun Belt first team and conference Freshman of the Year honors, and grabbing the attention of several national media outlets. That campaign followed a storybook high school career in which Brown scored more than 3,000 points and claimed a state title and a state playoff runner up finish.

But as impressive as Brown has been these past five years, I haven't seen anything that could impress me more than his play during a series of three games against Laney his senior year. During a late November matchup at Laney, I watched him almost singlehandedly knock off the Wildcats, losing two defenders on an isolation play out by half court and finishing on a tough drive to the basket to force overtime before the Bulldogs eventually came up short.

Determined to even the score in the January return game in Madison, Brown literally played until he dropped. He was sent to the bench for good during the game's second half. The word from SUVtv broadcaster Marques Burnett was that Tookie had expended so much energy keeping his Bulldogs close to Augusta's juggernaut (Morgan County trailed Laney by three when Brown was sidelined) that he was dehydrated and unable to continue.

In the third meeting between the teams, the class 3A state playoff semifinals at Columbus State Unviversity, Laney again appeared to have Morgan County's number as the Wildcats, aiming to win their 30th straight game, led by 8 at halftime. But Brown scored 32 second half points, most against multiple defenders, to carry the Bulldogs to another state championship game.

Many players score a lot of points. Some win while doing it. Tookie is special because he does both things during the biggest moments against the longest odds. Such effort will be needed to help Georgia Southern (14-17, 10-10 last season) finish this season at the top of the Sun Belt Conference this year.

Fields and Brooks will try to take another step forward for hometown Jags

In an earlier college hoops preview post I vowed not to miss a game of Keshun Sherrill's final season with Augusta University. His leadership last season carried the Jaguars through rocky times early, which was enough for coach Dip Metress's young core (6 freshmen in the rotation) to be able to find a rhythm in time for a season ending six game winning streak that only ended when Lander's JR Washington tipped in a game winner in double overtime of the Peach Belt Conference tournament, leaving Augusta just outside the NCAA tournament picture.

Sophomore Tamyrik Fields (Aquinas, class of 2014) needed no such warm up period. His improvement over his freshman campaign was evident from the beginning of last season. His points per game shot up from 2.5 to 11, and he scored in double figures 20 times. He added the ability to score in the post with left handed AND right handed jump hooks; he could suddenly make turn around jumpers turning both ways; and he became reliable catching and shooting mid range jump shots.

If another local product, sophomore Jashawn Brooks (Laney, class of 2015), can make a similar leap this season, the Jaguars will be difficult to stop. Brooks certainly had his moments as a freshman. He scorched the nets in his first home game, an overtime win against cross town rival Paine. And he was the hero in another home game, this time against conference foe UNC Pembroke.

The Jags are loaded with young talent. In addition to Fields and Brooks, Augusta has several sophomores who are proven contributors, including Tyvez Monroe, Aaron Byrd, Ben Ursich, Deane Williams, Andrew Parker, and Vlad Cobzaru, a starter as a freshman two seasons ago who has returned to the roster after last season's medical redshirt.

Miller closes in on a decade of getting buckets

Ready for his senior season is Matt Miller of the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA). The will be the first time in three years when the former Augusta high school dynamo hasn't been at sea for months just prior to his team's October 15 season opening practice. This will be the eighth year I've tracked Miller's progress, the first four as the coach of his high school team, the GAIS Eagles. During those years he scored over 3,000 career points, earned to two National Christian Homeschool Basketball Championship top ten finishes, and twice earned NCHBC All American honors.

At USMMA, he has continued to pour in the points. After averaging 16 points as a sophomore and 13 as a junior, Miller needs only 47 more to tally 1,000 college points, which will cap nearly a decade of getting buckets for the lefty with the smooth stroke and crafty off-the-dribble game.

College basketball teams of all levels will have begun practice by this Saturday. Stay tuned for coverage of our area players making an impact in the college game, wherever they play.

Click here for part 1 of my AugBball College Hoops Preview