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MAKING THE GRADE: Taking a mid-season look at the progress of local GHSA hoops teams
Jaylen Williams
Alcovy point guard, Jaylen Williams has been one of the area's top performers with his 14.8 ppg average. The Tigers will host Class AAAAAA No. 7 Lakeside-Evans tonight in Region 3-AAAAAA action. -photo by Anthony Banks

COVINGTON, Ga. -- As the holiday season and all its days off for students comes to an end, it signals the beginning of the meaty part of the high school basketball season. 

With school starting back this week, accompanying it will be a full slate of hoops action that’ll take us through region tournaments in February and state championship games in March, starting Tuesday night with all area GHSA hoops teams in action.

Let’s take a capsulized look at each team, providing a midseason report card, if you will, on their progress. 

Alcovy Lady Tigers

Current Record: 5-9 overall, 0-2 in Region 3-AAAAAA (ahead of tonight’s game against Lakeside, 7-6, 0-2). 

Best Win: A 40-35 win over LaGrange in the Greenberg and Price Annual Woodland Christmas Tournament. Why was it such a good win? For several reasons. First, it was a strong LaGrange (8-5) team that the Lady Tigers knocked off. They did so, coming off an impressive 49-46 win over KIPP Academy where Alcovy erased a 16 point lead and got a game-high 17 points from Unique Reed’s emergence. 

The scoring was more balanced for the Lady Tigers in their December 29 win over LaGrange, with Danny Durham scoring 10, and Reed, Liana Poole and Ajoyous Tuggle combining for 23 more. But also, it was a solid win because it gave Alcovy a third place finish in the tournament, which was a momentum booster. 

Toughest Loss:  Probably Wednesday’s Heritage loss, just because it was one coach Justin Hunter feels like his team should’ve won. Alcovy’s defense sort of fell apart in the fourth quarter, making the setback a little tougher for the Tigers to swallow. 

Top Players: Senior Liana Poole (over 12 ppg) and Reed, a junior (10.4 ppg) have set the pace for Alcovy so far. But the Tigers have other young talent such as Durham, Anyalia Lundy and Tuggle who have shown they are capable of scoring the basketball when Alcovy needs it. 

Overall Grade: We’ll give Alcovy girls a B- so far this season. Hunter has always preached a simplistic style of play that highly prioritizes effort, particularly on defense, and it seems like that characteristic is starting to become a staple in his program. Alcovy’s battled some injuries, had to mix in some young talent to play bigger-than-expected roles, but in so doing have seen some potential stars arise this season. 

What’s Next: Circle the rematch with Heritage on January 18 at Alcovy. Plus region games against Evans and Lakeside should be interesting to watch as the Lady Tigers start making their push for postseason positioning. 

Alcovy Tigers (Boys)

Current Record: 5-8 overall, 0-1 in Region 3-AAAAAA (ahead of tonight’s game against No. 7 Lakeside-Evans, 14-2, 2-0). 

Best Win: The Tigers’ 64-62 overtime win against Clarke Central in the Woodland tournament. Why that win? Because any time you can find a way to win against a decent opponent in a tight game while you’re a program continuing to work to build your identity, that’s a good thing. There have been other games, i.e. the 28-point win against Apalachee and Alcovy’s first win against Ola where it scored 92 points, where the Tigers really looked close to their potential.

Toughest Loss:  We’ll go with the 64-57 Eastside setback. Coach Mack Hardwick has made no bones about his desire to help pull his program out of he called the county’s shadow. The Tigers missed an opportunity to do that with a hard-fought loss to Eastside. So far this season, Alcovy is 0-3 against Newton and Eastside. It will play the Eagles again on February 2 in the regular season finale. 

Top Players: Don’t let anyone tell you that this Tigers bunch doesn’t have talent despite its record. Senior point guard, Jaylen Williams is the headliner. He’s lightening quick and is a sure scorer, averaging 14.8 points per game, despite being a true floor general. But guys like Dylan Driver, Gregory Armwood and Oliver Gerald are also playing solid ball.

Overall Grade: Like the girls, we’ll go B- just for the sake of consistency. When you watch this Alcovy squad, you get the feeling that if and when they really pull it all together, the Tigers have the talent to make a playoff push, and maybe win a couple of games in the tournament. It’s just been a little up and down during the first part of the season. But that’s why teams play a slew of showcase and holiday tournament games in the first part of the season — to work out the kinks for region play.

What’s Next: Evans and Lakeside are the class of Region 3-AAAAAA right now. But it’s not a stretch at all to say that Alcovy can’t surpass Grovetown, Greenbrier and even Heritage in the region standings. Watch how region games against those three schools pan out to get a good idea of where the Tigers could find themselves come February. 

Eastside Lady Eagles 

Current Record: 7-7 overall, 3-4 in Region 4-AAAA (ahead of tonight’s game at Woodward Academy, 5-11, 3-4)  

Best Win: That 58-54 overtime win against Newton — the first win over the Lady Rams in eight years — is the winner here, hands down. Yes, we know Newton is not the same Newton from last year, or the last few years even, but still, to beat a county rival that’s had your number like that for so long has got to be gratifying, not to mention a momentum booster.  

Toughest Loss:  It’s a tie between the 70-63 overtime setback to Woodward Academy and the 52-36 loss to Salem the next night. Not only were those key region games, but its arguable to say that Eastside should be considered the better team than both of those squads. Losing winnable games in region will always get under a coach’s skin. 

Dasia Burgess
Eastside's Dasia Burgess has been one of the Lady Eagles' go-to scorers during this first part of the season. -photo by Anthony Banks

Top Players: Much has been made of the progress of junior leading scorer, Alysee Dobbs. But no team is successful just because of one player. The Lady Eagles have several that make them click. Juniors T’Niah Douglas and Dasia Burgess join Dobbs to give Eastside a formidable “big three.” Freshman Lizzie Teasley has been solid running the point at times, and coach Gladys King has gotten some real solid minutes from junior Jamiyra Smith. 

Overall Grade: Let’s give Eastside girls a solid B. Some of the disappointing losses are there, but coach King’s bunch is learning to take care of business against teams it should and are starting to show it can challenge against the region’s upper echelon squads (see the December 4 game against Luella). With a whole half of a season remaining, the Eagles are already just two wins away from its entire 2017-18 season total. 

What’s Next: The next seven days for the Lady Eagles, starting with Tuesday’s rematch with Woodward Academy will be huge. Eastside will be looking for a bounce back against the Lady War Eagles, then against Salem on Friday and they’ll travel to face a Newton squad hungry for some redemption on Saturday January 12. The following Tuesday will be a hosted matchup of that aforementioned, top-10 ranked Luella squad.

Eastside Eagles (boys)

Current Record: 9-6 overall, 4-3 in Region 4-AAAA (ahead of tonight’s game at Woodward Academy, 9-7, 5-2)

Best Win: The season opener against Rockdale County. It was a 74-72 victory over a decent Class AAAAAAA school. It wasn’t the best team on Eastside’s schedule, but to win in come-from-behind fashion as it did in the first game of the season seems to have been a pacesetter for interim head coach Mike Gerard and company. 

Toughest Loss:  The 74-70 setback to Class AAAAAAA No. 8 Newton. The Eagles had circled that game on their calendar as a chance to knock of the county kings, so to speak, on the Eagles’ home court with a lot of fanfare and emotion surrounding them. Although Newton held a double digit lead throughout, Eastside clawed back into it in the final quarter, and probably wishes it had just a few more minutes to try and complete what would’ve been a monumental comeback. 

Myles Rice
With Myles Rice leading the way, the Eagles could go far in state playoffs. Photo by Anthony Banks.

Top Players: It really is hard to single out any one or two players on this team, because the style of ball Eastside plays lends itself to having a balanced attack, particularly offensively. You can almost close your eyes and pick anyone from sophomore Myles Rice to Caleb Woods, Killien Glover or even senior Jerry Mays as players who can carry the load for Eastside on any given night.

Overall Grade: With everything that’s been happening around Eastside’s program this season, for it to be almost at double-digit wins already is a tremendous testament to coach Gerard’s work stepping in for head coach Brent Wren, and just the tight-knit, family nature the team has carried into each game its played, we’re giving Eastside an A-. 

What’s Next: Eastside will get another crack at Newton next Saturday, which should be fun. But like the Lady Eagles girls squad, redemption region wins against Woodward Academy (January 8) and Salem (January 11) would be ideal.

Newton Lady Rams

Current Record: 4-9 overall, 1-2 in Region 8-AAAAAAA (ahead of tonight’s game at Shiloh). 

Best Win: The 59-51 triumph against Sandy Creek. It was a win against a quality — albeit from a lower classification — program that provided a bit of confidence for a super young Lady Rams bunch.

Toughest Loss:  That Eastside loss had to sting. It’s always tough when you lose to your in-county rival. But a defeat to a program it hadn’t lost to since December 2010 dually signified how much Eastside has improved and how much Newton lost from last year’s region title and state championship run.

Top Players: Go with the seniors here. Jada Franklin and Rachel Hilliard have been thrust into leadership roles they’ve never been in before, and are doing an admirable job. Junior Tijunna Freeman has shown she has some much-needed scoring touch. County Je-nya Smith in this mix once she gets back to 100 percent from injury and surgery. 

Overall Grade: Hard to grade this team just because there are so many moving pieces with where this program is now. Coach Tiffani Johnson acknowledges that she has to use a different coaching muscle with such a green roster than what she’s been used to over the last few years. But Newton’s shown flashes in losses to top 10 Grayson and Buford. The team is still learning how to win. We’ll go with a C+. 

What’s Next: After Friday’s Rockdale game, Newton faced Lincoln (Fla.) Saturday in the She Got Game Classic. Next week before hosting Eastside in a get-back county rivalry game, the Lady Rams will try to get region wins at Shiloh and Archer. It’s still a young team, so the rough start won’t matter if the Rams are peaking come region tournament time in February.

Tre Clark
A couple of high-scoring performances and overall steady play has made Newton senior Tre Clark's blip on the recruiting radar grow. -photo by Anthony Banks

Newton Rams (boys)

Current Record: 11-3 overall, 2-1 in Region 8-AAAAAAA (ahead of tonight’s game at Shiloh). Ranked No. 9 in Georgia by MaxPreps and No. 7 by GSWA.

Best Win: The 61-54 win over Peachtree Ridge was most impressive, both because of the win and because more people got to see how serious a baller senior PF Armani Harris is.

Toughest Loss:  Hands down, the 68-65 overtime loss to Grayson back on December 11. Newton led on the road for much of that game before relinquishing its lead in the fourth quarter and being on the wrong end of injuries and a few bad officiating calls. But that’s not to say Grayson didn’t earn the win. It was a true battle of Class AAAAAAA top 10 squads. 

Top Players: When you talk Newton, you’re talking the big three of Harris, and fellow seniors Tre Clark and Tyrease Brown. The way Clark has elevated his game from his junior year has been nothing short of amazing. And Brown has shown himself to be much more than just a spot-up shooter. Junior point guard Shawn Smith’s play has also been a pleasant surprise.

Overall Grade: It’s an A for Newton. Especially given how off-the-radar the Rams were a year after losing Ashton Hagans to Kentucky along with Dre Butler and several other senior contributors. The fact that few expected much from these Rams is either a testament to coach Rick Rasmussen’s job preparing his team this year, or an indictment on those who follow Georgia high school hoops.

What’s Next: The region is loaded. Of course we know of Grayson, but Shiloh 11-4, 2-0) is playing solid ball right now, as is South Gwinnett (11-6, 1-1). Circle the January 15 home game rematch against Grayson. That one should be a doozy.