COVINGTON, Ga. — The 2017-18 high school basketball season gave us such a smorgasbord of entertaining storylines, it’s almost a shame to see it come to an end.
We had region champions, history making state tournament runs, near-playoff berth misses, a five-star point guard’s recruitment saga and a girls hoops squad that captured the hearts of an entire county.
Yet, with the release of our 2017-18 All-Covington News basketball teams and players/coaches of the year, we’re officially tying the bow on this season, which means we have permission to take a way-too-early look at what could be brewing on the prep hoops scene during the offseason and into the new season.
Here are five storylines to keep an eye on.
1. What about the big Ram-elephant in the room? It goes without saying that the story we’re going to be tracking most during the offseason is the development of Ashton Hagans’ recruitment. The 6-foot-4 junior and top-rated 2019 prospect has won virtually every top Player of the Year honor known to Georgia High School hoops, and after backing off his December pledge to Georgia, Hagans is one of the hottest recruiting commodities anywhere in college basketball.
At first we thought his future was secured at UGA. Then with the ouster of Mark Fox it was murky. Hagans downplayed rumors that he’d reclassify to 2018 in order to get his college playing days started next season. But since his decommitment, all the blue bloods have doubled down in their pursuit of Georgia’s Mr. Basketball, and perhaps the bluest of the blue bloods — at least as Hagans’ wish list for offers goes — got into the mix a little over a week ago when Kentucky offered.
That rekindled the rumors by some of the recruiting aficionados of Hagans leaving early, although everyone in the Hagans camp is staying consistent in saying Hagans will take his time and push back the temptation to rush through the recruiting process. At this point, pretty much everything we could say about this is conjecture and speculation. And as much as everyone wants to feel like they’ve got a bead on the situation, the truth is the only real way to get any answers on the matter is to wait and see.
2. Where will they sign? After the Newton Lady Rams completed the most improbable of comebacks in their Class AAAAAAA semifinal game against McEachern, coach Tiffani Johnson stopped the small gaggle of media from dispersing long enough to make an impassioned plea for the women’s college basketball world to stop sleeping on her seniors, like Jurnee Smith, Lexii Chatman and Erianna Card. Well, apparently somebody’s been listening. Johnson said she and several of her girls have been traveling Georgia and the Southeast on college visits and workouts, and she suggested that perhaps Chatman and Smith would be set to sign at some point in April. One thing we do know: Whoever does decide to take on these young ladies will get solid, competitive and no-frills-style hoopers who are more concerned with winning than anything else.
3. Can the Alcovy Lady Tigers take the next step? In coach Justin Hunter’s second year at the helm of the Alcovy girls program, discernible progress was, indeed, made. From a four-win season last year — including a winless Region 3-AAAAAA mark — to a 10-16, 3-7 finish to the 2017-18 campaign, the sophomore-heavy Tigers were some missed free throws and a three-point region tourney loss away from making the postseason. Many of Hunter’s sophomores like leading scorer Ariyan Franklin (10.5 ppg) and Serai Johnson (10.0 ppg) will be three-year starters next season. With that combination of experience and chemistry, it could be interesting to see what Alcovy can do over the next two years.
4. Speaking of next steps: How ‘bout them Lady Eagles? From the first time I’ve seen coach Gladys King’s Eastside Lady Eagles bunch to the last time, it’s phenomenal how they’ve grown, and it’s exciting to see what can become of them next season, given who they return. King will lose five seniors, but her top two scorers, Alysee Dobbs and T’Niah Douglas, are sophomores. What’s more, the Lady Eagles are starting to understand the importance of hard work in the offseason. With another year of immense gains over the summer, don’t be shocked to see Eastside making a state tournament run next season.
5. Is the cupboard finally bare at Newton? The state runner-up Lady Rams lose six seniors, including stars like Lexii Chatman and Jurnee Smith, but also their defensive spark plug in Takiya Cotton and the hard-nosed Erianna Card. But don’t feel sorry for Johnson and company. Look for current juniors like Diamond Swift and Je-nya Smith to fill in the backcourt voids, while Rachel Hilliard has already proven herself a viable force in the paint. Look for sharp-shooter Jada Franklin’s role to increase as well. Meanwhile, for the boys, if Hagans keeps his plans to return to Newton next year, he alone would be reason enough not to sleep on the Rams’ state tournament hopes.
Watch for the development of Armani Harris. The 6-foot-7 senior-to-be has picked up a couple of scholarship offers and has exhibited a solid work ethic and insatiable desire to get better. Players like Tyrease Brown and Tre Clark will also look to take the next step in their games as seniors. Keep a look out for rising junior Ty Harper also. The 6-foot-2 guard showed some flashes in sparse action this past season.
In short, for the last decade-plus the Rams have shown the ability to plug and play talent and coach it up to stay in regular contention for region crowns and deep state tourney runs. There’s no reason to believe that trend shouldn’t continue next season.