I don’t know about you, but I’ve still got a little high school basketball hangover.
Maybe some of that is because we were “this close” to making history in Newton County with the Newton Rams boys’ squad coming a few bounces of the ball short of pushing for a state championship, and — for most of the season — and undefeated 2016-17 campaign.
Maybe it’s because of the plethora of impressive individual performances we saw throughout the year from players like Isaiah Miller who electrified us with high-flying dunks galore. Or Eastside’s Keiodre Perry who often wore his heart on his sleeve as he worked to raise up a revamped Eagles’ roster.
Perry’s 49 points in his high school basketball swan song, on the road at Mary Persons in the state tournament — though an Eastside loss — may have been one of the top performances by any one player in the county this year.
Or how about Ashton Hagans who, as a sophomore, firmly placed himself in the category of the nation’s elite high school players, as far as point guards go. And then Alcovy, despite a 6-20 regular season finish, making it to the state tournament for the first time in several years, and coming close to advancing past the first round.
On the girls’ side, we were kind of left wondering what could’ve been as a very talented Lady Rams bunch picked the worst time to play one of its worst games of the season. But despite that first round loss to Duluth, coach Tiffani Johnson’s team showed what it could do against top competition when it played up to its potential.
All you have to do to see that is look at its three games against a bigger Archer opponent. The Rams defeated Archer and its two 6-foot-2 senior post players on the Tigers’ home court early in the regular season, thanks to Chatman’s 27-point performance.
Newton then lost narrowly at home to the Tigers, and then suffered defeat again at Archer in a double overtime thriller that decided the region championship.
In all of those games, it was often Chatman keeping the Lady Rams in striking distance. Time and time again, Chatman proved to be the best player and leader on the floor — and not just against County opposition.
The exciting thing about Chatman is the fact that she’s a junior, and she’s got fellow junior and backcourt mate, Jurnee Smith coming back with her next season. In fact, Newton only lost two to graduation. And although Johnson will tell you that Chatman’s showed signs of leadership since her sophomore year, next year it will truly be her team to help mold and manage.
And then, those Newton boys. Man, did they give us plenty of exciting basketball this season.
The gauntlet Class AAAAAAA side of the state tourney bracket the Rams were on did them no favors. Put that team on the other side, or put this team in any other bracket over the last five years, and I’m confident coach Rasmussen and his bunch would be cutting down nets.
J.D. Notae is a big reason why. This year’s Newton County Boys Player of the Year dominated games with his court savvy, sharp shooting and explosive play around the basket. It’s arguable whether or not he was the absolute best on his team at in any one particular area, but he was, hands down, the best all-around, consistent and well-rounded player this season.
It was fairly easy to select the two — especially Chatman, as the other girls squads in the area struggled both to win and score consistently at times. But that doesn’t mean other players weren’t worthy of consideration, particularly on the boys’ side.
Any one of Newton’s big three of Notae, Isaiah Miller and Ashton Hagans could’ve made a case. So could Eastside’s Keiodre Perry, who was definitely the Eagles’ most valuable player. Without Perry, Eastside certainly doesn’t make a tournament appearance, and maybe doesn’t even finish above .500.
And I’ve always been a guy who likes to give Player of the Year weight, not just to those with the most stats or even the most wins, but to the player who has the most individual impact to his or her team overall.
That said, Notae’s steady hand, maturity and senior leadership — as well as stellar play against some of the best competition in the nation night in and night out — was the thing that tipped the scales in his direction for the county’s top honors. Currently, he is the county’s lone Division I signee, and he is that for a reason.
As we use these accolades to put a cap on this hoops season, it dawns on me that Newton County may have been a bit spoiled with the talent we’ve seen over the last couple of years on the hardwood. This season’s story lines were intriguing.
We know who this season’s stars were. We know who the 2016-17 season belonged to, as far as top honors and most sought-after talent. But with so many team fixtures leaving and young, unproven players being forced to step up throughout the county’s three GHSA schools, the biggest question we’ll spend the offseason asking is ‘Who’s got next?’
Gabriel Stovall is the Sports Editor at The Covington News. He can be reached for story ideas at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GabrielStovall1, and follow our Sports Twitter page @CovNewsSports for the most comprehensive sports coverage in Newton County.