BY CHRIS GOLTERMANN / Cowetascore
The collective level of anticipation among high school boys basketball lineups in Coweta County at the start of the 2018-19 season might be higher than any point in the past decade.
All three of the county’s private school programs are coming off trips to the Final Four with talent returning. And while GHSA regions for East Coweta, Newnan and Northgate remain an uphill climb, there are reasons to believe that local teams are in better position — mentally, physically or both — than in previous years while in search of a long-awaited state playoff berth.
This could be the year teams put it all together.
And why not? Last season’s list of 17 All-County selections included 10 underclassmen, nearly all of whom are back with respective programs.
East Coweta, now off to a 3-0 start following an 82-73 victory on Tuesday at McIntosh, returned all five starters from a program that has won 27 games in two consecutive .500 seasons while playing among a group of Region 2-7A teams that again includes state-ranked lineups from Westlake, Pebblebrook and Wheeler.
Head coach Royal Maxwell is taking a page from the ECHS football program by ramping up the non-region schedule to the same level of 2-7A.
“Everybody we play, regardless of their classification, is top five in the state,” Maxwell said. “So we have to be ready to do the right things at the right times.”
The Indians ended 2017-18 while being denied a trip to state only by way of a 40-foot buzzer-beater against Westlake in the region tournament. So motivation shouldn’t be a problem for a group of returners that includes four All-County selections.
East Coweta has its top six contributors returning from a year ago while also adding new faces to what could be an even deeper bench.
Nor should it elsewhere. Heritage School returns a big three led by senior Lance Terry, who will sign Wednesday with Gardner Webb among Coweta County’s second major recruit over two years to sign with the Bulldogs.
The Hawks are under new leadership following the promotion of coach Joab “Joey” Jerome, but not much at all has changed among expectations following two consecutive trips to the GISA Class AAA Finals and a showdown with Region 1 rival Holy Spirit.
The two teams, with respective lineups mostly intact from a year ago, should again be on a collision course for a potential third meeting at Mercer University in March.
“I think our biggest strength coming back is veteran leadership or experience,” said Jerome, who even took the reins in a victory over rival Trinity last year at home when head coach Mark Lieberman fell ill.
Asked where Jerome sees the Hawks near the end of the regular season, he answered, “I see us getting better every day, attacking practice like it’s a game every day, and hopefully at the end of the season [it’s] competing for a state championship.”
Heritage opened its year by knocking off GHSA Class A Private’s No. 2 ranked team in St. Francis on Terry’s game-winning basket for a 64-62 overtime win.
The season, however, isn’t won or lost in mid-November, however.
“We have a lot of work to do and the season is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Trinity Christian head coach Will de la Cruz, whose Lions are equally hungry in a move to GHSA Class-A Private. “I like to take it one day at a time.”
Trinity is off to a 1-1 start that began with an impressive 78-67 win over Miller Grove, which went 22-8 last year.
Even in a 70-62 loss Tuesday at Jackson, now led by former Wheeler head coach Doug Lipscomb, the Lions were making noise against a Class 5A opponent. Brady Burnett’s 38 points proved the returning All-County starter was ready to step up into a bigger role while joined by a solid mix of returners and new faces.
Northgate rolled to a 62-25 victory its season opener at home on Tuesday over Pike County behind senior Jonah French’s 14 points. While the Vikings return one starter from last year in Zach Tolbert, head coach Maurice Smith may have a more cohesive unit.
At Newnan, head coach Rod Ladd feels similarly about a Cougars team that may have lost its way in 2017-18, while struggling in Region 2-7A.
All-County First Team selection Tay Watson, who also has college scouts in pursuit, leads a group of returners who are poised to get back on track.
“We didn’t have an identity last season,” Ladd said. “Now we have veteran players that have expectations for success and conditioned themselves to perform.”
GHSA Class 7A
East Coweta Indians
2017-18 Record: 13-13, 3-7
Head Coach: Royal Maxwell (4th year)
Staff: Ty Townsend, Derrick Stroud, Frederick Sippial
Returning Starters: G Fermandez Jones, Sr. (1st Team, All-County); G/F Chris Youngblood, Jr. (1st Team, All-County); PG Derrick Emory, Sr. (3rd Team-All_County); F/W Brandon Stroud, Jr (2nd Team, All-County).; F Rhet Reynolds, Sr
Returning Contributors: F Demetrius Freeman, Sr.; Isaiah Richardson, Sr.
Newcomers: Zac Hill, Sr.; Haziah Phillips, So.; Austin McCauley, Jr.;
Outlook: The Indians, who were seconds away from knocking off Westlake in last year’s region tournament in their pursuit from a state playoff berth, may again go overlooked to start the season in 2-7A, which again has three ranked teams among the top-10 in No. 6 Wheeler, No. 8 Westlake and No. 10 Pebblebrook. But expect East Coweta to make another big push, especially with all five starters back. Along with last year’s sixth-man Demetrius Freeman and a bench that should be able to add sparks from players like Hill, a move-in from North Carolina, and Phillips, this year’s team has the talent to contend again and will get the chance to become battle tested with a tough non-region schedule.
“Our goal is a state championship. We’re shooting for the stars,” Maxwell said.
2018-19 EAST COWETA Roster
No. Player Pos. Yr.
1 Demetrius Freeman PF Sr.
2 Fermandez Jones G Sr.
3 Chris Youngblood SG/F Jr.
4 Derrick Emory PG Sr.
5 Brandon Stroud F/W Jr.
10 Zach Hill F Sr.
12 Austin McCauley G/F Jr.
13 Isaiah Richardson W/G Sr.
15 Ben Killingsworth
22 Haziah Phillips F/W So.
23 Rhet Reynolds F Sr.
24 Jordan Edun
32 Marcus Clarke C Jr.
33 William Norwood
34 Sammy Moss
42 Charlie Paige
2017-18 Record: 6-19, 0-10
Head Coach: Rod Ladd (6th season)
Returning Starters: F Tay Watson, Sr, G Jamar Stargell, So.
Losses to Graduation: G Will Gates (3rd Team, All-County); Luis Gonzalez
Returning Contributors: Noah Brown, Sr.; Harrison Drake, Sr.; Jaden Berry, Jr.; Jaden Best, Sr.; Kyle McDonald, Sr.
Newcomers: Kevin Leslie, Sr.; Brandon Carter, So; Zion Brown, Fr.; Deonte Colton, So.; Josh Harris, So.
Outlook: The Cougars may have been a team without an identity last season according to Ladd, who feels that the leadership among a group with seven players with varsity experience should rub off. Four newcomers add depth and quickness. Newnan’s ball handling should also be improved with another year of experience. The newcomers, which include a freshman and three sophomores, will have to grow up fast, however, in a deep region that includes three state-ranked teams.
2018-19 Newnan Roster
Player Pos. Yr.
Noah Brown F Sr.
Zion Brown G Fr.
Brandon Carter G So.
Deonte Colton F So.
Harrison Drake G Sr.
Jaden Berry F Jr.
Jaden Best F Sr.
Jamar Stargell G So.
Tay Watson F Sr.
Josh Harris G So.
Kevin Leslie F Sr.
Kyle McDonald G Sr.
GHSA Class 6A
2017-18 Record: 4-20, 0-16 i
Head Coach: Maurice “Mo” Smith
Staff: Todd Wisenbaker
Returning Starters: Zach Tolbert, Sr.
Losses to Graduation: Perez McLaughlin (2nd Team, All-County); Jermariki Cunningham (3rd Team, All-County); Alex Cheek, Devontae Johnson
Returning Contributors: Chase Moore, Sr.; Jonah French, Sr., Gerald Harris, Sr.
Newcomers: Gabriel Page
Outlook: Northgate may not find the road to the state playoffs any easier in Region 5-6A, but chemistry and cohesiveness expect to be on the rise. Smith describes his leaders as both “athletic” and “humble.” Tolbert is the lone returning starter from a new-look lineup with the ability at the wing to “stretch the floor and defend positions,” according to the Vikings’ head coach.
French, who scored 14 points in Tuesday’s season-opening victory, provides shooting ability as a playmaker and Page, at 6-7, gives Northgate a major presence in the middle.
Moore, meanwhile, is a player who “will do whatever it takes to make sure that the team is successful,” Smith said. “I’m pretty sure he will have one game this year with 10 rebounds and 10 assists. That’s just the type of kid he is.”
The Vikings add several athletes who have been standouts during the offseason in football and baseball among four seniors, six juniors and a sophomore.
The region, meanwhile, went through shifts of its own despite the same lineup of schools. Douglas County, Alexander, New Manchester, Tri-Cities and Mays all have incoming transfers. Creekside’s program, which went 7-20, experienced an overhaul with new faces from both Westlake and Pebblebrook.
2018-19 Northgate Vikings Roster
Player Pos. Yr.
Jonah French Sr.
Zach Tolbert Sr.
Chase Moore Sr.
Gerald Harris Sr.
Dillon Wade Jr.
Emanuel Nolan Jr.
Reid Fagerstrom Jr.
Adam Cope Jr.
Gabriel Page Jr.
Steve Hurtgen Jr.
Robbie Reid So.
GHSA Class A Private
Trinity Christian Lions
2017-18 Record: 28-7
Head Coach: Will de la Cruz (5th season)
Staff: Todd Burnett
Returning Starters: G Tyler Whitfield (5-10, 165, Sr); W Brady Burnett (6-5, 185, Sr.)
Losses to graduation: Jamir Williams (1st Team, All-County; Middle Georgia); Erick Valdez (1st Team, All-County; Gardner-Webb); Daevon Platt (3rd Team, All-County; Covenant), Pierce Davis
Returning contributors: G Shamari Reed (6-1, 170, Jr.)
Newcomers: F Giancarlo Bastianoni Sanchez (6-7, 200, Jr.); PG Dami Onakoya (5-9, 165, Sr.); F/W/SG Maclean Hoekwater (6-5, 170 Jr.); PG Truitt Thompson (5-10, 160, Jr.);
Outlook: Trinity graduated three players that signed with college programs following a year that ended in the GISA Final Four. But the Lions have once again retooled the roster among returning contributors and newcomers to create a roster that is well balanced and equally versatile. Whitfield is a third-year contributor and Burnett is poised to take on a bigger role in the offense. For a program returning just two starters, the roster is heavy on juniors and seniors ready to step up. De la Cruz feels Bastianoni Sanchez, a transfer student from the Dominican Republic near where Valdez grew up, can provide much the same boost in the middle of the floor. He describes Onakoya as “a very good on-ball defender which will help us put pressure on opponents.” Hoekwater, Sinkfield, Thompson and Reed could be the glue while capable of solidifying this year’s lineup.
“Our strength this season will be our overall skill set,” de la Cruz said. “We have a lot of guys that can do a lot of things and play multiple positions. This team also has a high basketball IQ, which should be a huge plus for us.”
2018-19 Trinity Lions Roster
No. Player Pos. Yr.
0 Shamari Reed SG Jr.
1 Dami Onakoya PG Sr.
2 Tyler Whitfield G Sr.
3 Tre Sinkfield G Jr.
4 Truitt Thompson PG Jr.
5 Dyllan Maynard F Sr.
10 Jacob Blair F/G Sr.
11 Maclean Hoekwater F/G Jr.
13 Giancarlo Bastianoni Sanchez F/W Jr.
15 Reed Benefield G Jr.
24 Brady Burnett F/W Jr.
25 Adam Granade G Jr.
Thomas Yeager C So.
GISA Class AAA
Heritage School Hawks
2017-18 Record: 22-10
Head Coach: Joab “Joey” Jerome (1st season)
Returning Starters: G Lance Terry (6-2, 190; All-County Most Valuable Player; Gardner Webb commit, Sr.); C Ebenezer “EB” Dowuona, Jr. (6-10, 220; 1st Team, All-County, Sr.); G Kasen Jennings (6-4, 190; 2nd Team, All-County, Jr.)
Losses to Graduation: Jake Canter (2nd Team, All-County; Marion Military Institute)
Returning Contributors: F Dylan McLean (6-5, 186, Sr.), Sr.; F Gridley Pendergrast (6-3, 160, Sr.); F Henry Arnall (6-3, 170, Sr.); G Patrick Griffies (6-1, 165, Sr.)
Newcomers: SG Connor Thompson (6-3, 190, Jr.); PG Grant Evans (5-11, 170, Jr.); C Reece Overhault (6-6, 180, Jr.)
Outlook: Not to put pressure on the Hawks, but Heritage and Holy Spirit will be again on a collision course to meeting in the GISA Class AAA finals for the third consecutive season. Heritage’s season opener — a 64-62 overtime win over a Mt. Bethel team ranked No. 2 in GHSA Class A-Private — only solidifies our point.
On paper, few opponents will be able to match talent for talent. Three of Heritage’s big-four — Dowuona, Terry and Jennings — are back, with Canter, a sharpshooting threat who connected for 10 3-pointers in last year’s Final Four as the only loss to graduation. Jackson High transfer Connor Thompson, however, expects to be “the glue guy and provide a little of everything,” said Jerome, much the way Canter did the past two years.
Dylan McLean equally is poised to step up into an even bigger role after coming off the bench a year ago.
“Everyone coming back has been a part of the program now for a while and they know what to expect,” Jerome said. “They’ve been in just about every situation together on the basketball Court.”
2018-19 Heritage Hawks Roster
No. Player Pos. Yr.
1 Kasen Jennings PG Jr.
2 Dylan McLean F Sr.
4 Connor Thompson SG Jr.
5 Henry Arnall F Sr.
10 Ebenezer “EB” Dowuona C Jr.
12 Patrick Griffies PG Sr.
13 Gridley Pendergrast F Sr.
15 Grant Evans PGS Jr.
23 Reece Overhault C Jr.
30 Lance Terry G Sr.
GICAA Division II_A
Central Christian Crusaders
2017-18 Record: 17-6, 8-2 in region
Returning Players: Michael Morge, So., Khristian Zachary
Players lost to Graduation: Issac Johnson, Ryley Byers, A.J. Whiteside, Dalton Twiggs, Marcellus Giles, Quincy Grigsby
Newcomers: Antwan Ferrell, Sr.
Outlook: The Crusaders reached last year’s state semifinals in GICAA Division II-A and look to reload after losing five of their top seven scorers to graduation. The top returners include a pair of freshmen contributors that helped provide sparks offensively. Michael Morse returns after averaging 7.8 points and a team-high 4.4 assists while playing in 21 of 23 games. Kristian Zachary added 5.7 points-per-game in limited action.
2018-19 Central Crus
No. Player Pos. Yr.
1 Antwan Ferrell G Sr.
2 Josh Colton G So.
3 Jordan Brown G/F Sr.
5 Jordan Turner G So.
11 Michael Morge G So.
12 Zach Obi F Sr.
15 Keaton Summerell G Jr.
22 Jordan Clements F/G So.
23 Corey McConnell G So.
25 Daniel Contreras F Sr.
30 Cody Clark G Fr.
34 Khristian Zachary F So.
44 Connor McDaniel C/F Jr.