The awards are starting to pile up on Derrick Favors’ dresser at home. The state’s top player will win every individual award that the state can give. He’s a McDonald’s All-American. He’ll be a Parade All-American. He could be the EA Sports Player of the Year. You name it, he has a plaque for it.
The only thing that has escaped the grasp of the 6-9 center from South Atlanta High School is a state championship.
That could change this year.
Last year, Favors and his South Atlanta teammates watched East Hall walk away with a first round win the state tournament. All Favors could do in that game was sit and watch from the bench with foul trouble mocking him along the way.
This year’s playoff bracket is favorable for Favors and his 24-3 team. With the addition of Auburn bound senior Andre Malone (pictured above) and the progression of point guard Nick Watkins and sophomore Nick Jacobs, South Atlanta is beating Georgia teams by an average of 40 points a game.
Favors and company are taking no prisoners this season. The ridiculous margin of victory could continue all the way to Macon this year.
And maybe, just maybe, Favors is cleaning off a spot in his hardware cupboard for the AAA state championship.
Someone will surprise you. If you haven’t already penned out your bracket, think twice about some of the games you might want to pick. There are a number of teams in the AAA bracket that can make a run to Macon.
Don’t sleep on Franklin County or Elbert County. The two schools swung it out in Region 8 play this season. Franklin County leads on DeMario Mayfield, one of the top seniors in the AAA bracket and a future Georgia Bulldog. Elbert leans on Rod Rucker, one of the featured sleepers below. Both teams could make a push for Macon. Franklin County may have an easier path though.
The top left section of the bracket boasts a number of teams that can make a run to the Final Four. Westover, Shaw, Liberty, Northside Columbus, Spalding and Burke County can all be making the trip to middle Georgia on March 13 for the semi-finals.
Dig deeper into the bracket and you can argue that Druid Hills could make a push to the semi-finals. The Region 5 team quietly took care of business in the region tourney.
Washington County, winners of Region 3, and Carrollton, winners of Region 6, shouldn’t be looked over either.
Must see games
Westover vs. Shaw - Both teams enter the playoffs with a chip on it’s shoulder. Westover was forced forfeit it’s final four games of the year (all victories) and had to scrap through the region tournament to earn a No. 1 seed in the state tournament. Shaw is 2-3 in February after going 21-1 through January. Both teams have a lot to play for. Both teams have technically won 23 games to date. The game will be physical, no doubt, and it will be a great match-up of good guards.
Franklin County vs. North Hall - The present will meet the future in this game. Franklin County senior DeMario Mayfield, a Georgia signee, will lock horns with North Hall rookie Kanler Coker. Mayfield has been one of the best players in Northeast Georgia history and he has his team rolling at the right time. Coker, a two-sport star, has received rave reviews in Year One of his young career.
Ridgeland vs. Druid Hills - This match-up of two 20-plus win teams is intriguing. Ridgeland, tucked away quietly in Northwest Georgia, has won 25 games this season. Anyone other than Ridgeland know that? Probably not. Druid Hills was in the Elite Eight just two years ago. The team’s best player, Byron Dickerson, remembers it well. He should be the difference maker.
SLEEPERS TO WATCH
Rion Brown, SG, Liberty County – Last year, Brown and his teammates traveled to Columbus for an Elite Eight match-up against Carver and had to make the long drive home to Hinesville after a difficult loss. That memory has remained with the long 6-5 shooter this season. He’s coming into his own and playing very well this season. Few teams can match-up with him on the wing because of his size and quick trigger.
Martaveous Smith, C, Burke County – Size matters in AAA. And it will matter in the second round of the tournament if the 6-8 center and his teammates win in round one. The prize for winning could be the very big Columbus Northside team. Smith is vastly improved in the post and blocks a number of shots. If Burke wants to move on, he must play well.
Rod Rucker, SF/PF, Elbert County – Okay, okay, the 6-6 junior probably can’t be called a sleeper after being named Co-Region 8 Player of the Year but surprisingly, he isn’t mentioned by the peanut gallery as one of the top players in the state. He’s my third best wing forward in the class behind Jalen Kendrick (Westlake) and Jamel Jones (Greenforest). A potential meeting against Columbia in the quarterfinals could be a golden moment in March.
Brandon Johnson, PF, Monroe – The 6-7 junior forward is a blue collar hustler with good size, good length and a good motor. The Albany star and his teammates have a tough one in round one against LaGrange but his size could be the difference maker in that match-up.
YOUNGSTERS TO WATCH
Nick Jacobs, PF, South Atlanta – The sophomore understudy to Derrick Favors is quietly awaiting his turn. When his number is called, he has shown that he is one of the top 2011 prospects in the state. The Hornets have been blowing opponents out all year long and the blowouts could continue all the way to the Macon Centreplex. When Jacobs is on the floor, he makes a big difference.
Jordan Price, SG, Columbia – Fewer freshmen in the state has a bigger profile than him and now that the spotlight is on, the Eagles will certainly lean on the aggressive guard more than usual. Paired with JerShon Cobb, one of the top players in AAA, Price has the advantage of one-on-one situations and loves to attack with aggression. Teams will struggle matching up with him and Price could be the difference maker in a game or two.
Tim Dixon, C, Kendrick – The 6-9 sophomore is one of the top shot-blockers in the state. He is skinny, sure, but he has good timing, runs the floor well and knows what his best strength is. If he can help his Columbus team win at home on Saturday, a likely meeting with South Atlanta on March 3 awaits he and his teammates. That would be interesting to watch to say the least.
Kanler Coker, SG, North Hall – Those that have watched the 6-3 guard this season speak highly of his intelligence on the court, his scoring touch and his overall skill set in the backcourt. Some have even called him the next Zac Swansey, a former Hall county product now at UGA. That’s good company. The tournament could be the time for Coker to show the comparison is legit or not.
Jacquez Rozier, SF, Burke County – The 6-5 wing was one of the nice revelations of Georgia Hoops’ many road trips this season. Rozier helped his squad beat a very good Liberty County team. He’s an aggressive attacker to the basket and in the big region win over Liberty, Rozier absolutely took over down the stretch. Can his star shine even brighter in the tournament?
Top No. 1 seed: South Atlanta
Top No. 2 seed: Liberty County
Top No. 3 seed: Burke County
Top No. 4 seed: Shaw
FIRST ROUND PREDICTIONS
Westover over Shaw
Liberty County over Woodland-Henry
Northside-Columbus over Peach County
Burke County over Spalding
Franklin County over North Hall
Cedartown over St. Pius X
Gainesville over Eastside
Druid Hills over Ridgeland
Washington County over Rutland
LaGrange over Monroe
South Atlanta over Thomson
Kendrick over Cairo
Carrollton over Cedar Grove
Elbert County over Flowery Branch
Columbia over Central Carroll
Hart County over West Hall
FINAL FOUR PICKS
South Atlanta vs. Columbia
Liberty County vs. Franklin County
South Atlanta over Franklin County