Buford boys vs. Greater Atlanta Christian
When: 4:45 p.m. Saturday
Where: Macon Centreplex, 200 Coliseum Drive, Macon
Records: Buford (24-8, No. 3 Region 6-AA); GAC (27-5, No. 1 Region 6-AA)
Coaches: Buford, Allen Whiteheart. GAC, Eddie Martin.
Key players: Buford, C T.J. Shipes (6-7, Jr.); PG Alex Flagler (5-10, Sr.); G Kyle Kellam (6-0, Jr.). GAC, G Malcolm Brogdon (6-4, Sr.); F A.J. Davis (6-6, So.); G Paul Dawson (5-10, Sr.).
Buford girls vs. Greater Atlanta Christian
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Macon Centreplex
Records: Buford (28-3, No. 1 Region 6-AA); GAC (25-7, No. 2 Region 6-AA)
Coaches: Buford, Gene Durden. GAC, Cal Boyd.
Key players: Buford, PG Andraya Carter (5-8, Jr.); G/F Kaela Davis (6-0, Jr.); F Sheresse Williams (5-10, Sr.). GAC, C Kristina Nelson (6-3, So.), PG Chandler Alverson (5-5, Sr.).
Outlook: The Lady Wolves have a familiar foe standing in the way of their third straight state championship, as these two teams have faced each other three times this year... Buford won two of the three, including including the Region 6-AA championship game... The Lady Wolves won that contest by 21... Each team reached the semifinals last year, with GAC falling to Vidalia and Buford beating Laney.
All season, Buford boys basketball coach Allen Whitehart has praised his players' ability to forget about the past and focus on the present.
Thursday night's win against Laney in the Class AA semifinals further proved that the recent past is a distant memory for the Wolves (24-8).
For the second straight game, the Wolves trailed at halftime - this time by nine points - and rallied back to advance in the tournament. Thursday's win gave the Wolves a berth in the state title game against Greater Atlanta Christian at 4:45 p.m. Saturday in Macon. The boys game will follow the girls title game at 3 p.m., which is also between Buford and GAC.
"These kids have worked so hard," Whitehart said Friday. "It's amazing how resilient they are."
That ability to battle through adversity was on display this summer after the program had gone through three straight losing seasons. But that was before Whitehart took over.
After leading Centennial to the Class AAAAA state title game in 2007 and two years removed from coaching a nationally ranked team, Whitehart came to Buford with a 97-25 record and a desire to return Buford basketball back to its past glory.
He accomplished that this year, as the Wolves are playing in their first state championship game since 2001 and third in program history. They have never won the state title.
"It's big, and we're feeling good overall," Whitehart said. "It's good, but we haven't accomplished our goal yet."
They have a chance today against GAC, the defending Class AA champions. Both schools are members of Region 6-AA and have already played twice this year with the Spartans winning 60-54 in overtime on Jan. 8 and 70-67 on Feb. 8.
This is the second region opponent in the last three games for Buford, which beat South Atlanta in the quarterfinals after the Hornets had beat the Wolves twice this year.
Although he's as familiar with the Spartans, and has nearly beaten them twice this year, Whitehart doesn't believe that will help his team.
"It won't impact the game because we know what they do, and they know what we do," he said. "Plus there's the pressure of a championship game. We're going to need to make adjustments during the game and they will too."
Adjusting on the fly will be critical if the Wolves want to beat the top-team in Class AA, but not falling behind like they have been might be the most important focal point of today's gameplan.
"They're so disciplined and well-coached that it's hard to come back on them," Whitehart said. "They're not going to play up-tempo and they're looking to score every possession.
"They're very efficient on offense."
The Spartans are led by 6-foot-4 guard Malcolm Brogdon, who scored 29 points and had 12 rebounds against Swainsboro in the semifinals. Brogdon, a University of Virginia signee, scored 33 points and had 19 rebounds against East Hall in the quarterfinals.
Brogdon was the main reason the Spartans beat Buford earlier this year, scoring 30 points each game.
Containing the versatile guard will be difficult for the Wolves, and Whitehart said his team will have to key in on the defensive side of the floor just as much, if not more, than when they're on offense.
When they're on offense, Buford will rely on the play of seniors Alex Flagler, Zac Lynn and Jake Burnette as well as junior T.J. Shipes, who scored a game-high 18 points Thursday against Laney.
Unlike GAC, those four, and the rest of the Wolves, will be playing in their first state championship game; after all they've been through, they know they belong.
"Practice was very up-beat," Whitehart said. "These guys aren't nervous and they know we're one win away from reaching our goal."