The burgeoning interest in the North Georgia All-Star Basketball Classic was met with some great displays of athleticism Saturday at Gainesville High.
Hall County’s best high school senior basketball talent took on some of the best from elsewhere in Northeast Georgia for a boys and girls friendly exhibition in front of a robust crowd in the Red Elephants’ home gym.
There was a little something for everyone who fancies themselves a fan of high school hoops.
Led by a fast-tempo offense paced by Gainesville’s D’Marcus Simonds and Messiah Dorsey, along with East Hall’s Tylor Brown, the Hall County squad won the boys game 80-72. In the opening game, Loganville’s Schekinah Bimpa and Sequoyah’s Megan Garcia led the visiting girls squad to a 57-41 victory.
With all the talent on the same floor, college coaches from Lagrange College, Oglethorpe University and Life University, to name a few, were on hand to see if any unsigned players on hand would make a good fit for their college programs.
“I had a great time,” said Gainesville High senior Shikiya Brown, who finished with 12 points. “I would have liked to have won the game, but this was about playing with friends and cracking jokes together.”
The individual skills challenges before the games were just as exciting — maybe even more.
Banks County’s Zez Steeple won the slam dunk contest in the finals against the hometown favorite Simonds, who also had five dunks in the second half of the game.
North Forsyth’s Nick Cunningham had the most creative dunk, lining up three kids from the crowd at a 45-degree angle to the baseline and with a running start, he jumped over their backs for the dunk. After a running start just inside the halfcourt line, Dorsey left the ground just inside the free throw line for his best dunk.
Cunningham said he first tried his dunk at a school pep rally last year over the backs of two brave volunteers.
“This was so much fun today,” said Cunningham, who said he still hasn’t locked up where he’ll play next year. “It was a great atmosphere.”
Even celebrity judge A.J. Johnson got in on the dunking action. The Gainesville High grad and All-American linebacker from the University of Tennessee showed flashes of his basketball prowess with dunks between the rounds in the slam dunk competition.
Other celebrity judges included a pair of former Atlanta Falcons: running back Jerious Norwood and offensive lineman Todd Weiner. At the middle of the judging table was Atlanta radio personality Greg Street, from V-103.
Lumpkin County’s Jack Howard made 19-of-25 shots for a rousing performance to lock up the 3-point title. Flowery Branch’s Kierra Knight won in the girls’ competition.
After tipoff in the girls’ game, the visitors jumped to a big lead as Garcia knocked down a pair of treys and two jump shots in the opening two minutes. The home squad got back to within five points in the second quarter with a hot shooting streak by Brown. She scored 10 of her 12 points in a 1:40 span early in the second quarter.
Bimpa put the visitors back in control for good early in the third quarter. She finished off a 3-point play at the free throw line, then answered a Breanna Locke basket with another layup on the other end of the floor.
One of the interesting matchups in the first game was Flowery Branch’s Locke going up Dawson County’s Karlie Bearden.
The two will be teammates starting in the fall at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C.
“This was a great chance for all these girls to play one more time,” said Flowery Branch coach Courtney Newton, who had four of her players on the Hall County squad.
In the boys’ game, the kids from Hall County fought off a pesky visiting squad, thanks to a quick succession of early second half dunks by Simonds and Brown.
East Hall’s Triston Cooper added seven quick points early in the fourth quarter, pushing its lead out to 67-55.
Just before the final second went off the clock, Simonds took a pass underneath the basket from Tae Turner for an uncontested dunk, and end his high school career.
“Playing at Gainesville has been an honor for me,” said Simonds, who is signed with Georgia State University.