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February 28, 2005

Rivals.com on the road: GA playoffs

ATLANTA, GA. - The legend of Louis Williams is over in the state of Georgia when his South Gwinnett team lost to another Peach State power, Wheeler High School, 84-80 on Saturday night in the state semifinal game at Georgia Tech. But Williams didn't go down without a fight.

Williams will graduate without his second state championship but don't say he didn't try. The No. 3 ranked senior in the country put in 44 points (11-25 FG, 4-14 3 point, 18-21 FT) in the loss. His 15 points in the fourth quarter weren't enough to get back into the game.

The Georgia signee also pulled down nine rebounds, he collected five steals and almost had six which would have tied the game with less than 30 seconds on the clock but the men in stripes called the play off with a questionable holding foul. Nevertheless, Williams ended his high school career in typical Williams fashion.

Now the question remains: Will he go to Athens and play for Dennis Felton? Or will he bolt for the riches and lure of the NBA? He'll play in the prestigious all-star games, prove himself even more in front of the eyes that make dreams come true and then decide.

It should be noted that we only accounted for one NBA scout in the house at his final two days of action. However, finding the NBA scouts amidst the 9,000 or so people at the game on Saturday is not an easy task.

While the story in Georgia all year was about Williams in the papers and local media, the real story on Saturday is just how good Wheeler played as a team.

Wheeler, a program that has produced NBA All-Star Shareef Abur-Rahim, former Georgia star D.A. Layne and two state championships since 2002, has certainly fielded teams that produce Division I talent. This group may be the best ever at the Marietta, Ga. school.

Led by unsigned senior Sharaud Curry, the Wildcats took it to Williams and future Georgia Bulldog Mike Mercer. Curry, a 5-foot-9 point guard, finished with 19 points. He scored 26 points in the round before.

His scoring ability, particularly using the glass on tough angles, patient penetration and keen three-point shooting was just what Wheeler needed. He's played that kind of game in his three years in the gold Wheeler jerseys. High-majors will certainly look a little harder this week as Wheeler moves onto the Final Four on Thursday and Friday.

Schools like Xavier, though, are already in the picture. In fact, the Musketeers had an assistant at Georgia Tech on Thursday night. Clemson was also in the house on Thursday. Texas A&M is in the picture, too.

"I hope we can continue to do what we do best and that's play as a team," Curry said. "Coming into the game, we knew that it wasn't going to be easy with Louis and Mike over there but we knew we had to play hard and play together. That's what we did."

Curry can score but he can also lead a team as a pass first point and patient floor general and spotting out the right moments to attack against defenses. Finding guys like John Tiller was a crucial point in Wheeler's win.

Tiller, a strong 6-foot-3 junior guard, led the Wildcats with 20 points. His energy, pesky defense on Williams and Mercer in the open court and fearlessness helped the team take and maintain a lead for the entirety of the second half.

"I had to step up big because we knew we had to play the best game we've ever played," Tiller said. "I think it sent a message. We aren't flying under the radar now."

Wheeler head coach Doug Lipscomb said Tiller's game was just par for the course.

"J.T. has been like that all year long," Lipscomb said. "The best thing about him is that he'll be back again next year and hopefully even better."

Tiller showed off a confident dribble drive and athleticism that let him hang in the air long enough for reverse layups and keep 'em on their feet dunks. A solid mid-major prospect, Tiller should ride this wave into a strong start to the AAU season in April.

Also playing well were juniors James Florence (19 points) and B.J. Corley (10 points, 12 rebounds). Florence, a 6-foot-1 combo guard, is a mid-major player that should shine in the summer with the right situation. Corley, a 6-foot-6 power forward, has been a double digit rebounding machine all season. Saturday was no different.

For South Gwinnett, Mercer finished with 17 points on eight of 24 shooting. He also missed all five of his free throws. His play on Thursday, particularly in the fourth quarter, helped the Comets advance. He scored 12 of his 22 points in the final eight minutes of the game. Still one of the most athletic players in the country, Mercer must improve his jumper if he wants to have the same success right away in the SEC.

Don't forget about us

Wheeler has only lost once this season. They dropped a heart-breaker to Lake Howell (Fla.) High School at the Hooters Holiday Shootout in December. South Gwinnett has now lost to Wheeler, Lanier (Miss.) High School in double overtime in Mississippi and Palm Beach (Fla.) Lakes at the City of Palms.

While all of the talk surrounded around those two schools, Norcross sat back and won it's 30th game of the year. Who have they lost to? No one.

On Saturday night, Norcross was led by junior Jodie Meeks, who scored 24 points in a 74-68 win over Kennesaw Mountain and remain undefeated and should contend for the title.

Meeks, a strong bodied 6-foot-4, 197-pound shooting guard, used his great size to get to the basket at will and score at the bucket. He's a rarity in the sense that he shoots at the top of his great elevation and never sells himself short with his jumper. He's always going as high as he can get and that is pretty high. Quite simply, there just aren't a lot of guys that can defend Meeks when he wants to get to the hole.

Western Kentucky bound Daniel Emerson had a workmanlike effort 17 points and 18 rebounds, a norm for the 6-foot-6 power forward. He's been one of the best seniors in the state of Georgia all year, if not the best.

Norcross moves on to play Stephenson, featuring Georgia Tech bound big man Alade Aminu, on March 3 at 8:30 p.m. EST at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga.

In other games

An'juan Wilderness scored 27 points and pulled down 12 rebounds in three quarters of work in an 89-55 victory over Cartersville. Wilderness, a 6-foot-6 junior forward was nearly perfect, missing only two shots from the floor. He dominated the glass and set the tone for the Wildcats.

Unsigned senior Kris Thomas scored 20 in the win on Friday night. Then on Saturday, he put in 18 points on Banneker, featuring Georgetown-bound Octavious Spann. Kierre Jordan scored 35 total points in Dunwoody's two playoff victories.

Six-foot-5 senior forward Qise Wright scored 35 points and pulled down 14 rebounds in a heart-breaking loss to Banneker. The forward from Gainesville-Johnson High School told Rivals.com he has an offer from Austin Peay and interest from Marshall. Wright averaged over 30 points and 12 rebounds a game this season. He's a solid mid-major player.

Wright was put out thanks to a last second score from Spann. The 6-foot-7 small forward put in the biggest bucket of his life when he trailed his teammate and put home the game-winner. Spann had 16 points in the victory.

Jay Brown scored a total of 59 points in two days of action. The unsigned senior is next in line for Griffin High School in terms of good college players. Michigan's Brent Petway and Syracuse's Josh Pace both came out of the Bears' program…Illinois is number one right now and the Illini is looking forward to getting the help of 6-foot-8 power forward Charles Jackson next year. In a defeat and in his last high school game of his career, the Tri-County big man scored 28 points and pulled down 14 rebounds…Javaris Crittenton scored 18 points, had seven rebounds and four steals in a 59-38 win over Whitefield Academy. Crittenton won a state championship last year…Landon Milbourne and his St. Francis team dropped their only loss of the year, falling to 29-1 on the season. The future Maryland Terrapin scored 29 points in a 83-73 stunner to Hancock Central…One of the biggest surprises of the year has been the play of Tucker High School. One of the reasons for the team's success can be traced to the play of junior wing Cameron Tatum. The athletic 6-foot-5 prospect scored 23 points in a 54-52 victory over Columbia. Tatum has helped Tucker win 26 games this season after only winning six in the last two years.


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