Since the current region alignments were set by the Georgia High School Association four years ago, the current Region 8-AAAAAAA has been among the premier boys basketball regions in the state.
While that alignment will be broken up when the GHSA realigns for the next two seasons beginning with the 2020-21 school year, 8-AAAAAAA is going out with a bang this season.
Four teams currently reside in the Kyle Sandy/Georgia Sports Writers Association’s top 10, and will kick off the new year with a huge matchup when No. 2 Shiloh (15-0, 2-0) visits top-ranked Grayson (13-1, 1-1) for a 7:30 p.m. scheduled tip time.
“I think our region from top to bottom is probably the toughest region in the state regardless of classification, and I think it’s been like that for a while now,” said Grayson coach Geoffrey Pierce, whose Rams are ranked No. 10 in the most recent MaxPreps national rankings. “Our region (in) the first round of (the) state (playoffs last year), we all won, so it isn’t anything new to us. I think everybody else outside of (Gwinnett) County is starting to see how tough this region is, but we understand it’s going to be a gauntlet.”
Indeed, as colossal as Friday’s game figures to be, there will be plenty of big-time matchups over the remaining for weeks of the regular season.
For example, after Friday’s clash with Grayson, Shiloh has to turn right around Tuesday and travel to No. 6 Newton (13-3, 3-0), which handed the Rams their only loss of the season last month.
Grayson will have a similar rugged stretch the following week with back-to-back home games with Newton and 10th-ranked Archer (11-5, 0-2), which despite its record has given the Rams and Shiloh everything they wanted in December games, and every remaining week of the season will seem to feature matchups of that magnitude.
Even games against the region’s two unranked teams, South Gwinnett and Rockdale County, are no sure things, and Shiloh coach Kim Rivers thinks he knows why.
“The one thing I will say is, our region has always had excellent coaching,” said Rivers, who has guided the Generals to their best start since the 2014-15 season, when they advanced to the state Final Four. “And with excellent coaching, you’re always going to keep yourself in it whether you have (lesser talent) or an outstanding group of kids. You’re going to be able to compete every night.
“So I take nothing for granted. Even teams at the lowest point (in the standings) of our region on any given night can beat anybody.”
Neither the Generals nor Rams should have any trouble being ready to play in their clash Friday.
For one thing, the proximity of both schools to each other means that the players from each team know each other quite well. That includes one in particular, senior forward Toneari Lane, who transferred to Grayson this past summer after attending and playing for Shiloh the past two school years.
“Now going into (the bulk of the) region (schedule), these kids know each other a lot better,” Rivers said. “They’ve played against each other. We’ve got kids that transferred from one school to the next, and it’s a rivalry game. So it’s definitely going to be a lot more tension and anxiety for the players. But I think the kids are up to it. I’m just trying to get them to stay humble and stay hungry. That’s it.”
While Grayson is the more known commodity both state-wide and nationally, with a stacked lineup that includes five-star Mississippi State signee Deivon Smith and South Florida-bound, four-star senior Caleb Murphy in the backcourt, Shiloh has its own dynamic duo of guards in Zawdie Jackson and Caleb Golden.
Both squads have shown plenty of depth throughout the season, which should be a big plus because both teams also like to play end-to-end basketball in a style that has been a trademark throughout the entire region.
“It’s going to be huge,” Pierce said. “It’s going to be a war of attrition. I’m sure Kim’s done a good job with his offseason (conditioning), and I think we have, too. So it’s just going to come down to conditioning and will.
“But like I said, (the season) is going to be marathon. Joel (Lecoeuvre’s team) plays that way over at Archer. They like to play fast, as well.”
Pierce’s last point is one both coaches agree will be a big key heading into Friday’s game.
While both expect each individual game among the region’s contenders to be more like a sprint, the race itself is more like a marathon, and both Rivers and Pierce are advising their respective teams not to get too caught up with Friday’s results for now.
“I think the guys are focused on region play,” Rivers said. “They know how serious every game is in region. Every game in region, we know, is going to be a dogfight.
“Of course, playing Grayson (to start the new year) — No. 1 versus No. 2 — is a little war. But I told my kids, ‘We’re (probably) going to play them three or four times throughout this year, so it’s just another game. Don’t get to high. Don’t get too low. If we win, we win. If we lose, we lose. We’ve got to adjust and go play them at our house the next time.’”