Gwinnett County is a major hub for Georgia hoops. If the name Maya Moore doesn't mean anything to you, then you're in the wrong place. The former Collins Hill (Suwanee, Ga.) star repped for Gwinnett County and brought the school a high school national championship in 2006.
This season the suburban area northeast of Atlanta is home to a wealth of underclass talent with Buford (Buford, Ga.) Norcross (Norcross, Ga.), and Wesleyan (Norcross, Ga.) all spending considerable time ranked in the Powerade Fab 50.
Three months into the season a new name is shaking up the scene, both regionally and nationally.
North Gwinnett has two starters this season that weren't on the team a season ago. The Bulldogs also have a new head coach, Bryan Sellers. With Norcross headlined by a trio of major Division I prospects -- senior Wake Forest signee DeArica Hamby, and sophomores Diamond DeShields and Shayla Cooper -- it is unlikely that the big red marker circled either of the regular-season matchups Norcross had with North Gwinnett when the season started.
With North Gwinnett accounting for two of Norcross' three losses this season, the potential playoff rematch surely is worthy of a highlighter.
"I'm definitely looking forward to the possible third game, but its not just if I'm ready, my team wants this really bad," DeShields, a co-captain at Norcross, said. "Two years straight Norcross has been upset in a region championship and we owe this to our coaches to work our butts off and put up a region championship banner first, then worry about the state championship banner."
Usually knocking off a team ranked as high as 13th in the country is cause for people to take notice on the national scene. Do it twice and you should be ranked among the nation's elite. Right?
Not so for North Gwinnett. Sellers' squad started the season 1-4 and tallied its fifth loss before the end of 2010. Of those losses, only two of them were to teams currently ranked either regionally or nationally.
North Gwinnett's low point, a 28-point loss at Kendrick (Columbus, Ga.) on Dec. 18, also provided what Sellers would call a "light switch" moment.
The 144-mile bus ride to Kendrick took more than three hours, longer than expected. Sellers said his team walked into the gym with just 14 minutes until the scheduled tipoff, and Kendrick did not want to delay to give North Gwinnett some extra time to warm up.
The team's leading scorer, Lexie Brown, a sophomore point guard who has already committed to Maryland, was in action but the Bulldogs were not at full strength.
Annie Wheeler, the 6-foot-1 senior post and four-year starter, was not with the team, attending a family member's wedding.
Peyton Whitted, a 6-2 sophomore swing player, was playing her first game of the season, missing the first seven games while waiting for the Georgia High School Association to rule on her eligibility. She transferred to North Gwinnett from Greater Atlanta Christian, a private school. According to Sellers, even though she lived within the school's boundaries, she had to go through a waiver process because her family didn't physically move residences.
Sellers isn't one to make excuses, either. The team met after the embarrassing loss and collectively decided to flip the light switch on. The result has been 12 straight wins.
"In doing it," Sellers said of the long trip to Kendrick's home court, "we came out better and stronger as a team. That's the reason we play those games, to be battle-tested."
North Gwinnett cracks the Southeast regional rankings this week but will have to extend its streak a little longer to overcome the early-season losses. There is something to be said for ranking teams based on how they are playing right now over results that happened months ago.
"This is great," Sellers said of the Atlanta Journal Constitution ranking his team No. 1 in the state and cracking the regional Powerade rankings. "But our goal isn't to be ranked No. 1 right now. We want to be there at the end of the season, and the girls have bought into that."
Georgia Class 5A beware, the Bulldogs are on the cusp and the upcoming playoffs ultimately will be their proving ground.
-- Chris Hansen
Jasmine Hines, a 6-foot-3 senior post, had 42 points and 19 rebounds to break the state record for career rebounds in Central Lake's (Central Lake, Mich.) 78-50 victory over Johannesburg-Lewiston (Johannesburg, Mich.). Hines has recorded a total of 1,534 rebounds while scoring 2,725 points in her career. She is seven points away from also holding the state record for most points scored by a female. She will have a chance to break that record Feb. 22, when her team travels to Forest Area (Fife Lake, Mich.). ... Ben Davis (Indianapolis, Ind.) senior Bria Goss recorded 19 points and 11 rebounds this weekend in the 4A Tech sectional final, a 55-42 victory over Brownsburg (Brownsburg, Ind.). Ben Davis is undefeated with a record of 22-0 on the season, and its winning streak is now at 80 games. ... Mount Juliet (Mount Juliet, Tenn.) junior Caya Williams scored a game-high 31 points Friday night as she led her team to the District 9-AAA championship against rival Wilson Central (Lebanon, Tenn.). ... Aerial Powers, a junior guard at Detroit Country Day (Beverly Hills, Mich.) put the Yellowjackets on her back in the second half against Inkster (Inkster, Mich.), scoring 20 of her 25 points in the final two quarters. ... Super sophomore Kailee Johnson, a 6-4 forward for Central Catholic (Portland, Ore.), is out indefinitely with a foot injury. Johnson's team is 3-1 without her, but Central Catholic coach Sandy Dickerson told local reporters Johnson could return for the postseason. ... Rebecca Greenwell, a sophomore at Owensboro Catholic (Owensboro, Ky.), continues her statistical onslaught in the Bluegrass State. With just one regular-season game remaining before regional playoffs begin, Greenwell is averaging 33.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game.
-- Rebecca Gray and Chris Hansen
While the Southern California powers get their steam engines ready to roll to the much-anticipated California Interscholastic Federation Southern Sectional semifinal round -- where No. 3 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) could get its rematch with No. 2 Polytechnic (Long Beach, Calif.) and the winner would potentially have a shot at No. 1 Brea Olinda (Brea, Calif.) -- the rest of the country is ripe with key matchups.
Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.) easily handled St. John's (Washington, D.C.) 79-55 in the Crusaders' tiny gym, which was packed to the gills. Having a matchup with another top 20 team this late in the season helped Riverdale Baptist jump into the top 10 over Ben Davis (Indianapolis, Ind.) and Westbury Christian (Houston, Texas), both of which took care of business last week but against much lesser competition.
And while we're on the topic of February FAB 50 showdowns, Inkster (Inkster, Mich.) had shots at two nationally ranked opponents, Detroit Country Day (Detroit, Mich.) and Start (Toledo, Ohio), but lost both games by a combined seven points. Detroit Country Day stayed perfect on the season and used the Inkster win to solidify its national profile.
In the South, Hoover (Hoover, Ala.) went to Madison Academy (Madison, Ala.) and knocked the Mustangs off their perch as the top team in the state with a 48-47 victory.
Buford (Buford, Ga.) falls out of the top 50 with a nine-point loss to Greater Atlanta Christian (Norcross, Ga.). Memphis Central (Memphis, Tenn.) drops out of rankings as well with a loss to White Station (Memphis, Tenn.). The defeat will keep the Lady Warriors out of the city championship game but Niki Bray's team still has a chance to rebound in the district playoffs.
Florida has a big week upcoming with Lake Mary (Lake Mary, Fla.) and Edgewater (Orlando, Fla.) squaring off Tuesday night in the 6A playoffs. The winner could join Hollywood Christian (Hollywood, Fla.) in the FAB 50 next week but will still have to deal with Dr. Phillips (Orlando, Fla.) if either intends to stay there.
-- Chris Hansen
Records are through Feb. 14, 2011 games, where reported.
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ESPN HOOPGURLZ HS RANKINGS PANEL
Lisa Bodine is a national evaluator for ESPN HoopGurlz. A native of Queens, N.Y., she began her coaching career in 1993 with the NY Gazelles, has coached with D.C.-based Team Unique, and in 2009 she was named DAC Co-Coach of the Year after leading Wakefield Country Day School in Flint Hill, Va., to its first-ever conference title. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Rebecca Gray is an intern for ESPN HoopGurlz. She previously wrote a column for the website about her experiences as a freshman on basketball scholarship at the University of North Carolina. She transferred to and played at Kentucky and now plays basketball and golf at Union College. A 5-foot-10, sharp-shooting guard out of Georgetown, Ky., Gray was named Miss Basketball in the state of Kentucky after averaging 25.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.1 steals and 4.8 assists during her senior season at Scott County High School. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at email@example.com.
Mark Lewis is the national recruiting coordinator for ESPN HoopGurlz. Twice ranked as one of the top 25 assistant coaches in the game by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, he has more than 20 years of college coaching experience at Memphis State, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Western Kentucky and, most recently, Washington State. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the Parade All-American Selection Committee, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.