One team has a long tradition of winning and the other has enjoyed great success in a short period of time. Both can be mentioned among the elite boys high school basketball teams in the country after winning state championships last weekend.
Columbia and Miller Grove have combined for seven state championships in the past six years. Columbia beat Butler 56-37 on March 12 for its second straight Class AAA state title and fourth since 2006. No other school in DeKalb County boasts more.
One day earlier, Miller Grove put away Rockdale County 67-59 for its third straight Class AAAA state title in its seventh year of existence.
The defending Class AAA champion Columbia girls lost to Washington County 57-47 in the state semifinals on March 11 in Macon. Columbia (25-7) finished its season with its second consecutive trip to the state semifinals. It was the program’s second appearance in the Final Four.
Miller Grove is ranked No. 8 in the nation in the season’s final Powerade Fab50 ESPN Rise poll and Columbia is No. 35.
Coach Phil McCrary has led Columbia to more than 500 wins in 24 seasons at the school, and the win over Butler capped a 30-3 season. The Eagles have won at least that many games in a season four times since 2006, the year of their first state title.
“In the past when we’ve won we were more of a half-court team and a power team,” McCrary said. “This year we had more quickness and shot the ball better from outside.”
The Eagles will lose four seniors, including starters Algie Key, Chris Daniels and Stephon Allen. Three of the team’s top players—juniors Jarmal Reid and Jhaustin Thomas, and sophomore point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen—will be back next season.
“We’ve just been blessed with good kids who are dedicated to the program,” McCrary said. “We’ve also had good teachers who make sure the kids keep their academics in line. From the administration on down, we’ve been blessed.”
Shamsid-Deen led the Eagles with 22 points in the championship game, including scoring 13 points in the first quarter. Thomas had a team-high 10 rebounds.
Columbia turned up the defense in the second half and held Butler to only 15 points. A 10-0 run midway through the fourth quarter put the game out of reach and gave the Eagles a 53-22 lead.
Columbia has reached the state finals in five of the past six seasons, losing in the semifinals in 2009.
The titles by Miller Grove and Columbia last weekend makes four DeKalb Schools boys programs to win back-to-back state titles, joining Druid Hills (1953-54), Dunwoody (2005-06).
Miller Grove (32-1) becomes just the 10th boys’ programs in state history to win three consecutive state titles and the first to do it in Class AAAA. The last team to accomplish the feat was Norcross in Class AAAAA from 2006-08.
“This one is sweeter because we had so much more to deal with,” Wolverines’ coach Sharman White said. “We had some injuries to overcome and the stigma of being the team everybody wants to beat. I’m proud of the way the boys stepped up. It showed a lot of determination.”
The Wolverines played the final two games without starting senior Henry Brooks, who injured his knee in the quarterfinals against Villa Rica.
Tony Parker, 6-foot-8 junior, finished the season with his 27th double-double as he
had 21 points and 16 rebounds. Justin Colvin added 13 points, Brandon Morris had 11 and Devon Provost 10.
The Wolverines started the second half with an 11-2 run to take a 48-33 lead but Rockdale responded with an 18-3 run to tie the game 51-51 with 5:32 to play. Morris gave the Wolverines the lead for good with a driving layup and a dunk for a 57-54 lead with less than two minutes remaining.
Miller Grove is 89-10 in the past three seasons. Brooks, Provost and starting point guard Thomas Marshall are among four seniors on the team. Parker, Colvin and Morris are among several players who should make a strong nucleus for next season.