Monday, November 25, 2013

Aquinas and Laney Open Season with a Statement

Key Non-Region Matchups
Aquinas and Laney
Aquinas and Laney are believed to be two of our area's best teams.  Both teams are poised to make significant improvements over last season's state tournament final four runs.  Laney will look to its returning core of young players who benefited from last season's on the court trial and error.  And Aquinas' dynamo Ahmed Hill welcomes newcomers Tamyrick Fields (6'6") and San Antonio Brinson (6'5"), whose length and activity is intriguing.

After Aquinas' comfortable handling of Cross Creek Friday and Butler Saturday and Laney's dismantling of Charlotte's Vance Friday in the ABR Live Tip-Off Tournament at Evans High School, the teams appear every bit as good as advertised.  Spectators were already discussing the MLK Day matchup between these teams.  And the squads' contrasting styles should be fun to watch.  But long before the January 20 matchup at Evans High, both teams will have had many opportunities to prove they are in fact on track to compete for a state championship in March.

Ahead for Aquinas

This Friday, Butler gets a rematch with Aquinas and a chance to prove its opening losses last weekend were temporary setbacks.  Aquinas also faces South Carolina power Keenan and area juggernaut Glenn Hills twice each before facing Laney.

The Irish looked dominant against Butler Saturday.  Hill methodically ran coach Bernie Norris' offensive sets, comfortable in the knowledge that he could muscle his way through or elevate his way over Butler's guards and get good shots regardless of the situation.  And Fields is relentless on the offensive glass.  Not to mention sophomore guard Kham Gordon, who grabbed 4 first half offensive rebounds and converted them into timely baskets that helped the Irish establish control.

Aquinas has always been one of the state's best class A teams.  Hill's ability to consistently get his team good shots and the team's ability to rebound and score in the paint may make the Irish one of the best high school teams we'll see in any class.

Laney's Coming Challenges

I missed Friday's 37 point Laney victory. But a high school student I know described the Wildcats as being "in great condition!"  I assume my young friend was describing the appearance of swarming full court pressure and a constant attacking of the basket that is familiar from coach Buck Harris' extremely athletic, highly skilled, and deep group.  While Aquinas gets the job done with strength and length, this bunch will apply a maximum amount of pressure on opposing guards on both ends of the court.  All 84 feet.  Sophomores Zep Jasper and Christian Keeling and junior Jashawn Brooks can all score in bunches.  Juniors Jalen Taylor and Jervon Walker are two of many hungry forwards who will rebound, finish, and defend.  And Jasper makes it his business to get the ball in the right hands in the right spots.

Like Aquinas, Laney will be tested early and often.  This weekend's matchup with one of the area's most talented teams, North Augusta, will tell us more about both teams.  I chose The Yellow Jackets as the area's 5th best team heading into the season.  And the Wildcats will face Glenn Hills and Butler twice each before facing sub region foes Westside and Josey.  But one of the biggest tests for Harris' group may be a December matchup with Atlanta power Stephenson, who last weekend man-handled Butler and Vance.

The Wildcats' young squad went 2-7 versus the area's best teams (Glenn Hills, Westside, Butler, and Aquinas) last season.  With that experience behind them, Laney will have a chance to prepare for its sub region and post season races by testing itself against the best again this year.  The next 60 days should be exciting!

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