Both GISA AAA boys basketball state finalists from last season are gone, leaving the door open for someone else to take the crown.
The John Milledge Academy Trojans are one team hoping to lay claim to the title, but first they’d like to get a few full-team practices under their belt.
In what has become a yearly ritual at this point, seventh-year JMA boys head coach David Gallagher had to wait awhile for his whole roster to come into the fold because of the school’s highly-successful football program, which now has back-to-back state titles to its name.
Even with the late arrivals, Gallagher has good reason to believe his team can fill the void left by last year’s state runner-up Loganville Christian and champion Heritage (both are now GHSA member schools). The 2019-20 Trojans of the hardcourt finished 15-6 with four of those losses having come against the two state finalists.
“I definitely think the level of competition has opened up in the GISA for basketball,” said Gallagher. “I don’t think there’s any guaranteed favorite of who’s going to be there at the end of the year.”
Competition isn’t the only thing that has the JMA head coach encouraged heading into this hoops season. His team lost two of last year’s starters to graduation, but he feels like he has the guys to fill those roles and the right players back. Leading the team onto the court now will be senior Patrick McDonel and junior Marcus Prestwood, two multi-year starters who each also scored touchdowns in last week’s football state championship win. Prestwood was tops on the basketball team last year with 17.6 points and 10.6 rebounds a game and is poised for another monster season in 2020-21. McDonel averaged seven points and six rebounds a night as one of the team’s main drive-and-dish options near the basket.
“We’ll definitely be leaning on their leadership since they’ve been in the mix multiple years now,” Gallagher said.
Also back are sophomore twins Briggs and Banks Eady, juniors Grayson Aldridge and Hunter Hudson, and senior Mandell Hudson. All are expected to have roles with the team this year, some as starters while others will provide relief off the bench.
“We’ve got a lot of talent in the program,” said the JMA head coach. “I felt like last year was a rebuild year as far as getting guys ready. We’re back on the cycle now of having a lot of returning players that already know what’s going on, so I’m excited to continue building on what we established last year.”
Finally, there’s been a new addition thanks to midyear transfer Will Rutland who has come to John Milledge from Fort Walton Beach, Fla. He showed his skillset in the Trojans’ lone preseason scrimmage while the team was still waiting on the football players to transition over. Rutland put up 34 points in the dress rehearsal game against Augusta Prep, so he’ll likely figure prominently in the team’s plans for this season.
“He’s another weapon that’s going to help us out once everybody gets used to playing together,” Gallagher said.
John Milledge’s basketball region has a different makeup this year with Westfield and Young Americans Christian moving in while Westminster and Bethlehem Christian remain. Westminster had its best player transfer out, but Gallagher said Westfield and Young Americans are relative unknowns since his team hasn’t faced them in a few years. The Trojans should, at the very least, be in the hunt for a region championship as long as everything falls into place.
Looking at the statewide picture, the GISA has changed how it does business for the postseason as region finishes will no longer be used to determine state playoff seeding. Region tournaments will still be played, though, and John Milledge is fortunate enough to play host to that once again. A power ranking system that will weigh wins and losses based on strength of opponents will be employed. The top 16 teams gain entry into the playoffs that will begin in late February. Those region tournament games will have influence over the rankings.
There’s still a long way to go before those tournaments and playoffs. The John Milledge boys’ season was supposed to tip off Wednesday against Gatewood, but the game was canceled due to COVID on Gatewood's part. The Trojans will be on their home floor Thursday to take on Brentwood in a game that will serve as Senior Night.