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Tradition continues in Clayton

By Anthony Rhoads and Jeffery Armnstrong

Every year, a slew of Clayton County teams make the playoffs and this season is no exception as the Jonesboro boys and girls, the Lovejoy boys, the Morrow boys, the Mt. Zion girls, the North Clayton boys and girls and the Riverdale boys and girls are all going to the big dance.

"In Clayton County, we have some of the best programs in the state," North Clayton girls head coach Kimleon Turner said. "There has always been a tradition of good girls basketball programs in Clayton County. My hat goes off to all the teams in Clayton County this year."

State tournament flashback: In the 1993 season, the North Clayton boys advanced to the Class AA state championship game against Washington County. The title game was slated for March 13 but a severe snowstorm caused the game to be delayed for a week.

The layoff didn't seem to affect the Eagles as they defeated Washington County 58-45 to win the state championship.

That season, North Clayton went 10-10 through its first 20 games but won its next 10 games to finish the season at 20-10.

Used to winning: Steve Cole may be in his first year as head coach of the North Clayton boys but he knows how to win.

Cole guided the Babb Middle School boys to an undefeated season and a Clayton County Middle School Championship last year.

"Coach Cole is a very good guy and basketball coach," Turner said. "It's great that the boys are going to state this year."

Coaches and friends: Jonesboro girls basketball coach John Kovzel and assistant Brian Watson have been friends since their days as students at Florida State. According to Watson, Kovzel was responsible for bringing him to Clayton County early in their careers.

Kovzel has plenty of confidence in his assistant. Three times during is career at Jonesboro, Kovzel has missed games because of the birth of a child and each time Watson has guided his team to a victory. The biggest coming last Tuesday in the Lady Cardinals victory against Houston County in the Region 2-AAAAA title game.

Shooting for 3: Basketball teams better guard basketball player Morrow's Omar Stephens from long range. Otherwise, he is going to make opponents pay. In Saturday's Region 2-AAAAA title game against Henry County, Stephens opened the second quarter with three straight treys. It helped the Mustangs rally from six points down. Stephens and his Mustang teammates won the game to clinch their second straight region title.

After Saturday's victory, Stephens said he is confident Morrow can make a run at the state title.

"We proved what we can do when we play as a team," Stephens said. "We all stepped up."

State rankings: Several Southern Crescent teams still remain ranked in the final regular season basketball polls that came out Monday night on gabasketball.net. In Class AAAAA, the Lovejoy boys are ranked 15th, the Henry County boys are 12th and the Stockbridge Tigers are 5th.

In the girls' rankings, the Riverdale Lady Raiders are ranked 6th and the Jonesboro Lady Cardinals are ranked 14th. The only other team ranked in the polls are the North Clayton Lady Eagles, No. 12 in Class AAAA. There will not be another poll until after the state finals.

Hot start: Although Starr's Mill put up a good fight, Riverdale was determined to make the state playoffs. Especially Riverdale guard Sean Hightower, who sank his first four 3-pointers in the contest to spark the Raiders.

Hightower hit 5-of-6 treys in the first quarter to give the Raiders a 23-15 lead. Starr's Mill did catch up and take a 46-44 lead late in the third quarter, but Hightower sank another trey to give Riverdale a 47-46 lead and they never trailed again.

Look out next year: Even though the Mundy's Mill basketball teams lost in their first-round games, they seem to be on the right track to improvement. Both teams competed well and were in their games to the end.

The Mundy's Mill girls held Georgia signee Megan Darrah to only nine points and the boys team put a huge scare into No. 2 seed Carver, whittling a big lead down to six points with less than 3:00 minutes remaining.