Boys

Surprise team

Lovejoy: The Wildcats started the season 11-0 overall and sit atop of the Region 4-AAAA standings and ranked No. 2 in the state in the last Gasports.com Coaches' Poll. Defense has been the key for the Wildcats, who are yielding only 47 points a game with 6-foot-8 junior Justin Tuoyo leading the way. Offensively, the team has been unselfish in averaging 58 points a game and 15 assists.

Surprise player

DeShawn Badger, Stockbridge: The Tigers could have taken a step back after the graduation of Chris Davis, a two-time Henry County Player of the Year, but Badger moved in from West Virginia and provided much-needed scoring. In one three-game stretch, Badger averaged 25 points per game.

MVP candidates

Rasham Suarez, Jonesboro: The reigning Region 4-AAAA player of the year is having a spectacular season for the tenth-ranked Cardinals, who are in second place in the region. The 6-foot-1 point guard has signed with Georgia Southern and has been a big reason the Cardinals are considered a playoff contender.

Marcus Hunt, North Clayton: Over the Christmas break, the 6-foot-5 guard/forward showed why he is considered one of the top underclassmen in the state. He was named tournament MVP twice in leading the team to a third place and runner-up finishes. He had a career-high 40 points in a game against Westover in a tournament in Albany.

Larrentis Thomas, Henry County: A first-team All-Southern Crescent selection by the Clayton News Daily/Henry Daily Herald last season, Thomas has picked up where he left off, leading the Warhawks to a 9-3 record and No. 7-ranking in Class AAA in the latest Gasports.com Coaches' Poll.

Best game (team)

Henry County-Eagle's Landing (Dec. 28): Trying to win its second Chuck Miller Holiday Classic championship in as many years, Eagle's Landing played the role of spoiler on the Warhawks' homecourt. David Key's basket with four seconds remaining in overtime gave the Golden Eagles the win. The game featured 14 second-half lead changes and five ties.

Luella-Westlake (Dec. 14): They might not be the same team that played for the Class AAAAA title last season, but Westlake is still considered a contender each season. Luella pulled off the 60-53 upset on their homecourt. Luella was paced by 13 points from A.J. Crossland and Deandre Akins added 11 points for the win.

Best game (individual)

Marcus Hunt, North Clayton: In the consolation game of the U-Save-It Classic in Albany, Hunt torched Westover for 40 points to lead the Eagles to a 65-45 win on Dec. 21. It was good enough to earn the junior the tournament MVP honors. He scored 23 of his 40 points in the second half when North Clayton took control of a game it trailed by as many as nine points.

Quotable

"This was a big win for us. A big thumb print for our program. I am so proud of these kids. They were intimidated at first by the name, and not as much by the product on the floor."

- Luella coach Jamond Sims after his team's win over Westlake.

Five things we learned

1. Lovejoy is a region contender: The Wildcats look like the early favorite in 4-AAAA.

2. Region 4-AAA will be compelling: Expect one good team to miss the state playoffs.

3. Luella could be a surprise team: Lions have already knocked off state-power Westlake.

4. Drew should be taken seriously: Young talent already has Titans in first place in 4-AAA.

5. Union Grove needs a healthy Charles Mann: Top-150 prospect is team's best player.

Girls

Surprise team

Dutchtown: The Lady Bulldogs graduated all but one starter from last season's team that won its first region championship en route to a semifinals appearance. New coach April Tate has Dutchtown back in contention for a state playoff berth as she has relied on senior Aisha Atwater to provide leadership.

Surprise player

Briana Benson, Jonesboro: The sophomore is one reason the Lady Cardinals are enjoying a surprising season despite its youthfulness. Jonesboro doesn't have a senior on its roster. Benson has been a big scoring leader for a team that is tied for fourth in the region.

MVP candidates

Ashlee Cole, Forest Park: A first-team All-Southern Crescent selection and all-state pick last season, the junior is considered one of the top underclassmen in the state. She is a big reason the Lady Panthers are considered a contender for the Region 4-AAAA title.

Miranda Cantrell, North Clayton: The Jacksonville State signee is almost unstoppable inside the paint. She averages almost a double-double for the Lady Eagles, who are a half-game ahead of Forest Park in the region standings.

Brianna McQueen, Mundy's Mill: If the Lady Tigers can make a deep playoff run, it would definitely heighten the junior's chances for the award. After a slow start, McQueen has become more of a leader on the court for the Lady Tigers, who haven't lost in their last seven games.

Mia Adams, Eagle's Landing: The short-handed Lady Golden Eagles have a solid leader in Adams, a talented senior guard. She is also a standout athlete in track where she does sprints and long and triple jump events.

Best game (team)

Mundy's Mill-Jonesboro (Dec. 10): After going scoreless in the third quarter, junior Brianna McQueen ignited for 10 points in the fourth quarter to power the Lady Tigers to a 55-43 win at Jonesboro. She finished the game with 21 points, including eight in the last 40 seconds.

Best game (individual)

Ashlee Cole, Forest Park (Dec. 14): In a 67-51 win over Lovejoy, the talented junior guard had 29 points. She was 13 of 18 from the free throw line in the home victory in the Region 4-AAAA contest.

Quotable

"We weren't scoring. I was able to put us in the right offense. As a leader or a point guard, I had to step up. I didn't feel any pressure."

-- Mundy's Mill junior guard Brianna McQueen, on scoring 10 of her 21 points in the fourth quarter of the Lady Tigers' 55-43 win over Jonesboro.

Five things we learned

1. Woodland's four-year plan is working: Lady Wolfpack look playoff bound in 3-AAAA.

2. Forest Park is still team to beat: Despite current skid, they will contend.

3. Briana McQueen will be key for Mundy's Mill: Lady Tigers offense goes through junior.

4. North Clayton should contend in region: Miranda Cantrell and Co. are F. Park's biggest threat.

5. No rebuilding for Dutchtown: There is life after Strickland sisters for Lady Bulldogs.