Photo by Jerry Jackson
North Clayton star Marcus Hunt will be one of three top-100 players in the country when the Eagles play Southwest DeKalb today in the Class AAAA semifinals.
By Brian Paglia
For the casual basketball fan from the Southern Crescent, today might mark the first time they’ve witnessed three top-100 players on the same court. They might marvel at the athleticism, the clutch shots and the aura of confidence that a 6-foot-something high school senior can possess.
It’s nothing new to them.
North Clayton’s Marcus Hunt and Southwest DeKalb’s William “Shaq” Goodwin and Jordan Price have spent the past four summers and winters competing against the elite of their sport. This past summer, the seniors attended some of the same invitation-only Nike camps and went head-to-head on the AAU circuit. Today, they’ll go head-to-head on the high school stage, adding a compelling dose of star power to the 5:30 p.m. Class AAAA semifinal game at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Online message boards have lit up with debate and anticipation over the game, but the excitement coming from players and coaches is more muted.
“It’s just another game really,” said Hunt.
“I think it’s mostly for the fans,” Southwest DeKalb coach Dwayne McKinney said.
McKinney’s counterpart agrees.
North Clayton vs. Southwest DeKalb
When, where: Today, 5:30 p.m., at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Records, rankings, seeding: Southwest DeKalb is 20-7, ranked No. 5 in Class AAAA and the No. 2 seed out of Region 6; North Clayton is 20-10, unranked and the No. 1 seed from Region 4.
How they got here: Southwest DeKalb defeated Osborne (70-58), Cedar Shoals (72-69) and Chattahoochee (68-63); North Clayton defeated Dutchtown (79-58), Ware County (63-47) and Alcovy (84-62).
What to look for: There’s plenty of star power to watch in this game, including Southwest DeKalb’s pair of Division I signees, Shaq Goodwin (Memphis) and Jordan Price (Auburn), and North Clayton’s Marcus Hunt (Georgia Tech). But that leaves North Clayton with a star-power deficit. They’ll need someone, like Dionte Agard or Devin Lewis, to have a big game to help Hunt.
“It’s probably for the fans,” North Clayton coach Martisse Troup said. “The players are used to playing against each other, or with each other.”
Hunt is familiar with Goodwin, a 6-foot-8 power forward, Memphis signee and McDonald’s All-American, and Price, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard who signed with Auburn. He knows Goodwin to be powerful in the paint, aggressive on the glass and capable of scoring in a variety of ways. He knows Price to be a deadly shooter, creative off the dribble and capable of driving to the basket at will.
Goodwin and Price are the Nos. 26 and 71 seniors in the nation, respectively, according to Rivals. Hunt comes in right at No. 100, leaving the Eagles with a star-power deficit.
While Southwest DeKalb has one heralded recruit to worry about, North Clayton has two.
But, luckily for the Eagles, they appear to be playing their best team basketball of the season.
“We peaked at the right time,” Troup said. “It started in the region tournament, mainly with playing defense and our kids playing their roles.”
“We’re not the same team when we started in the beginning of the season,” Hunt added. “We’re a different team. We got real close and comfortable with each other. We took defense more seriously. We realized that defense could take us far.”
McKinney doesn’t discount the impact Hunt alone can have on a game. The 6-foot-6 small forward has averaged 27.3 points a game through the state tournament, and is fresh off a 34-point, 31-rebound performance against Alcovy in the quarterfinals.
“He speaks for himself,” McKinney said. “He has a great body. He has a great feel for the game. His basketball IQ is extremely high. That’s one of the first things I noticed when I saw him play recently. He’s a great scorer, but he’s a great passer as well. So, it’s going to be a tough task to contend with him.”