Key Savannah area players to watch as state basketball quarterfinals tip off this week

As the GHSA state basketball quarterfinals approach this week, there are five Savannah area teams still in the hunt for championship rings, while two other squads are alive in the GIAA state semifinals.

There's a mix of veteran and young coaches leading the teams, which have worked all season long to create the kind of chemistry that pays off with postseason success. Here's a look at what to expect when the action tips off this week.

GHSA Class 4A boys

Jeff Williams is in his fourth season leading the Phoenix, who made school history on Saturday with a 66-46 win over Cairo to advance to the state quarterfinals for the first time in school history.

The Phoenix (23-5) hit the road on Wednesday to face another No. 1 seed in North Oconee (27-3) with tipoff set for 6 p.m.

After suffering a stroke last season, Williams returned to coach the team and is working with his son, AJ WIlliams, a guard who is considered one of the top freshmen in Georgia, for the first time. The Phoenix are a young squad with a great mix of players — including senior Toland Daughtry, a senior who was recently named the Region 3-4A Player of the Year.

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AJ Williams was also an All-Region first-team selection, along with junior Antoine Youmans. Junior Ra'Shawn Truell and sophomore Ja'Cari Glover, who started playing basketball as an eighth grader, were second team picks. It took a while for things to start clicking with the team, but the Phoenix are peaking at the right time with 16 wins in a row.

New Hampstead coach Jeffrey Williams works from the bench as the Phoenix play Beach High during the Savannah Holiday Classic on Friday, December 15, 2023 at Beach High School.
New Hampstead coach Jeffrey Williams works from the bench as the Phoenix play Beach High during the Savannah Holiday Classic on Friday, December 15, 2023 at Beach High School.

"I knew we had a chance to be good if we played together, but it took a while to get that bond going," Jeff Williams said. "AJ (Williams) and Ja'Cari (Glover) were so young when the season started, their teammates didn't really listen to them. But as the season went on, they let their play spoke for itself. Now everyone is on the same page and we've got a winning mindset."

Veteran coach Frank Williams is in his fourth season leading the Benedictine program, which reached the Final Four last season for the first time since 1959. Now the Cadets (16-7) have a chance to get back to the semifinals as they are set to host Seckinger (23-7) Wednesday at a time to be announced.

The Cadets have a big time star in junior guard Caleb Jones, who leads the GHSA in scoring across all classifications with 28 points per game. But the supporting cast has come up big for BC in their drive to the Elite Eight. La'Don Bryant, who has signed to play football at Northern Illinois as a receiver, is averaging 10.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

Senior Houston Jackson had his best game of the season when it counted most in the Sweet 16 win over Westover, while Rasean Matthews came up big off the bench. Now the Cadets have a chance to reach the Final Four once again.

At the start of the season, Johnson coach Chuck Campbell said Region 3-3A was wide open -- and he nailed his assessment as his Atom Smashers were upset by No. 7 seed Savannah Country Day in the region championship game.

His prediction has carried into the playoffs, where his Atom Smasher squad is the last team standing from the region after going on the road to knock off Cross Creek with a 61-56 win on Saturday.

Johnson has two established stars in seniors Josh Quarterman, the region's Player of the Year, and Favion Kirkwood, a first-team selection. Cormari Jones is another pivotal player in the equation for Johnson.

Johnson's Joshua Quarterman attempts to follow through with the basket despite the Groves defender at Johnson High School on February 9, 2024.
Johnson's Joshua Quarterman attempts to follow through with the basket despite the Groves defender at Johnson High School on February 9, 2024.

In the win over Cross Creek, junior Kadin Davis was instrumental in the win with 15 points off the bench. Junior Shatiq "Shaq" Parker has been a key contributor inside, and Campbell sang the praises of junior guard Samuel Priester.

"Priester has come on strong lately, and I'm really proud of him," Campbell said. "I cut him from the varsity early in the year and put him on the JV, and he never complained. He just worked hard and earned his spot back. Those are the kind of guys you need to have a good team."

Johnson (18-11) is set to host Hebron Christian (25-3) Wednesday, Feb. 28, with tipoff set for 6:30 p.m.

Savannah High is back in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2013 when the Blue Jackets reached the Class 3A finals and lost to cross-town rival Johnson.

In his first year as the head coach, George Brown has done a stellar job after Savannah legend Tim Jordan stepped down. He's got a lineup stacked with talent with junior Maki Joyner, the Region 3-A Division I Player of the Year, combining with Defensive Player of the Year Deshawn Davis and senior star Jermaine Edwards, another first-team All-Region pick.

The Blue Jackets have gotten big contributions from junior Jermontae Brown, another All-Region pick, along with Nayshawn Heyward and Shone Ruth.

Now the Blue Jackets are set to host Darlington on Wednesday, Feb. 28, in an Elite Eight matchup tipping off at 6:30 p.m.

"We've seen film and they are a disciplined and scrappy team," Joyner said. "It's going to be a challenge, but we'll be ready. Everyone is buying in to what coach Brown is saying and playing their role. Our defense is the key. We like to run and gun, and our defense is what gets our offense going."

On the girls side, Bryan County is back in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2017 and for the second time in the 17-ytear tenure of head coach Mario Mincey.

Bryan County (26-3) will be on the road to face Rabun County (23-6) with tipoff set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 27.

BC is lead by Region 3-A Division I Player of the Year Kayley Wedlow and junior post Ashanti Brown. Jasmine Mikell and Elizabeth Harvey were also All-Region first-team picks.

"We've been really balanced this year and have had players step up when starters were injured," Mincey said. "When our starting center Soniya Whitaker went down Katelyn King came in and played well and Neveah Lovett has been a key defensively. Everyone is playing their part."

Mincey said Whittaker is expected to be back for the game at Rabun County.


St. Andrew's, the two-time defending Class 3A state champion, is back in the hunt for its third consecutive title after the Lions beat Dominion Christian 65-64 in overtime Saturday.

Junior guard Zayden Edwards, the Region Player of the Year, had another stellar game with 30 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals in the win. Senior sharp shooter Will Thompson, who will play at Oglethorpe College next season, is another star for the Lions.

Jaylen Sheppard has emerged as a key contributor -- earning second-team all-region honors and Amari Cook and RaKari Harrison have also played well for a Lion squad looking to three-peat.

The Lions (22-7) play Lakeview Academy (24-5) in a Final Four matchup at Georgia College & State University with tipoff set for 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 28.

Memorial Day is also looking to repeat as the defending GIAA Class A champions are back in the state semifinals after beating Harvester Christian 53-51 in a quarterfinal matchup Saturday.

Matas Aidietis, the 6-foot-8 senior, is the leader of the Matadors, who are also getting excellent play from Assir Best and Charles Chappell.

Memorial Day (13-8) is set to play Monsignor Donovan (15-9) at Brewton-Parker on Wednesday, Feb. 28, at 7:30 in a semifinal matchup.

Dennis Knight covers sports for the Savannah Morning News. Contact him at Twitter: @DennisKnightSMN

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Here's a look at Savannah area players behind state basketball success