Update: Wheeler defeated Westlake 78-63 on Tuesday after opening a 31-10 first-quarter lead. Wheeler's Darius Perry scored 23 points. Westlake, Wheeler and Pebblebrook each have one loss in Region 2-AAAAAAA.
Westlake, the defending boys basketball champion in the highest classification, is in first place in powerful Region 2-AAAAAAA entering a major showdown on the road Tuesday night against fifth-ranked Wheeler.
Win or lose, Westlake is expecting some good news.
Jamie Lewis, rated the No. 11 junior point guard in the country, is hopeful of making his return. He has played only about seven games this season as he’s dealt with ankle and shoulder injuries.
Lewis would join state player-of-the-year candidate Chuma Okeke (27 points per game, 14 rebounds) and brother Danny Lewis (17 ppg) in a lineup that many believe can bring coach Darron Rogers and the school its fourth state title.
Although Westlake defeated Wheeler 73-67 on Dec. 9, Rogers feels that Wheeler is the team to beat in AAAAAAA.
‘’Wheeler is the scariest; they’ve got to be,’’ Rogers said. “They can put seven big-time D-I players on the court. If they get it all together and do the things that the coach tells them to do, they will be hard to beat.’’
Wheeler’s talents include point guard Darius Perry (signed with Louisville), forward Jordan Tucker (No. 78 senior nationally) and forward E.J. Montgomery (committed to Auburn).
Westlake has a similar talent pool. Aside from Okeke and the Lewis brothers, Westlake has sophomore Chase Hunter, an athletic 6-foot-3 guard, and 6-9 center Kelvin Simeon. All five starters are getting major D-I attention.
Westlake lost Raquan Wilkins (East Carolina) and Ron Bell (Tallahassee Community College) to graduation and Michael Durr (Oldsmar Christian, Fla.) to transfer. Rogers said Westlake's offense is ahead of its defense.
‘’We lost some of our best defenders,’’ Rogers said. “We have to find some who can defend like that. Whether you are going to make a run always depends on how well you’re playing defense.’’
Rogers said his team is about ‘’70 percent of where we want to be’’ going into the region tournament, which is still over two weeks away. Westlake has been impressive in victories over Region 2 rivals Pebblebrook and Wheeler but struggled at times out of state, and in an upset loss last week to non-region opponent North Clayton, all while missing Lewis.
But, Westlake is some regards than the 2016 team. Okeke continues to develop. He scored 34 points with 17 rebounds, four blocked shots and three assists in the recent victory over Pebblebrook.
‘’He’s made some strides in his ball-handling,’’ Rogers said. “We use him at the point [in place of Jamie Lewis] if we have to. He can play a wing, the post. He’s an everywhere player. That’s going to help his transition to college over at Auburn. He’s not just a 4. He’s a 1-2-3-4-5.’’
Danny Lewis has been the primary point guard in his brother’s absence. ‘’He’s one of the best shooters in Westlake history,’’ Rogers said. ‘’He’s broken almost all of our 3-point records.’’
The game with Wheeler could put Westlake in great position to get the No. 1 seed in the classification’s best region, but it’s really just one of many skirmishes along the road to a title.
There still are region and state tournaments to navigate regardless of how the Wheeler/Pebblebrook/Westlake round-robin winds up.
Rogers said he couldn’t remember a time when one classification had so many nationally renowned programs. Newton and McEachern are undefeated and ranked in the top 25 of MaxPreps’ national writers poll. Pebblebrook and Norcross have been in national top 25’s, as have Westlake and Wheeler.
‘’Anybody who can put four or five Division I players on the court with height and guard play, you have a chance to be really good,’’ Rogers said. “You happen to have six in Georgia [AAAAAAA] that’s like that. They’re all capable. And I don’t want to diminish the coaching ability of a lot of these teams. When you have talent and coaching like that, it’s a chess match, and anybody can win.’’