Pebblebrook’s boys basketball team, the state runner-up in the highest classification the past two seasons, is ranked No. 3 in Class AAAAAAA with a 9-5 record.
The Falcons have been to elite tournaments in Florida and Washington, D.C., and not lost to a Georgia opponent. They recently beat Norcross, which was ranked No. 19 nationally by MaxPreps at the time.
A week ago, McEachern boys basketball coach Mike Thompson said Pebblebrook was the team to beat in AAAAAAA, although his own team is undefeated and ranked No. 1.
‘’Coach Thompson, he’s playing chess,’’ Pebblebrook coach George Washington said with a laugh.
Washington spoke to the Class AAAAAAA blogger on Tuesday on a variety of topics. They included Washington's own choice as the team to beat, his star guard Collin Sexton and how he sees Pebblebrook's progress as the Falcons prepare for a rematch Friday night against 2016 champion Westlake in Pebblebrook's gym.
Here are some quotes, with questions and comments to add context.
Is this a special time for basketball in Georgia? Six Georgia teams in the highest class – McEachern, Newton, Pebblebrook, Wheeler, Westlake, Norcross – have held national rankings at some point this season and have at least three major-college prospects apiece.
‘’Oh yes, absolutely. This year, I tell everybody the class of 2017 is one of best in Georgia history. Look at 2019, which is super loaded. Then 2018, you’ve got a lot of players too. Georgia basketball is almost equivalent to football as far as players going to the next level.’’
The coach is right. Of the consensus top-50 senior prospects in the nation according to 247Sports, seven hail from Georgia. Sexton, whom McEachern’s Thompson calls the best player in the state, is No. 7. There are five Georgia football players in the nation's top 50.
‘’And 7A, it’s the best I’ve seen it. I looked at Newton play in South Carolina. That is a scary team to face. The way the playoff bracket is set up, somebody in our region [which includes Pebblebrook, Wheeler, Westlake, the only programs to make the state finals the past two years] is going to draw them [Newton] in the second round. You’ve got to respect Norcross even though we beat them [last month]. McEachern is scary too because you don’t know what you’re going to get from them. They’re a young and they just play hard. I remember when were young and it didn’t matter to us if we won or lost. And you’ve always got to respect what Wheeler does. We’ve yet to beat Wheeler as a program.’’
And what about Region 2? Westlake beat Pebblebrook in the 2016 finals. Wheeler beat Pebblebrook I the 2015 finals.
‘’Oh my god, my region has anywhere from five to six of the top players in the state and country. Westlake has Chuma Okeke [committed to Auburn], Jamie Lewis and Danny Lewis [Central Florida]. We have Wheeler at the end of the month. Do I need to name everybody they have? [No, but check out this rundown.] Whoever wins our region is going to be a tough, battle-tested team. They’ve played many of the top teams in the country. [Washington went on to praise East Coweta, which he believes is a strong but seldom-mentioned team in the region.]
If you had to name one team to beat in 7A, which would it be?
‘’If I had to pick one, the toughest is probably going to be Newton County. Just their guard play. They’ve got three really good guards. They’re well-coached and disciplined and do what they’re supposed to do. Newton made a big run last year. They lost to Westlake. They were a player away. They’ve added Isaiah Miller [transfer from county rival Eastside], probably the most underrated and athletic guard in Georgia.’' Newton sophomore point guard Ashton Hagans is the team's best player.]
On what wins in high school basketball:
‘’In high school, it’s guard-driven. College is more the big man. The team with the best guards, if they can sprinkle some bigs in there, they’re going to be tough. Teams with the best point guards usually win. Look at the success of McEachern this year. Sharife Coopoer is a play-making guard. His numbers are off the chart for a freshman.’’
Let’s get a little info on Pebblebrook’s top players, starting with Sexton.
Collin Sexton – 32.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists this season, 1.9 steals, committed to Alabama
‘’We want to model his game after Russell Westbrook and James Harden. He’s averaging [only] six assists because he can score so easily. They’re both elite scorers but also average a triple-double right now. That’s what we’ve been stressing to Collin. We want him to get others involved.’’
Elias Harden – 18 ppg, 6 reb, 4 steals, a 6-5 wing committed to Xavier, transferred from Sandy Creek
''A very versatile guy, probably a guy who flies under radar because he's not a rah-rah guy, but he’s a very good player. On any night he can go for 25-30, but he gets excited for his teammates to score. That’s a great quality to have.’’
Drue Drinnon - 10 ppg, 7 assists
‘’He’s a true point guard. He has not scored as much as he had at his previous school [East Jackson]. We’ve got to get him more touches. He does a great job facilitating and getting guys in the right positions for easy shots. He’s learning how to play with elite players because [point guard] is where he’ll play in college. He’s a leader.’’
Jared Jones – 6 ppg, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks, 6-9 sophomore committed to Auburn, transferred from Potter’s House of Florida
‘’He’s our center, and we’re trying to get him ready to college. He’ll play the four [power forward] at Auburn. He’s a tremendous athlete with a very high IQ and a really good student in the classroom, so it translates on the court.’’
Dwight Murray – 11 ppg, scored 19 in the win over Norcross
‘’D.J. is just a knock-down shooter and an elite defender. He’ll say ‘Who do you want me to take to jail tonight because I’m going to lock them down and not let them score.’ ‘’ [Murray is one of two starters back from last season, Sexton being the other, but Murray often comes off the bench this season to provide a spark.]
Marvin James – 6 ppg, 8 rebounds, 6-7 junior
‘’He has grown a lot height-wise and skill-wise. He makes timely shots and rebounds. We call him Dog because he’s going to talk and do the dirty work.’’
How good is this Pebblebrook team?
‘’On paper, you’d probably say it was one of my better teams, much better than last year, much more skilled players. Three years ago, the team was just bigger and more physical. This team is very smart and allows us to play like we do. We’re a pressing team. They’re very high IQ, so you're able to throw different things at teams when you have those players. They have a chance to be as good as any team we’ve had, maybe better. Their goal is just to finish what we’ve started at Pebblebrook.’’