The Matchup: No. 7 Wheeler (Ga.) will play Newton (Ga.) in a AAAAAA quarterfinal playoff game Thursday at 7:30 p.m. EST.
Wheeler players to watch: Wheeler is a top 10 team for a reason; the Wildcats are loaded. The cavalcade of talent is led by Jaylen Brown, a 6-7 senior wing and preseason American Family Insurance ALL-USA player and a finalist for the Naismith award. He’s listed as the No. 2 senior in 247Sports.com’s composite rankings, and is considering scholarship offers from the likes of Kentucky, UCLA, Kansas and just about every other top-tier program in the nation. Senior shooting guard Shembari Phillips, a Tennessee signee, is a lanky 6-foot-4 weapon who can create havoc when he’s connecting on the perimeter … and to say that he is explosive on the break is an understatement. And then there’s Bilal Abdur-Rahim. Remember former Hawks all-star Shareef Abdur-Rahim? Bilal is his brother, and the talent is apparently quite familial.
Newton players to watch: The Rams have youthful exuberance on their side. Sophomore J.D. Notae is the team’s standout scorer, a calm three-point shooter who can also drive to the hoop. The rest of the team’s offensive output tends to come “by committee,” with a different Newton role player stepping up for each individual game.
What to expect: Wheeler (27-2) is the top seed in the AAAAAA tournament, and should dominate this game from the get-go. They have more talent, more experience and all the possible comparative data you could dream of indicating that this should be a Wheeler victory. Yet, all of that will be sternly tested by the moxie and mojo of a hot team. Newton has won back-to-back playoff road games entering Wheeler’s gym Thursday, and if the Rams (22-8) shoot as well as they did in tight victories against Tift County and Dacula, all bets are off. This is Newton’s first trip to the quarterfinals since 2011, and they will be determined to make it worth the trip.