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Girls duke it out at Deep South

It would be tough to find anyone who would argue that Collins Hill isn't the best girls basketball team in Gwinnett. The Eagles are No. 1 in the state and may be tops in the nation.

The second-best girls squad in Gwinnett isn't as clear cut. But next week's Deep South Classic may straighten out that dilemma.

Three of the county's best are on the same half of the Deep South bracket, with host South Gwinnett joined by Wesleyan and Greater Atlanta Christian. All three are state-ranked, well-known powers.

"It's going to be pretty tough on that side," GAC girls coach Mike Mitchell said. "When I saw the brackets, I noticed that if we get past Walton (in the first round), we would probably play South. And if we got past South and if Wesleyan wins their first two, we'd have Wesleyan.

"But that's what you get into these tournaments for, to see tough competition."

In Class AA, the teams don't get much better than GAC, ranked second in the state, and Wesleyan, currently No. 1. The teams are a combined 18-2 this season, the Wolves are the two-time defending state champions and the Spartans made the quarterfinals last season.

On their half of the bracket is No. 7 South, a team that went 27-3 last season and returns the core of that group.

"There's nothing easy about it," Mitchell said. "But part of why you play in this is to see different teams and South's not a team we usually play. You see some different teams, see where you're at and try to prepare for the rest of the season."

The girls field at the Deep South also includes Avondale (fourth in AAA), Hebron Christian (third in A) and Northwest Whitfield (seventh in AAAA), along with a crop of out-of-state teams that includes Briarcrest (Tenn.), Spruce Creek (Fla.), Spartanburg (S.C.) and Stonewall Jackson (Va.).

Briarcrest won state in Tennessee last season for the third time in four years and has been the state champion or state runner-up every season since 1998. Spartanburg was a AAAA Upper State semifinalist last season.

On the boys side, South seeks its unprecedented fourth straight title in the tourney. But the Comets, led by Avery Jukes and Delano Howard, must do it for the first time without former stars Louis Williams and Mike Mercer.

A strong out-of-state contingent also boosts the boys field, which also features two Georgia ranked teams, Buford (No. 4 in AA) and Banneker (No. 10 in AAA).