Fleetwood resigns as South coach

SNELLVILLE - One of the most successful runs in county history officially came to an end on Friday night.

The South Gwinnett Comets, who had won 113 games over the last five years - including four straight state tournament appearances and the Class AAAAA state title in 2004 - fell to visiting Centennial in a big way Friday night in the first round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs.

And after his team lost 81-56 to the Knights and their freshman sensation Lorenzo Brown (29 points, 10 rebounds), South head coach Roger Fleetwood announced publicly that it was his last game as the Comets' coach.

"I really made the decision back in July," said Fleetwood, who compiled a record of 128-65 in his seven seasons at South. "I hate to leave on this game ... but we played a lot of games over the years and I'm surely not going to remember this one for very long."

If he does remember anything from Friday night, it might be just how talented Brown is.

In what was a fitting coincidence, Louis Williams was in attendance to take part in a halftime ceremony where his No. 23 jersey was retired by South Gwinnett.

Williams was by far the most talented, most hyped freshman basketball player to come through the Metro Atlanta area in years.

Brown isn't too far behind.

"He's very good," Fleetwood said. "He's not Louis as a freshman, he's not in that category. But he's very smooth and confident.

"He just has that presence about him that you can't teach."

Brown had 10 points at halftime as the Knights took a 33-27 lead into the locker room.

South's Nick Gil hit a short turnaround jumper to start the second half and the Comets (10-16) were within four early in the third quarter.

From there it was all Centennial.

Brown scored nine points in the period, including a couple of nifty layups and a 3-pointer, and the Knights outscored the hosts 23-4 over the final seven minutes of the quarter.

By the time the fourth quarter started, the ice-cold Comets found themselves trailing 56-33.

For the game, South shot 18 of 52 from the floor (34.6 percent). Centennial meanwhile shot 30 of 60 (50.0 percent), with Brown hitting a remarkable 12 of 14 shots from the field.

South also was outrebounded by a margin of 38-18 and committed 15 turnovers.

"We picked a bad game to play a bad game," Fleetwood said. "And they were by far the better team tonight."

South's two leading scorers - seniors Delano Howard and Avery Jukes - combined for just 13 points (on 4 of 21 from the floor) as their careers came to an end Friday night.

Fleetwood admitted he planned to retire after last year's state tournament, but felt he owed it to Jukes and Howard to stay one more year.

"I told Louis all along that I was going to retire when he graduated," Fleetwood said. "But then Avery and Delano were coming up. I wanted to stay for them. They were so much a part of us winning all those games, that I didn't think it would be fair to them to have to adjust to a new coach for their senior years."

The veteran head coach, who has 416 career wins, plans to continue coaching back in his home state of Indiana.

He said the prospect of moving closer to his daughter and grandchildren was the reason he chose to step down at South.

"I feel good about what I decided, I just have to find a job," Fleetwood said with a laugh. "And I loved my seven years here. It changed my life.

"I never thought I'd coach a kid like Louis or a team like the one we had."

And even though he hated to see his season, and his coaching tenure at South, end like it did on Friday night, he appreciated the fact that the best player he ever coached was in the gym for his final game at the Snellville school.

"I thought about that today," Fleetwood said. "I didn't want it to be my last game, obviously. But it's only fitting he would be here for it."

Be there to officially close the chapter one of the most successful runs in county