By Guy Curtright
The Norcross boys were the last Gwinnett County basketball team to open the season. When the Blue Devils did, however, they were already in mid-season form.
The two-time defending Class AAAAA champs crushed Collins Hill 76-43 on Saturday, backing up their No. 1 preseason state ranking and No. 8 national spot in USA Today.
Collins Hill was 3-0 before being jolted back to earth by Norcross. Now, Peachtree Ridge will get a shot at the Blue Devils.
After a home game with Forsyth Central tonight, Norcross plays at Peachtree Ridge on Thursday. The Lions beat Norcross for the Region 7-AAAAA tournament title and finished 27-4 last season.
Peachtree Ridge has just one returning starter, but the Lions are 4-1 going into tonight's game at Duluth. They also have a full roster, with Derrick Bryant and Adrian Hubbard having played two games since the conclusion of football season.
Norcross was scary good against Collins Hill, though.
"We really didn't look like a team playing its first game," Blue Devil coach Eddie Martin admitted. "I was definitely pleased with the way we started."
Despite the graduation of three top players, Peachtree Ridge coach Gerald Arnold didn't expect Norcross to have much of a dropoff. Not with Wake Forest signee Al-Farouq Aminu still around, as well as junior guards Tarriq Muhammed and Denzail Jones.
"They're going to be one of the top teams in the state again," Arnold said before the season started. "Al-Farouq makes you good all by himself."
North Gwinnett gets shot
The Collins Hill girls were 94-2 while winning the past three Class AAAAA state titles. But the Eagles, with Maya Moore no longer around, have already lost twice this season.
One of those losses was to former Region 7-AAAAA victim Duluth. Now, North Gwinnett gets a shot at Collins Hill tonight.
The visiting Bulldogs are 5-1 in Tony Watkins' return as coach, with the only loss coming 39-36 against No. 7 Berkmar. North has all five starters back from last season, while Nikki Urbizo is the only returning starter for the Eagles (2-2).
Mustangs hope to rebound
The Meadowcreek boys went on a long winning streak after an early loss to Beach in Savannah last season. Can the Mustangs do it again?
Beach routed Meadowcreek 66-41 on Saturday despite 21 points by Oregon signee Teondre Willams. James Fields, who has signed with Georgia State, scored 18 for Beach, which led 37-19 at halftime.
Meadowcreek, 26-3 last season, plays its first home game Saturday, facing Class A power Whitefield Academy. The Mustangs then host fellow Class AAAAA contender M.L. King on Dec. 15.
Meadowcreek gets a rematch with Beach at home on Jan. 12. The Mustangs went into the season ranked No. 6 and Beach was tied for No. 7.
Thompkins gets his points
Howard Thompkins, who averaged 27.5 points as a sophomore for Wesleyan, is picking up right where he left off since returning to the Wolves after playing his junior year for Oak Hill Academy, ranked as the 2007 national champ by USA Today.
The 6-foot-9 senior scored more than 30 points in both games during Wesleyan's weekend trip to North Carolina. He had 31 in a 74-72 loss to Christ School and 35 in a 59-52 victory over Greenfield Academy.
Wesleyan, the preseason No. 3 in Class AA, has three games this week, including a meeting with Miller Grove at Mt. Zion on Saturday. Miller Grove was the preseason No. 6 team in Class AAAA.
The Wesleyan girls, the preseason No. 1 in Class AA, are 3-2, but the losses came against Class AAAAA power Mill Creek and two-time defending North Carolina state champion Bishop McGuinness.
With a young and deep roster, coach Jan Azar is still working on player combinations and freshman Grace Leah Baughn made a statement for court time with her play Saturday.
The 6-foot Baughn had 12 points in the 54-50 loss to Bishop McGuinness and her aggressive play showed she wasn't intimidated by a team that was ranked No. 11 in the nation by USA Today last season.
At home at last
Having already made trips to Tennessee and Kentucky, the Berkmar boys play their first home game tonight, facing Chattahoochee.
The Patriots, led by top college prospect Wesley Witherspoon, are 3-1 after splitting two games in a tournament at Memphis and winning at Lexington, Ky., on Saturday in a showcase event.