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Basketball road
Gwinnett's three champions call Spalding Drive home

The agreement was made back in 2001 when Norcross High School moved from its old location to Spalding Drive, almost directly across the street from the private Wesleyan School.

It was designed to keep a friendly relationship between the neighboring schools, rather than a competitive one.

"When Norcross (High) was built here, it was decided then that the major programs (at both schools) would not play each other," Norcross boys basketball coach Eddie Martin said. "We've had a good working relationship with them. It's not competitive with them, but that makes it fun. We like to see them do well."

That's why we didn't see Norcross vs. Wesleyan in boys basketball this season. But it sure would have been fun, especially after last weekend.

The Norcross boys won the Class AAAAA title on Friday night at the Arena at Gwinnett Center and the Wesleyan boys won the AA championship the following evening. In between, the Wesleyan girls won another AA state title.

So all three of Gwinnett's state basketball champions reside on Spalding Drive, where Norcross and Wesleyan sit across the street from each other.

"With Eddie Martin and (Norcross girls coach) Angie Hembree across the street, the Norcross girls will probably win one soon, too," Wesleyan girls coach Jan Azar said of Hembree, who won three titles this decade as Collins Hill's coach. "Maybe we'll bring four (titles) home next time."

Although they don't play each other, the two schools have a good relationship in basketball, Martin said. Wesleyan comes to Norcross' summer camp, and the two teams have played some good games there, just nothing in the regular season.

They've also shared some players over the years - Norcross senior Al-Farouq Aminu played at Wesleyan before transferring, Georgia fullback Fred Munzenmaier started at Wesleyan before switching to Norcross and Georgia pitcher Stephen Dodson went to Norcross before finishing at Wesleyan. But the hostility over the moves hasn't caused major problems.

That's why folks at both schools were happy to see the others win over the weekend.

"It's very odd, just unbelievable that two schools separated by 1,000, 2,000 yards of each other have three state basketball championships between them," Martin said. "It's big for the city of Norcross."

If another state basketball title comes from the two schools in 2008-09, it may have to be courtesy of the Wesleyan girls' dynasty.

The Wolves have won four state titles in the past five seasons, and five in the past seven. They return all but one player next season, bringing back a deep team with the two leading scorers, Anne Marie Armstrong and Erin Hall.

Enrollment drops Wesleyan down to Class A next season, but the expectations will be the same for a team that routed Paideia 79-40 this season for the state title in AA. The latest title entrenches the Wolves deeper as the state's preeminent girls basketball program among Georgia's smaller classifications.

"I think one day I'll look back and think, 'Oh my gosh, what a great run,'" Azar said of her program's growing list of state titles. "Right now I'm just enjoying them one at a time. This is a different group than the past. When we won three in a row, it was all the same girls. This is a new group and now I'm just appreciating each group that comes through and letting them know that a championship is not guaranteed each year."

The Wesleyan girls will have a smaller region schedule next season with 12 games, but Azar plans to fill the remainder with difficult games. She already has accepted a bid for the top division of the Nike Tournament of Champions, and the rest of the schedule likely will include Buford, Greater Atlanta Christian, Parkview's early-season tourney and two Peach State Basketball showcases.

That challenging schedules sounds like one put together by the boys program across the road. Norcross has played a national schedule the past few seasons with loaded teams, but the Blue Devils will have to enter next season without Aminu, a McDonald's All-American, and fellow senior starter A.J. Hawkins.

But guards Taariq Muhammad and Denzail Jones return, so Martin doesn't think his schedule will soften much. Norcross played the nation's best this season, which culminated with a 57-54 win over Wheeler in the AAAAA finals.

"It's hard to say what we'll have (on next season's schedule)," Martin said. "I know (a tough schedule) has been good for us and prepared us for the (state) tournament games. I've gotten a lot of calls asking where we're going, but I haven't really thought much about it.

"I'll work on that after spring break. I can't see us scaling back our schedule too much, maybe some, just because it's paid a lot of dividends for us."

Of the local state championship teams, the Wesleyan boys have the most to replace. They lose all five starters, including high-level college signees Tanner Smith (Clemson) and Howard Thompkins.

It was a breakthrough season for the Wolves, who won the school's first boys basketball title on Saturday with a 61-43 victory over East Laurens.

"We went through the region (6-AA) tournament without Tanner (Smith)," Wesleyan boys coach Skip Matherly said. "Howard (Thompkins) carried us, and that was huge because it got us a good draw (in the state tournament).

"(Saturday), Howard, the guy who got us here, went down, and the other kids said, 'OK, it's time for us to repay the favor.' It started with Tanner, but everybody else stepped up, too. It was a phenomenal effort."

SideBar: State champions

A look at Gwinnett's 39 all-time state championship teams in high school basketball:

Boys basketball

Norcross, 2008

Wesleyan, 2008

Norcross, 2007

Norcross, 2006

South Gwinnett, 2004

Berkmar, 2001

Berkmar, 2000

Dacula, 1979

GAC, 1977

GAC, 1972

GAC, 1971

Central Gwinnett, 1962

Dacula, 1945

Dacula, 1938

Dacula, 1932

Grayson, 1925

Girls basketball

Wesleyan, 2008

Collins Hill, 2007

GAC, 2007

Collins Hill, 2006

Wesleyan, 2006

Collins Hill, 2005

Wesleyan, 2005

Wesleyan, 2004

Parkview, 2003

Collins Hill, 2002

GAC, 2002

Wesleyan, 2002

Central Gwinnett, 2001

Collins Hill, 2001

GAC, 2001

South Gwinnett, 1995

GAC, 1983

GAC, 1982

GAC, 1975

GAC, 1974

GAC, 1972

Dacula, 1954

Bethesda, 1946