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Tip-off comes for high school hoops

The high school football playoffs are just getting started, but it is already time for basketball.

Although the state championships are a week later in March this season, most teams are opening earlier rather than later.

The Georgia High School Association has always allowed an early start, but it used to be that just small schools without football teams took advantage of it.

Not anymore.

The first day that the GHSA allows games is Saturday and two Gwinnett County schools are in action. Brookwood will host Madison County in a girls-boys doubleheader beginning at 5 p.m., while the Duluth boys will travel to Starr's Mill for a 3 p.m. game.

Things really get busy on Tuesday with 14 games, including six girls-boys doubleheaders.

The earlier start by many schools came about as a reaction to the expansion of Region 7-AAAAA and Region 8-AAAAA. Each requires two more region games, with 7-AAAAA going from 16 to 18 and 8-AAAAA from 14 to 16.

"We start playing region games right after Thanksgiving, so we wanted to get in as many games before then as we could," Brookwood girls coach Scott Terry said.

Brookwood's girls and boys teams will each play four games before opening 8-AAAAA play Dec. 2 against Grayson. The Broncos play at the Chestatee Tournament next Friday and Saturday, then host Westminster on Nov. 25.

"We are pushed to do this," Brookwood boys coach Craig Witmer said. "With all the region games to get in, you have to start as soon as possible."

Playing early games is more difficult for boys teams because of sharing players with football. The only school in Gwinnett that doesn't play any basketball games until December is Class AA football power Buford.

Last season was another strong one for Gwinnett basketball, with three teams winning state championships and two more making semifinals. The Norcross boys won their third straight Class AAAAA, while Wesleyan swept Class AA. Mill Creek and Duluth lost in the AAAAA girls semifinals.

Wesleyan drops down to Class A this season, and the girls will be heavy favorites to win another championship. The Wolves, led by Georgia signee Ann Marie Armstrong, are ranked No. 22 nationally by ESPN.com.

The Brookwood girls, which have made the Class AAAAA state tournament four consecutive seasons, have a tough opening foe in Madison County. The Red Raiders reached the Class AAAA semifinals last season and have star Courtney Freeman returning.

The top game on Tuesday is a rematch of a Class AAAAA girls state quarterfinal last season. Duluth hosts Parkview, the team it beat to reach the Final Four.

Also of interest on Tuesday is Eddie Martin's debut as Greater Atlanta Christian's boys coach in a game at Dacula. He left Norcross after leading the Blue Devils to their third consecutive title.

Wesleyan's girls and boys will play in the Parkview Tip-Off Classic beginning next Saturday. The girls field in particular is loaded, with Norcross and Parkview, among others, lined up to challenge the Wolves.

There are two other pre-Thanksgiving tournaments in Gwinnett. Berkmar and North Gwinnett also host events.