HAMMOCK: Final Four time in Gwinnett

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

As the state high school basketball tournament has bounced around from venue to venue over the past 15 years, the portion that has been one of the most stable is here in Gwinnett.

The Arena at Gwinnett Center hosts the Class AAAAA and AAAA semifinals and finals for the seventh straight year this week, solidifying what has become a tradition for the state’s largest high school basketball programs. Thus far, the arena has provided two strong attractions to the Georgia High School Association — a fair price and the desire to host it (something Georgia and Georgia Tech haven’t provided).

As long as that’s the case, the tradition of having the AAAAA and AAAA finals in Gwinnett should continue. It only makes sense that a metro Atlanta site host this event, particularly in AAAAA, where seven of the eight AAAAA teams are from metro Atlanta. Of the 63 AAAAA schools, 58 are in the metro area. That’s even the case in AAAA, where six of the eight regions are in the Atlanta area or in north Georgia.

It at least makes more sense than last weekend’s AAAAA quarterfinals. On the lower half of the AAAAA brackets, four Gwinnett teams, three from Fulton and one from Cobb played each other — in Carrollton. It wasn’t much better for the upper bracket, where four Cobb County girls teams played each other — at Fort Valley State. With today’s gas prices, shouldn’t some exceptions be made in those circumstances? Maybe a waiver that would allow schools so close together to play nearer to home, thus avoiding heavy travel expenses.

Fortunately, we’re past that round. Now we can focus on what is always a fun environment with quality basketball. The building has been good to Gwinnett teams, too, with eight state championship teams in the six years here.

“The kids are excited about (playing in the Arena) and I think across the board in AAAAA, people look at it as a nice place to play,” Mill Creek girls coach Ashley Phillips said. “For us, it’s close to home. When you play across the state you always worry about how many fans will travel. We had a nice crowd at West Georgia, but I’m sure it would have been better 20 minutes from home.

“Everyone likes to play in the arena. It has a nice ring to it and it’s definitely taken hold as the place you want to get to.”

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, visit www.gwinnettdailypost.