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Gwinnett better than ever in girls hoops

It would be easy to assume that it all began with Maya Moore, but that wouldn't really be accurate.

As great as Moore was at Collins Hill, Gwinnett County's reign in girls basketball began even before the Connecticut All-American and WNBA rookie of the year got to high school.

Greater Atlanta Christian, which produced Georgia's first great player in Cindy Brogdon, won three state championships in the 1970s and two more in the early 1980s. In fact, Gwinnett had 15 state championships before Collins Hill started its run of three straight titles with Moore in 2005.

There is no doubting, though, that the Maya years were a golden time in Gwinnett girls basketball. Collins Hill was named the No. 1 team in the nation in 2007, the third straight year that the county produced two state champs.

Most thought that those years would never be matched. Instead, excellence has just produced more excellence as the county continues to grow.

The time when Gwinnett claimed just one girls state title -- South Gwinnett in 1995 -- over a 20-year period now seems so, so long ago.

Wesleyan has won four straight state titles, bringing its total to eight in 10 years. Buford has won three in a row and Norcross has captured back-to-back championships.

All three schools are in position to add to their title streaks this season. In fact, all three could have their best teams ever.

Even scarier, none of the squads are senior dominated. It is the junior class that has kept college coaches flocking to Gwinnett.

Moore was the nation's consensus top high school player her final two seasons. Gwinnett may not have the top player right now, but it has some that are awfully close.

Although Buford's Andraya Carter, heading to Tennessee, is ranked as the No. 17 senior by ESPNU, that pales in comparison to the ranking of some of the county's underclassmen.

ESPNU ranks Kaela Davis, Carter's Buford teammate, as the No. 2 junior, just a spot ahead of Diamond DeShields of Norcross. And the list of top juniors in the county certainly doesn't stop there.

ESPNU ranks the Top 60 juniors in the nation. Six play in the county.

Behind Davis and DeShields, are Lexie Brown of North Gwinnett at No. 17, Shayla Cooper of Norcross at No. 26, Kristina Nelson of Buford at No. 30 and Peyton Whitted of North Gwinnett at No. 60.

There is plenty of talent coming along behind them as well. Wesleyan has built its success under coach Jan Azar on continuity and system rather than star power. But Nikki McDonald is ranked as one of the top freshmen in the nation by ESPNU and could be the school's next Anne Marie Armstrong.

In Azar, Angie Hembree of Norcross and Buford's Gene Durden, Gwinnett has three of the most successful coaches in Georgia. Hembree won three state titles at Collins Hill, the first two prior to Moore, to give her five total championships.

Gwinnett has dominated in AAAAA, AA and A, winning 23 of the possible 33 titles in those classifications the past 11 years. The county has had triple winners four times and only one champion just three times.

Of course, Gwinnett boys have also had success. The state titles by the Norcross and GAC boys last year gave those schools sweeps and the county a state-record five championships in one season.

But the boys' 20 state crowns can't compare to the girls titles despite coach Eddie Martin's five state championships in six years with Norcross and then GAC.

Class A girls champ Wesleyan defeated Class AA champ Buford last year and lost by just a point in overtime to Class AAAAA winner Norcross.

This season, Buford and Wesleyan will both be in the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona before Christmas. Moore led Collins Hill to the 2006 title in that prestigious event, enhancing Gwinnett's basketball reputation.

Moore has been gone five years now, but girl power still rules in Gwinnett.

GWINNETT'S GIRLS STATE CHAMPS

Schools in Gwinnett County have won 31 girls state titles, including 23 in the past 11 years.

2011: Norcross, Buford, Wesleyan

2010: Norcross, Buford, Wesleyan

2009: Buford, Wesleyan

2008: Wesleyan

2007: Collins Hill, GAC2006: Collins Hill, Wesleyan

2005: Collins Hill, Wesleyan

2004: Wesleyan

2003: Parkview

2002: Collins Hill, GAC, Wesleyan

2001: Central Gwinnett, Collins Hill, GAC

1995: South Gwinnett

1983: GAC

1982: GAC

1975: GAC

1974: GAC

1972: GAC

1954: Dacula

1946: Bethesda