Staff Photo: John Bohn Greater Atlanta Christian School's head boys basketball coach Eddie Martin conducts a team practice Thursday.
There's no Trent Wiedeman on the Greater Atlanta Christian boys basketball roster. He's an All-Southern Conference player as a College of Charleston sophomore.
There's no Malcolm Brogdon, either. He's playing a key role as a freshman for a Virginia team that has 21 victories and a winning record in the tough ACC.
Yet despite losing those two big-time players, who won the past three Daily Post county player of the year awards, GAC hasn't struggled this season.
Far from it.
The revamped and young Spartans (25-5) are ranked first in Class AA heading into today's quarterfinal showdown with second-ranked Manchester (21-2) at Dalton's Northwest Georgia Trade Center. One more win and the two-time defending state champions earn a return trip to Macon for the Final Four.
"I don't think people outside of here thought we'd be back (in the state title hunt), just because of what we lost," said GAC boys coach Eddie Martin, who has won five state titles the past six seasons with the Spartans and Norcross. "You don't lose Malcolm and lose (point guard) Paul (Dawson) and not lose anything on the court, but our kids have worked really hard. We're young, too, so I'm not sure people thought we'd be here.
"We've still got a few steps to go, but we're at least in a position to get back. And when you get to Macon, anything can happen."
While GAC doesn't have a go-to scorer like Brogdon, who averaged Gwinnett bests of 25.7 points and 12.9 rebounds last season, the scoring load has been split equally among a group of players.
All-Region 6-AA picks Delano Spencer, Cole Hobbs (one of only three seniors) and Collin Swinton have been the most consistent scorers, while Isaiah Wilkins, Rob Armstrong, Andrew Lewis and Cam Boyd also have played well.
"We've been a little more balanced night in and night out this year," Martin said. "In the past, we pretty much knew Trent and Malcolm would lead us in scoring. This year, you're not sure who it's going to be. But that's been a good thing. Teams can't really isolate on one person."
GAC has played its best basketball late this season, taking a nine-game winning streak into the quarterfinals. The Spartans have won 18 of 19 games -- the lone loss was Jan. 28 at Butler in Augusta -- thanks in part to an outstanding effort on defense.
The Spartans are holding opponents to 45 points per game during that 19-game span.
"We have been pretty good on defense," Martin said. "We've done a good job of contesting shots and limiting our opponents to one shot. We've strived all year to be a great defensive team. We're not the quickest of teams, but we're starting to play good team defense."
That defense will be tested in the Elite Eight.
Manchester puts up points in bunches, like it did by scoring 95 in a second-round win over East Hall. The Blue Devils, led by athletic guards Saiquan Terry, Kevis Martin and Damien Turner (all under 6-foot), average 76 points.
How that group fares against a GAC defense that is accustomed to holding opponents under the 50-point mark should be interesting. It also will be a major test as Martin called Manchester "the quickest overall team we've played all season."
While Martin knows his team doesn't match up well in the quickness department, he's got confidence in his constantly improving team.
"I think we've definitely improved quite a bit (from early in the season)," Martin said. "The biggest thing was getting experience for our younger kids who hadn't played much in the past and also learning how to play with each other. Right now we feel like we're playing pretty good."