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Tech to host Class AAAAAA hoops semis

The state championships are all in Macon this season, but at least Class AAAAAA teams from Gwinnett County won't have to travel far if they make the semifinals.

Just head to Atlanta.

For the first time in more than 10 years, high school state tournament games will be at Georgia Tech and that means a chance to take the court at the new McCamish Pavilion.

Playing in an ACC arena at least for the semifinals takes away from the disappointment of not having the Arena at Gwinnett Center for the Final Four.

"I think it's great," said Berkmar boys coach Greg Phillips, whose team reached the state quarterfinals last season. "I'm glad it could be worked out."

Phillips was on a Lakeside team that reached the state semifinals at Georgia Tech's Alexander Memorial Coliseum in 1996 and fondly remembers it.

"The opportunity to play in a big-time college arena is exciting," Philips said. "The atmosphere should be great for fans, players and coaches."

The Arena at Gwinnett Center is unavailable at least for this season and next in part because of a schedule commitment to the SEC Women's Tournament. The semifinals and finals in the top two classifications were moved from Georgia Tech to Gwinnett in 2002.

"I have fond memories of the Gwinnett Arena from when I was an assistant at Norcross," said Phillips, referring to the Blue Devils three straight state titles from 2006-2008. "But it really isn't a basketball arena. I think Georgia Tech is perfect."

The move to six classes and the split of Class A into public and private school divisions will mean 14 total championship games for boys and girls this season and a crowded three-day schedule March 7-9 at the Macon Centreplex.

Four games will be played on Thursday and four more on Friday, with games both days starting at 3 p.m. Six games will be held on Saturday being at 11:15 a.m.

The determination of who plays when will be made by Georgia High School Association executive director Ralph Swearngin after the semifinal games, with his decision based on travel distance and potential attendance.

The championship games, like in the past, will be shown on GPTV.

Although Georgia Tech is the site of just the Class AAAAAA semifinals on March 2 this season, more games could be played at McCamish Pavilion in the future.

"Georgia Tech is very receptive," GHSA associate director Ernie Yarbrough said. "They have gone out of their way to try to work with us."

Former Yellow Jackets coach Paul Hewitt didn't want to give up practice time, but Yarbrough said that Brian Gregory would like to have state tournament games at Georgia Tech.

State championships at McCamish Pavilion were considered for this season, according to Yarbrough. But parking limits on campus until after 5 p.m. made playing four games on a weeknight impossible.

"We will look at things again in the future," Yarbrough said.

Games during the first three rounds of the state tournament, which begins Feb. 19-20, will be played at the gyms of participating teams. In the past, the quarterfinals were held at neutral sites.

But that often meant long trips for all the teams. Last season, the girls quarterfinals in what was then Class AAAAA had four teams from Gwinnett -- Norcross, North Gwinnett, Parkview and Mill Creek -- playing in Carrollton at West Georgia.

"That really cut down on the crowds," Norcross girls coach Angie Hembree said. "I'm fine with the quarterfinals being held at school gyms."

The semifinals will be spread over five college sites on March 1-2, with Kennesaw State, Fort Valley State, Savannah State and Georgia College joining Georgia Tech. Class AAA, which includes Buford, will be at Savannah State and Class AA, with Wesleyan and Greater Atlanta Christian, in Fort Valley.

The Wesleyan girls were the only Gwinnett team to win a state title last season after the county claimed a record five -- third girls and two boys -- in 2010 and four in 2011. Gwinnett teams have won 31 basketball state titles since 2000.

STATE SEMIFINAL SITES

The state championship games will all be in Macon on March 7-9 this season, but the semifinals will be held at college arenas the previous weekend.

Friday, March 1

Class AA: Fort Valley State

Class A private: Kennesaw State

Saturday, March 2

Class AAAAAA: Georgia TechClass AAAAA: Kennesaw State

Class AAAA: Fort Valley State

Class AAA: Savannah State

Class A public: Georgia College