After week-long wait, GAC boys finally play for state title

Having coached in six previous state high school basketball championship games, today's appearance by Eddie Martin's Greater Atlanta Christian boys in today's Class AA state finals is somewhat old hat.

But there is one major difference the Spartans will experience from any of those other teams coached by Martin when they take on Bleckley County in a scheduled 4:45 p.m. tipoff at the Macon Centreplex.

Unlike Martin's previous finalists, GAC (28-3) has had a week off between its state semifinal win and the title game.

And as the 31-year coaching veteran points out, there are many advantages to having the extra time.

"I like it from the standpoint of preparation," said Martin, who coached Norcross to three Class AAAAA state championships and GAC to two more in Class AA. "We do so much preparation work, watching film, breaking them down, scouting reports, talking about matchups. From that standpoint, (the extra time has) been good. In an ideal world, I look back at Norcross, we played the semifinals on Thursday and the finals on Friday. That wasn't even enough time to enjoy getting there. The two times we've gotten there from here we played Thursday and then on Saturday, which is a one-day turnaround, which wasn't a whole lot of time. In an ideal world, I think about two to three days max would be good."

Instead, the Spartans have had the entire week off since beating Laney 64-56 last Friday in Milledgeville to prepare for Bleckley County (28-3).

And at least one player admits he and his teammates are getting a little antsy waiting to play.

"No one likes all this practicing," said senior point guard Collin Swinton, who was averaging 14.5 points and 3.9 assists per game through the regular season. "Not even the coaches like all this practicing. I am anxious having to wait till the end of the week to play."

The good news for GAC is Bleckley County's players are likely just as anxious to play as theirs are.

When the two teams finally do take the court, the Spartans main task will be dealing with the Royals' dynamic duo of 6-foot-7 post DaMario Beck (23 ppg, 12 rpg, 2.2 bpg) and 6-4 wing Rydealous Taylor (19.9 ppg, 6 rpg).

And Martin knows it won't be easy.

"Between those two guys, that's right at 44 points, and they are averaging 62 (as a team)," Martin said of the Bleckley County pair.

"That's a lot of points coming out of those two guys. We are not going to shut them down. We are not going to keep them from scoring, we know that. We have to make them work hard for their shots and not let their other players hurt us."

The Royals also have other threats, such as Ken Hughes (11 ppg, 9 rpg) and Dytrez Nelson (9 apg), that GAC will have to deal with.

Likewise, GAC has had multiple sources of production this season, particularly during the postseason.

While Swinton and 6-7 junior post Isaiah Wilkins (16.3 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 2.8 apg) have been the Spartans' main weapons, fellow starters Troy Morrison (8.9 ppg, 5.4 apg), Cam Boyd (9.4 ppg) and Justin Lewis (7 ppg, 5.3 rpg), and lately reserves like Tyler Hamilton and Andrew Lewis, give Bleckley County coach Clifford Kerbo just as much concern.

"This is the first team that we're facing in the playoffs that, somewhat similar to us, can score from different positions, rather than just one," Kerbo said in a radio interview on the Morning Show with Charles Olson and Daniel Murphy on WPLA-AM in Macon. "That's going to make it ... tougher for us to figure out who we need to shut down, who we need to concentrate on as far as stopping.

"They're a great basketball team. They have the same record we have. I think the thing we have to our advantage (is) they've played all their playoff games, except for the Final Four, at home. We've had to go out on the road (for the second round and quarterfinals). I think that's an advantage for us."

-- Staff Writer Ben Beitzel contributed to this report