Historic haul for Gwinnett basketball teams

Photo by: Brendan Sullivan Norcross celebrates their 60-48 victory over Hillgrove during the Class AAAAAA state championship boys basketball game in Macon Saturday.

Photo by: Brendan Sullivan Norcross celebrates their 60-48 victory over Hillgrove during the Class AAAAAA state championship boys basketball game in Macon Saturday.


Photo by: Brendan Sullivan Norcross' Khalen Pinkett (3) attempts to the drive to the basket past Hillgrove's Kyle Castlin (11) during the Class AAAAAA state championship boys basketball game in Macon Saturday. Norcross defeated Hillgrove 60-48.


Photo by: Brendan Sullivan Norcross' William Gibbons (1), Devin Huffman (4), Nnamdi Van Dulm (21) and Thomas Cameron (33) celebrate in the final minute of action against Hillgrove during the Class AAAAAA state championship boys basketball game in Macon Saturday. Norcross defeated Hillgrove 60-48.

Winning a state championship is a big accomplishment for any high school athletic team.

But the accomplishments of four teams representing three schools located within a five-mile radius during the Georgia High School Association's State Basketball Championships this past weekend at the Macon Centreplex are extra special both collectively and within each particular program.

Aside from their proximity to each other and the pride brought to their respective communities in Norcross and Peachtree Corners, the boys and girls teams at Norcross, the Wesleyan girls and Greater Atlanta Christian boys all brought home legacy-enhancing titles for their respective programs.

For Wesleyan (28-4), a 76-43 win over Laney on Friday afternoon secured more than this season's Class AA girls state championship.

It also secured a place in GHSA state history as it was the Wolves' sixth straight state title and 10th overall (five each in Class AA and Class A), both tying state records for girls teams -- the consecutive streak tying Hart County in AAA from 1989-94 and the overall tying Taylor County's mark.

Even while taking a vacation in Florida with Wesleyan on break this week, head coach Jan Azar couldn't help but reflect on how monumental the accomplishment is for the program she started in 1997.

"We're actually at the beach right now, but after a couple of days to reflect on it and getting many emails from past players and coaches, I emailed all our (current) coaches reminding them how big it is," Azar said. "I'm actually meeting one of my former players, Dana Birnie, for lunch this week. She was on that first state runner-up team (in 2000-01). I read a letter from her to (this year's) team before (Friday's) game reminding them that they were playing for all those that came before them and the tradition and the girls who didn't get a chance to play for a state title, but who laid the foundation (for the program's subsequent success).

"When I first started (at Wesleyan), winning one championship wasn't even in my thoughts. What (the program) has turned into is overwhelming."

Just as overwhelming is the accomplishment the boys and girls teams at Norcross were able to pull off with their back-to-back wins Saturday -- the girls (28-5) with a win over county and Region 7-AAAAAA rival North Gwinnett and the boys (27-6) by beating Hillgrove.

While several schools have swept the boys and girls titles in the same season, and a handful have won state championships in the GHSA's three most visible sports -- boys and girls basketball and football -- in the same calendar year, no school had ever won all three in the same academic year, a feat the Blue Devils boys and girls accomplished Saturday, combined with the Norcross football team's state title in December.

"It goes to the kids and the coaches," Norcross athletic director Kirk Barton said following the boys win Saturday. "We've got a lot of good kids and a lot of good coaches who put the time into it. It's pretty amazing."

Norcross girls coach Angie Hembree, whose Blue Devils won her a third state title at Norcross, and the sixth of her coaching career, echoed Barton's amazement, and also credited the unity established by all the coaches and athletes at the school.

"That's awesome. I'm happy," Hembree said. "We've got a good group of kids, but we've got an even better group of coaches that hang together and support each other."

The win was the third in four years for the seniors on Norcross' girls team, including recently named Naismith National Player of the Year award winner Diamond DeShields.

The boys, meanwhile, won their second title in the last three years and fifth in the last eight seasons, though for one Blue Devil, the title raised the possibility for an even more unique feat.

Lorenzo Carter, a 6-foot-6 junior post, was also a part of the football team's championship as an all-county and all-state defensive end.

In addition, he earned a championship ring as part of a Class A state title basketball team at Whitefield Academy last season before moving with his family to Norcross last summer.

And with another season of football and basketball next year remaining, he still has a chance to collect a full set of jewelry.

"I've got football and basketball next year (to fill up one hand with rings). So, we've got to go do it," Carter said Saturday. "It's crazy. I know Norcross has been great athletically basketball-wise. We've won four (previous) state championship for the boys, but I mean, it's crazy. I made a bonafide move to come out here to go to Norcross (last summer), and I'm just blessed to be a part of this."

Feeling just as blessed are GAC's boys (29-3), which closed out the Class AA boys title with a 69-52 win over Bleckley County on Friday.

While the title wasn't as record-setting as those of the other three Gwinnett winners this past weekend, it still further cemented the legacy of the Spartans' program as their third state championship in the last four seasons and sixth overall.

It was also the third since Eddie Martin took over as coach in 2009 and the sixth of his career, though like his fellow championship coaches, he spread the credit to his players and coaching staff.

"I try not to think about that," Martin said. "It's nice, and every one is special, but I tell everybody this. If you haven't got players and you haven't got good assistant coaches, you're not going to win (a state championship). I'm a part of it, but everybody's been a part of what we're doing. So, yeah, it's something I'll reflect on now after it's done, but going into it, I don't really think about it."