NORTH FULTON, Ga. — As the 2020-21 high school basketball season gets underway, each team aspires to lift hardware in March, and three local teams are early favorites to be in the championship fray.
The Milton boys, St. Francis boys and St. Francis girls have earned No. 1 preseason rankings from Georgia high school basketball guru Kyle Sandy.
Milton enters the season with high expectations and a great deal of hype. Not only does Milton have the eyes of the state watching as the No. 1 team in 7A, but MaxPreps ranked the Eagles No. 22 in the nation.
Eagles head coach Allen Whitehart said the pre-season hype around this team is greater than any Milton team he’s coached.
“I tell [the team] every day you have to block out the noise,” Whitehart said. “You’re only as good as your next win or loss.”
The Eagles return most of their group from their 2019 final four run, and they added a pair of high-impact transfers to the team.
Junior forward Kendall Campbell transferred to Milton from Meadowcreek. Campbell is a three-star recruit, according to 247 Sports, who holds college offers from Alabama, Ole Miss and Virginia Tech. Senior guard Broc Bidwell joins Milton from West Forsyth, where he scored 1,000 points in his career and was an all-region player for the Wolverines in 2019. Bidwell committed Oct. 5 to Campbell University.
Bidwell and Campbell join a Milton team that already boasted two of the top recruits nationally in their classes in junior Bruce Thornton and sophomore Kanaan Carlyle. Senior Fisher Finley returns to action after missing last year with an injury, providing the Eagles a strong presence in the paint. Once the Milton football season ends, the Eagles will add key multi-sport players in Devin Farrell, L.T. Overton and Mo Clipper.
“We miss Evan [Hurst] and Ryo [Muta],” Whitehart said. “They’re great kids, and Evan did a lot of really good things for us last year as a senior leader, but I do love this group. I feel like we’re multi-talented. They like to play together and they’re workers. If they’re willing to do those things, I think we’re going to be okay.”
Milton will play some of the top teams in Georgia as part of its regular season slate.
The Eagles will take on several teams ranked in the top-five of their respective classifications, including McEachern, Greenforest, Berkmar, Sandy Creek and Grayson, and last year’s 7A state champ Wheeler.
The Eagles’ new region also features two of the top teams in 7A in No. 7 Cherokee and No. 10 Etowah.
Whitehart had a clear strategy in mind when scheduling the games for Milton.
“We want to know where we are when it matters,” he said. “We want to know how good or how bad we are and what we have to work on. Really good competition will give us that.”
Six miles away from Milton High School, another boys basketball team enters the 2020 season with a No. 1 ranking and high hopes. St. Francis starts the season ranked No. 1 in Class A-Private, as the Knights seek to defend back-to-back state titles.
Milton and St. Francis took the court for the first time Nov. 10 in a scrimmage at Milton. The Eagles defeated the Knights, 77-68, in an overtime thriller that felt more like a playoff game than a preseason scrimmage.
The Knights will be without Dwon Odom and Chase Ellis for the first time in four years. Odom now plays at Xavier University and Ellis plays at Berry College.
Leading the way for the Knights is senior forward Jusaun Holt, rated the No. 5 senior in Georgia, according to 247 Sports. Holt was second on the team in scoring last season for St. Francis, trailing only Odom.
The Knights will rely on players like juniors Jordan Brown and Seth Hubbard and senior Kai Simmons to play big minutes and provide scoring. The three were fourth, fifth and sixth on the team in scoring last season. St. Francis also added junior shooting guard Keith Robbins, a transfer from GMC Prep. Robbins is rated a three-star recruit and recently picked up offers from Xavier and Elon.
“We got to blend all those guys in,” St. Francis head coach Drew Catlett said. “We’ll see. We could be good. It’s a long season, and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The Knights also have a challenging schedule, including two games against No. 3-ranked Mount Pisgah in Region 6-A play.
The St. Francis boys aren’t the only ones with championship aspirations. The St. Francis girls team enters the season as the top-ranked team in A-Private.
“I’m excited about this team,” St. Francis head coach Aisha Kennedy said. “It’s young but they have some veterans who played a lot of games last year.”
The Knights lose graduating seniors Savannah Samuel and Amirah Abdur-Rahim, who now play at Oregon State and Notre Dame, but they are still rich with talent led by a veteran backcourt.
Point guard Mia Moore, who recently signed to play with Mississippi State, returns for her senior year along with fellow senior Morgan Harper. Down low, the Knights feature two young but promising players in sophomore Trynce Taylor and freshman Sa’Mya Wyatt.
“Some younger kids are going to get to step up that played behind some really good kids last year,” Kennedy said. “We’re excited. I think they’re going to do well.”
The Knights will be seeking their first state championship since the 2015-16 season.
“Mia [Moore] and Morgan [Harper] really want one,” Kennedy said. “I’m hoping we can get them a state championship, but we’re going to take it one game at a time and work hard. If we do that, hopefully we’ll be able to make it.”