It has been nearly a decade since a Savannah school last won a Georgia High School Association (GHSA) state championship. Not since the 2014-15 Jenkins Warriors has Savannah brought home hardware for GHSA boy’s basketball. St. Andrew's (28-1 in 2022-23) and head coach Mel Abrams Jr. have won back-to-back GIAA state titles. Memorial Day School (21-4) also won a 1A GIAA title last year under head coach Dale Mock. Titles are titles and the GHSA schools in Savannah are the usual headliners expected to win them. Fact is, none of them have delivered on the state's biggest stage in a long time.
With that being said, the primary theme for Savannah (GHSA) boy's basketball this year is actually a question that nobody really wants to ask. Not out loud, at least. We've got good teams, but do we have any great ones? This season, several teams have their eye on the big prize, but to get to that point, they’ll need to get through city and region schedules healthy and humming. The GHSA began playing regular season games on Saturday, Nov. 11, so we're already underway for the 2023-24 campaign.
Top players, key storylines, coaching changes, playoff races, sleepers and a "Savannah Seven" ranking the top-seven teams in the area. For clarity, "area" includes 21 boy's teams in the city and around it, including the four non-GHSA schools as well as Effingham, South Effingham, Richmond Hill and Bryan County. The preview is based around those 21 teams. No more warming up, let's get to the 2023-24 boy's basketball season in Savannah.
'PLAYER OF THE YEAR' CANDIDATES
CALEB JONES – BENEDICTINE – JUNIOR
As a sophomore, Jones guided the Cadets (18-6) to a Class 4A Final Four appearance last season while averaging 21 points per game. It was the first state semifinal game for the Cadet basketball program since 1959. He was a first-team All-Region pick each of his first two years on the court for BC. A preseason first-team All-State selection (Sandysspiel.com), Jones will be hoping to lead Frank Williams’ team to a third straight region 3-4A title.
JOSH QUARTERMAN – JOHNSON – SENIOR
Playing second-fiddle to Antonio Baker last year, Quarterman was rock-solid while averaging 16.1 points and 5.1 rebounds en route to being named a first-team All-Region member. A Class 3A preseason second-team All-State pick, Quarterman will take over the scoring responsibility for Chuck Campbell’s Johnson team (25-5), which is ranked No. 6 in Class 3A in the preseason by Sandysspiel.com. Quarterman will face off head-to-head with fellow POTY candidates Jones (Nov. 25 vs. BC) and Maki Joyner (Nov. 24 vs. Savannah High) at Enmarket Arena in the inaugural Savannah Hoops Shootout.
MAKI JOYNER – SAVANNAH HIGH – JUNIOR
Joyner averaged 14.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks per game last season to earn first-team All-Greater Savannah honors. He is a Class 1A DI first-team preseason All-State selection by Sandysspiel.com. Joyner will likely be the one called upon should Savannah High (21-8), ranked No. 4 in the preseason rankings, need a play down the stretch in close games.
ROB SPAULDING IV – SAVANNAH COUNTRY DAY – SENIOR
Before going down with an injury in December of his junior campaign, Spaulding was averaging 13.1 points per game for Country Day (8-18). The lanky scoring guard should be back to full strength for his senior season and he'll enter as a preseason Class 3A third-team All-State selection.
It feels like this year's crop of freshmen (class of 2027) has the potential to be an exciting and meaningful group right away. It isn't often a 9th grade player makes the cut for a preview such as this. There just aren't many programs who routinely play freshmen, and there usually aren't that many freshmen ready to play at the varsity level.
A trio of freshmen this year have a chance to do more than just play. From the looks (and sounds) of it, they will be starters and could wind up being stars of the team or region.
NASIR 'RUDY' ANDERSON – SAVANNAH COUNTRY DAY
The younger brother of former Windsor Forest star Qurahn Anderson, "Rudy" Anderson has been a rising talent on the AAU circuit over the last 12-18 months. Electric with the ball and off, the lefty is expected to be the top option off the SCDS bench to start the season.
Basketball fans in Savannah have been waiting to see the coach's kid on the varsity level and in the early season, Williams has delivered already. He'll be a key scoring piece for his pop, Jeff Williams, and the Phoenix.
MARLON KNIGHT – CALVARY DAY
"MJ" Knight should be a key figure in Scepter Brownlee's rotation. The Cavs will be replacing departed football stars Jake Merklinger and Mike Smith.
Notable coaches in first-year with program:
George Brown – Savannah High
Scepter Brownlee – Calvary Day
Travis Priddy – Woodville-Tompkins
Clyde Wormley – Bethesda Academy
Tramaine Aaron – Effingham County
REGION 3-3A OUTLOOK
This region features the most Savannah area schools of any region in the state. Therefore, I'll go longer here than anywhere else. That's the disclaimer. Teams in this region include: No. 6 Johnson, Groves, Beach, No. 7 Calvary Day, Country Day and Savannah Christian. Non-Savannah teams are preseason No. 8 Long County and Liberty County. Three preseason top-10 teams, but this region always has a surprising unranked team make noise and I expect this year to be no different. Only four teams make the state playoffs, so good teams will be left out come bracket time.
Johnson (25-5) has an All-State scorer in Quarterman, but senior guard Cormari Jones and junior wing Favion Kirkwood (9.7 points, 4.6 rebounds) give Johnson the firepower necessary to score with any team in the state. Perhaps the lone question mark is on the interior, but making shots would go a long way in protecting that potential weakness.
Beach (22-6) will replace the production lost from graduated stars Shamarrie Hugie and James Leach with a rotation featuring Chandler Reid, James Tisby, Jayden Newton and DeAndre Jones. Expect the Bulldogs to be tough under head coach Simon Heyward, but without a true star, the scoring will need to be balanced and deep for Beach to contend.
Groves (15-14) and head coach Kevin Evans might be dealing with a similar situation of having several good players but (maybe) not a great player. That’s not a slight, because you don’t need stars to win if you have enough depth to make up for it. Examples of that are apparent every season.
A pair of pivotal teams, I believe, when it comes to sorting out the four playoff squads out of region 3-3A, will be rivals Calvary Day and Savannah Country Day. I don't see a way both make it to the state playoffs, especially if Long County is as good as advertised. So, whichever of these two winds up being better than the other, that could solidify there place in the region's pecking order.
Calvary (15-10) was simply not the same team last year when it didn't have the services of big-man Mike Smith, who won't be playing this year as he prepares to head to the University of South Carolina to play football. Jake Merklinger (QB, Tennessee) will also not be playing for the Cavs this season in favor of leaving early for college football prep. So, Scepter Brownlee's club will revolve around older players CJ Gaines and Josh Habersham, as well as big-men Chol Kiir and Kuol Deng and freshman MJ Knight.
Country Day (8-18), along with maybe New Hampstead, might be the most intriguing team in the city this season. The Hornets suffered a pre-season injury to big-man Timo Moeller (ACL) before last year ever began, and then lost All-Region wing Rob Spaulding IV to injury two months into the campaign. Both are back for head coach Mac Tamminen, in his second season on the SCDS bench. If freshman Rudy Anderson can provide backcourt production alongside sophomore Stone Wells and senior Dallas Hunter, the Hornets could find themselves in playoff contention come February.
Teams beginning the season outside the top-10 who I expect to make the state playoffs: New Hampstead, Savannah Country Day, Bryan County, Windsor Forest and Woodville-Tompkins.
Windsor is "alone" in Class 2A in terms of teams in this area, but the Knights and head coach Aaron Clark have been better than expected more often than not on Savannah's southside. If WF can develop a true rotation of producers out of the several talented players on the roster, Clark's squad should be back in the state playoffs. Same for Priddy's Wolverines, who will likely shoot and make more 3's than they had in years past under the very successful Lenny Williams (now at Ware County).
Could Country Day prove to be a legitimate threat to scare the top of a loaded region 3-3A? Maybe. Whatever those chances, I expect the chances of NHHS being able to contend with two-time defending region champion Benedictine in 3-4A to be higher. That's no shot at the Hornets.
The Phoenix are really, really good. So are the Cadets. So, that's a region race to watch closely, so too is the battle for Region 3-1A Division I. There, Woodville and Bryan County are the most likely roadblocks to Savannah High capturing its first region championship in quite some time. All three were playoff teams last season.
Let's take a look at the city's non-GHSA schools.
St. Andrew’s (28-1, GIAA Class 3A) opens its season with a streak of GHSA opponents. Junior Zayden Edwards (11.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists) and senior Will Thompson (11.3) will pace Abrams' club in its quest for a third straight state championships. The Lions open with four straight GHSA games, including a date with Groves on Black Friday (6 p.m.) at Enmarket Arena and at Beach on December 5.
Memorial Day (21-4, GIAA Class 1A) will be paced by big-man Matas Aidietis in its state defense this year. Expect the Matadors to run their system from the inside out in 2023-24.
Bethesda Academy (12-17, SCISA) could be an exciting watch in Wormley's first season. Ashton Wright is the catalyst in the BA backcourt, and he is likely a pendulum in terms of how far the Blazers will go this year. The senior poured in 17.1 points per game last year while adding 5.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists.
MORE NAMES TO WATCH
Any players not mentioned elsewhere in the preview who I think deserve some love. After all, what little boy doesn't grow up wanting to become a 'player to watch?' (In no specific order)
Jeremiah James – Jenkins
The senior averaged a double-double last season (10.3 points, 10.7 rebounds) as a first-team All-Region 1-5A selection. Jenkins (7-16) should be much improved this year and James could be a big reason why.
Jordan Cave – Islands
Cave, a senior, will likely be the leading scorer for Islands (4-22) for a third straight season. He averaged 14.4 points per contest as a junior.
Jonathon Pickering – Woodville-Tompkins
The junior wing should be one of several double-digit scorers for Trivs Priddy's Wolverine squad. Woodville, in its 10th season of existence, has made the playoffs eight consecutive years after missing the Big Dance in Year 1. Pickering will be the primary reason they continue that streak this season.
Jamari McIvory – Savannah Christian
The athletic speedster can do a little bit of everything for the Raiders (5-21) and head coach Zach Darling.
Jordan Goldwire – Effingham County
An All-Region selection in 2022-23, Goldwire could well be one of the best big-men in the area. He'll play in the difficult region 2-6A, but should once again be a leading selection come All-Region voting after the season.
Sidney Flaggs – Groves
A senior guard capable of scoring 15+ in the Rebels' backcourt, Flaggs should be the primary threat for Groves, trying to return to the Class 3A state playoffs again under Evans.
Toland Daughtry – New Hampstead
Daughtry may be my favorite player to watch going into this season. The All-Region guard has the length to be a problem in the open court while being more than capable of scoring out of plays/sets in the half court. Expect Daughtry to be a catalyst for the Phoenix, and expect the Phoenix to make some noise in Class 4A come playoff time.
PRESEASON 'SAVANNAH SEVEN'
- Savannah High
- New Hampstead
- St. Andrew's
There are lots of ways to track the action on the hardwood this year. Obviously if you've made it this far, you know ball. So you already know the best way to keep up with HS Hoops is by following yours truly on Twitter (X). You should also go ahead and bookmark some links to keep handy. I've listed those below. Scores, stats, standings and more.
Daily scoreboard (MaxPreps)
2022-23 All-Savannah Teams
Sandy's Spiel (rankings, recaps, more)
On Twitter ... Dennis Knight
On YouTube ... '912 Suspence'