This story originally appeared in the Holiday issue of ESPNHS magazine’s Georgia edition.
Remember the 2003 Atlanta Celtics AAU squad? There was some 6-foot-10, muscular kid named Dwight Howard. There was a freakishly gifted high-riser named Josh Smith. And manning the middle was future McDonald’s All-American Randolph Morris.
They ended the summer by hoisting the AAU national championship trophy for Georgia. They would all land in the NBA a few years later, leading several hoop pundits to label that squad the greatest AAU team of all time. That crew also helped establish the Peach State as fertile ground for recruiters.
Fast-forward to 2011.
There are 10 Georgia ballers in the ESPNU 100 and four local teams in the preseason POWERADE FAB 50. Miller Grove enters the season No. 2 in the nation, led by Tony Parker (No. 31 in the ESPNU 100) and Brandon Morris (a Georgia commit). Southwest DeKalb is No. 39 thanks to Shaq Goodwin (No. 19) and Jordan Price (No. 42). The teams faced off three times last year, with Miller Grove winning the first two encounters, and Southwest DeKalb exacting revenge in the region final before Miller Grove rebounded to win the AAAA state title. We caught up with these four to get their takes on the state of Georgia hoops.
Why is Georgia hoops popping right now?
Goodwin: We have the best athletes; just look at the best center in the League. We’re producing big-name players every year.
Parker: Everybody in Georgia knows each other, and we push each other because it helps us in the long run. Guys like Al-Farouq Aminu and Howard Thompkins helped me early on because we were all from the same area. It’s just how you’re raised.
Price: We came up like a big family. We are all going against each other and making each other better. If we keep doing that, no one is going to be able to compete with us.
Which NBA or college player embodies what it means to be a Georgia hoop star?
Parker: You have to talk about Dwight Howard and the Atlanta Celtics. They were probably the best ever, and they all made the pros, with two of them going straight out of high school.
Morris: He’s not from here, but Dominique Wilkins. I’ve been around older folks who still talk about how good he was and you see his throwback in all the stores here.
Is Georgia a football or basketball state?
Parker: That’s the most idiotic question I’ve ever heard. Georgia football rules all. If you didn’t play football as a little kid, people think something is wrong with you.
Goodwin: I like and play both sports. It was a football state, but now it’s basketball.
Price: Football might be bigger, but basketball is on the rise. It seems like basketball will take over in five years.
What makes Southwest DeKalb-Miller Grove such an intense rivalry?
Price: It’s real big because it’s for year-round bragging rights. We play against each other during the summer, too. Me and Shaq play for the Celtics against Brandon and Tony on the Georgia Stars.
Goodwin: The game is sold out every year and when those crowds get together it can get physical. Everybody comes from other schools, and you have to get there an hour early if you want a seat.
Parker: It will go on forever. It’s one of the craziest atmospheres in the state. The fans there used to chant about my girlfriend going to Southwest DeKalb.
Morris: I go around there and people are cool with me, but when I get on the court they’re like, “Get this man out of our gym.” Their fans are crazy.
Most memorable moment in the rivalry?
Morris: Last year we won at their place by like three. Shaq took a three and just missed it at the buzzer. It was one of the most packed gyms I’ve ever been in.
Price: Before last year it wasn’t really a rivalry. But we were the only ones to beat them last year, so now it is. We finally got their number.
What makes the other three guys elite recruits?
Morris: Shaq is great at what he does: rebounding and getting out on the break even though he’s so big. Jordan can score and he loves that right-to-left crossover pull-up. Tony catches the ball well and his footwork is impressive.
Goodwin: Tony is a big presence and fundamentally sound. Brandon is an athletic, energetic guy like Andre Iguodala. Jordan is real skilled and sees the floor real well. And me, I’m the trash-talker of the group.
What would it mean to win this year’s AAAA crown or finish No. 1 in the POWERADE FAB 50?
Morris: What’s No. 2 really? It’s all about No. 1. If we lost to Southwest, man, it would hurt real bad. We want to beat them because they gave us our only loss last year.
Goodwin: It would mean we’re bringing the pride back to Georgia. We got to beat Miller Grove, though. We just have to. If we don’t do it, who will?
Parker: We’re coming from nothing and we have to keep that mentality. Opening the year at No. 2 definitely puts some pressure on us. Hunting ain’t fun when the rabbit’s got the gun.