all-star

Nearly 30 local athletes from all five area schools competed in last Sunday’s Northeast Georgia All Star Showcase.

This was the first area all-star game of its kind, with Clarke and Oconee counties’ schools competing on a South team against a North team made of schools like Jefferson and Hart County. The players got one last game to their season and were able to compete at a high level in front of celebrity judges.

North Oconee, Oconee County, Athens Academy, Prince Avenue Christian and Westminster Christian Academy all had representatives across seven total events. Skills competitions had a finals round of three people, and tiebreakers if needed. The all-star games had two 20-minute running halves, and officials stopped the clock in the final two minutes.

The afternoon began with the girls 3-point competition. Each player shot six attempts from three spots around the court. The first five shots were worth 1 point, and the final “money ball” was worth 3 points. 

Oconee County’s Ava Hinzman and Westminster’s Amelia Beaver competed in the first round of the competition. North Oconee’s Callie Jackson won the first round with 19 points but lost the finals in a tiebreaker.

Jackson played in the North Georgia All Star game the day before, but the event on Saturday didn’t have a 3-point competition.

“There are a lot more people here,” Jackson said. “Just let it fly. It’s fun. I love the game.”

The boys 3-point competition came next. Oconee County’s Jack Lonnee, Westminster’s Peyton Deep and North Oconee’s Dylan Garrington all competed but failed to make the finals.

Deep is playing baseball for the Lions, but Lonnee and Garrington have continued to play basketball in travel leagues. Lonnee and Deep had never participated in a 3-point contest before, but Garrington said he did back when he lived in Illinois.

Garrington had faith his teammate Wilson Sibley would win the dunk contest that followed. Four athletes competed in front of six judges, including former Georgia football coach Mark Richt and former Bulldog receiver Mecole Hardman. Sibley made the top three and advanced to the finals.

Sibley tied Clarke Central’s Lamar Hynes in the final round. For his final dunk, Sibley wound up a windmill under his legs and jammed a dunk in with his right hand. Fans and judges were standing up, shocked and amazed.

Hynes tried to dunk it upside down twice, but finally put in a two-hand jam with just a few seconds of his 30-second timer remaining. Sibley’s score made him the dunk champion a week after winning the GHSA 2020-21 State Slam Dunk Title.

“The contest I had last weekend, I actually had a whole plan for everything I was going to do,” Sibley said. “But this time, I had no one to throw a lob to me or anything, and I didn't really know what I was going to do. I had to make something up in my head, so it really wasn't planned out. I was going in there pretty confident. I know I had some good competition in there and I was hoping that I could do my best and hope that'd be enough.”

The first all-star game was a meeting of North and South underclassmen girls. Nine players were on the South team from area schools. Oconee County’s Anna Niemeier and Macey Matthews were joined with North Oconee’s Annika Bonds and Maddy Dickens. Noelle Hynes from Prince Avenue Christian played with rivals Jaila Salley-Barnett and India Sheats from Athens Academy. Avery Clark and Lanie Bauer both represented Westminster.

Westminster’s girls coach Chan Deep was the only South coach present and he had prepared for every situation except for the one that happened to him. He wasn’t sure if all his players were going to show, so he had schemes for 11, 12 ,13 and 14 players, but one player was added right before the game and Deep coached 15 players.

“We had one practice [last] week,” Deep said. “Our goal was to push the ball and we tried to run a 4 out 1 in offense. I thought practice went well, I had a great time. It’s kind of sloppy because players had never really played with each other before, but we’re not making excuses. That was a talented team out there.”

The North team had played an all-star game already according to a coach Deep spoke with. Thanks to that continuity, the North underclassmen girls won 55-44.

North Oconee coach Rick Rasmussen was one of the all-star coaches and led the South team to a 63-55 win.

Rasmussen coached his players Brodie Scott, Cole Kelly and Thomas Clausen, along with three players from Oconee County. Jack Lonnee and both Oechsle brothers, Zach and Trevor, represented the Warriors. Athens Academy’s Kymel Williams sat on the bench with a boot on his ankle.

“At the end of the day, we're all friends,” Lonnee said. “We all come together, we'll play basketball together, but it is kind of weird to see each other and be on the same team.”

Bella Ripley and M.K. Long represented North Oconee and Abby Dickens represented Oconee County in the senior girls game. The South team was outnumbered and lost 41-34.

Ripley compared the all-star game to a pick-up game, and despite the challenges, it was a great way to end their senior season.

“Even though there wasn't as much rhythm as there is playing with your own team, it was still cool to see what we could do,” Dickens said. “The season ended, and you're like, ‘Oh, it's your last game,’ but then we got one more.”

The senior boys game was the highest scoring of the night. The North team attacked early and won 73-64, but the all-stars from the South played a competitive game.

Seth Lowery represented Westminster and Garrington stayed from beginning to end to play in both the senior game and 3-point contest. His Titans teammate, Jace Saxton, was reunited with old Oconee County teammates Eli Nelson and Gabe Talkington. Saxton had also played on AAU teams with players from Cedar Shoals and Clarke Central.

“It's kind of hard to know what other guys do for their team when you play against them,” Garrington said. “They can do one thing in one game and another in the next. We had to figure it out halfway through the game and that’s tough to do.”

Ultimately, Sunday represented a fun opportunity for all participants.

“It’s fun playing against a lot better competition, and a lot more athletes,” Lowry said. “It's just fun to go to play with some of these guys who I’ve played pick up with.”

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