By Charlie Moon, Lowcountryradio.com.
I’m sure I’ll rile some folks up, but as sports journalists, it comes with the territory. That said, the 2021 Richmond Hill men’s team may go down as the best basketball team The Hill has ever seen. Before everyone starts screaming, hear me out.
This is absolutely no offense to legend Jimmy Hires’ 1988, 1993 and 1994 Class A state champions.
Richmond Hill’s enrollment has since nearly tripled, moving them from Class A to AAAAAA (and RHHS is really a Class AAAAAAA school). In those previous years, Georgia only utilized four classification brackets, so that broadens the scope of Class A. If the growth was Class A to maybe Class AAA, then the difference wouldn’t be as stark. But with such a huge jump, it is what it is. When you have that many more bodies in the halls, then that also pouts you in competition with schools that have that many students to field a team from. And folks, that’s why the classification system has been used for decades, in all 50 states.
All that said, though…..notice my word choice of “MAY go down as…..” I never saw those teams play, those I can’t say definitively. And having grown up in small-town Batesburg- Leesville, SC, home of many football and basketball state championships, I can definitively say. Sometimes the small towns can play with the big schools!
So let’s talk about what this 2021 team accomplished.
They finished 21-4 as Class AAAAAA’s No. 7-ranked team, Region 2-AAAAAA Champs.
Their road ended in an Elite 8 home loss to Wheeler (Marietta).
Oh, they spent the entire season ranked No.1 in Class AAAAAA and between No. 24-30 in the country. As of now, Maxpreps has them ranked No. 27 and that’s a poll that has almost exclusively private schools in the top 50 or so – schools that can go out and recruit anyone they want.
In fact, they’re one of only seven public schools in the Top 50 and are the second highest public school.
They won last year’s Class 7A state title and returned starters, plus 4-star/Dayton signee transfer Caleb Washington.
And honestly, the only reason we weren’t possibly playing them in the state title game, was because Wheeler was upset in by Kell in their Region 6 title came. I just wanted to put that loss in perspective..
So, what else did this Cats team do? They spent most of the season ranked No. 2, right behind those other Cats from Wheeler.
They made an Elite 8 trip for the first time in 24 years. They won back-to-back Region 2 titles after losing the previous two by a total of four points. And this was a new 7 team region after the re-classification of Statesboro and South Effingham.
By the way, Statesboro spent most of the season in the Top 10.
They boasted The Region 2 coach and player of the Year in Bill Henderson and Jaeden Marshall. Marshall, by the way, passed the 1,000-point milestone in the 1st round state playoff win over Rockdale County.
They had 3 1st team All-Region members in Liam Markgraf, Brayden Baker and UGA baseball commit Leighton Finley.
Nijauan Youmans made 2nd Team All-Region. Yes, that makes all 5 starters All-Region 1st or 2nd team – including the POY and three 1st Teamers.
No matter how you see it, this was truly a great team. This is not a scenario of, “Our boys gave it their all. They’re still champions in our hearts!”
Wrong, this deserves more. They were truly great. And yes, they did give it everything they had.
Even facing a 19-point 2nd half deficit and being blown out of the East Gym against Wheeler, they made the most memorable run of the season and got it down to just a 9-point deficit at the 4th quarter 5 mark.
Henderson said, “I was very proud of the effort that our guys showed in the second half when we got down. Again, that is who this team is. There were some people that questioned whether or not we would be able to compete with Wheeler, and in my mind, those people must not have watched very much Richmond Hill basketball this season. We know that our guys are going to go out and give their best effort regardless of the circumstances they’re facing, and the second half against Wheeler showed that. Even when we got it to 8, we had some opportunities to trim the lead even more, but we just weren’t able to capitalize.”
And who can forget Coach Steve Williams is looking down as a proud mentor.
Henderson says, “I know Coach Steve would be incredibly proud of this team. He loved Richmond Hill basketball and the guys on this team, and he would be so happy for the success that they’ve had.”
NOTE: Next week, we’ll have 2022 season outlooks for both men and women’s teams. We’ll also start digging into Richmond Hill 2021 baseball with HC Scott Strickland.