Less than 24 hours before the second edition of the Battle for Georgia tipped off at LakePoint's Champions Center, tournament director Dan McDonald discussed the possibility of having a non-shoe company sponsored team win the 17U division.
"The team in the 17-and-under division that I'm really curious to see how they stack up is the Georgia Knights," McDonald said Saturday. "They're not a shoe-company team, but all spring long, they've been beating shoe-company teams, sometimes soundly. ... They've got kind of the underdog, chip-on-their-shoulder thing. I'm really curious to see how they come in and play. Maybe they can come in and win the championship."
Well, McDonald proved to be correct, as the Knights rode the play of 17U MVP Chris Youngblood to the title. Youngblood scored 32 points in the championship game before fouling out.
His effort was almost for naught, as the adidas-sponsored Atlanta Celtics rallied to take the lead in the final minute. However, a putback on the offensive end in the closing seconds allowed the Knights to pull off an 80-79 victory over the loaded Celtics.
While teammate Kirshon Thrash proved to be one of the breakout stars of the one-day tournament, Youngblood showed why he looks set to be an absolute steal for nearby Kennesaw State.
“He was phenomenal,” McDonald said of Youngblood. “He’s going to be an unbelievable player for Kennesaw State.”
While the Celtics came up short, rising senior Caleb Murphy still went home a winner after picking up an offer from Georgia during the day.
“It’s always cool, when the kid gets an offer from the in-state school during our event,” McDonald said. “That was kind of cool how that played out.”
In the 16U division, 6-foot-5 Robbie Armbrester and 6-foot-7 Ja'Heim Hudson teamed up to help guide Game Elite to the title. The bruising duo ensured there was no deficit too tall for Game Elite to overcome.
“Highly, highly competitive division,” McDonald said. “Game Elite actually came back from down double-digits in all three games in the second half and won all three. …
“Robbie Armbrester, who was our MVP, is in the Draymond Green kind of role. Big, strong dude that will talk a little smack. He can really play, really skilled. Ja’Heim Hudson was really good too for them. They just kind of had the two big guys who were too tough for everyone.”
On a day full of highlight-reel plays, Matthew Cleveland had the best. The rising junior with offers from coast to coast threw down a thunderous dunk in Hype Hawks' semifinal loss to Game Elite.
“He had one of the better dunks we’ve had at LakePoint,” McDonald said of Cleveland.
In the newly added 15U division, things played out perfectly from a neutral's perspective with each of the four semifinalists possessing one of the true standout guards in the class. In the finals, Bruce Thornton Jr. — with the help of budding star Chauncey Wiggins — got the better of Kell's Scoot Henderson to push TSF Mack to victory.
“The thing about the 2022 class in Georgia is that there’s four really good guards,” McDonald said. “Bruce Thornton, Dillon Hunter, Scooter Henderson and Zocko Littleton Jr. They were on the four different teams that were in the semifinals. That was kind of cool how that played out. We’ll see how that battles plays out going forward, but [Sunday], Bruce was the best.”
It's possible the quartet could face off again next year in Round 3, because the Battle for Georgia doesn't appear to be going anywhere.
“I had really high expectations going into it,” McDonald said of Sunday's event. “It met and exceeded them. I thought it was really, really good. The games were great, the crowd was great, the players were great [and] the coaching was good. Everything came together pretty nicely. We had some good championship games. It was a lot of fun.”