Thrilling games, clutch plays highlight inaugural Battle for Georgia


If you missed Sunday's Battle for Georgia, first of all, it was your loss, because the talent on display produced incredible individual displays and tight games throughout the day.

But more importantly, if you missed the inaugural event at LakePoint's Champions Center, you should be able to catch it next year — and for years to come.

"Going off the amount of really good feedback I got and the rest of our staff got, it's 100 percent something I want to do again," tournament director Dan McDonald said Monday. "It's just going to be the same battle [getting it scheduled]. ... But we're definitely going to try to do it again. I thought it was great to get all the top teams in Georgia in the same place. ... I'm 100 percent planning to keep this thing going, as long as I can do it."

In a lot of respects, particularly with it being a first-time event, McDonald couldn't have asked for a much better day. There were two eight-team brackets — a 17-and-under and a 16-and-under — featuring Georgia-based travel teams, and both tournaments produced a great spectacle.

(It's worth pointing out, the now-infamous brawl at the Champions Center, while it did take place Sunday, didn't occur during this event.)

On the 17U side, Game Elite Gold pulled off a pair of one-point wins to close out the tourney, while Atlanta Xpress 16U had consecutive four-point victories to seal their title.

In Game Elite Gold's semifinal victory over the Atlanta Celtics, the teams exchanged and-1 baskets in the final minute from stars Jaylin Williams and Marcus Watson, respectively. Williams' hoop and harm canceled out Watson's go-ahead bucket to give his team the win.

In the other 17U semifinal, Atlanta Xpress punched a ticket to the championship. Unfortunately, it came at a price.

The brightest star in a room full of glistening ones, Anthony Edwards hurt his wrist after hitting the ground, following a dunk. Understandably playing it safe with easily one of the top 10 players in the Class of 2020, Edwards sat out the remainder of the semifinal and the entirety of the title game.

Even though he didn't get to play for a championship, Edwards still proved to be the top player at the event, at least in McDonald's eyes.

"He was phenomenal," McDonald said. "He looked every bit the part of some guy who can eventually go play in the NBA and be a really good NBA player. He's the real deal. There's no question who the best player was in our tournament yesterday."

Without Edwards, Xpress just didn't quite have enough to win it all. Although, it did come close. It took a big game by Williams and clutch shooting by Louisville commit Josh Nickelberry to help Game Elite Gold grab a 68-67 win.

McDonald said he was glad to see top-tier players, such as, Nickelberry and Watson come up big. But he seemed even more excited that some of the less-heralded young guys had a coming out party of sorts.

"The other thing I enjoyed about yesterday too was that you had guys who maybe aren't ranked quite as high, have the scholarship offers," McDonald said. "Eric Gaines, I don't know if he has a single offer yet. I thought he was the best player on the Atlanta Xpress 16-and-under team that won the championship. I'd be pretty surprised if he doesn't come out of July with a couple of high-major offers. He was spectacular.

"K.D. Johnson, who we actually just ranked on Rivals last week — I think he was [No.] 106 in the 2020 recruiting class — he was ridiculous. He had 39 points in the first game. He actually picked up his first high-major offer last night from Seton Hall. ... It's pretty cool to see a guy like that come in and get his first high-major offer from playing in your event. As much as it was great to see the headliners play well, it was also pretty great to see that kind of thing happen."

Overall, the tournament will go down as a resounding success. Depending on what happens with the recruiting calendar, McDonald expects the event to continue attracting the best of the best from across the Peach State.

For an already tight-knit basketball family, it serves as a chance for friends to become competitors and competitors to become friends.

"We had zero issues yesterday," McDonald said. "Everything ran smoothly. The games were great. A lot of guys who are very involved in the Atlanta/Georgia basketball community came through. It was good to see everybody. You meet a lot of really good people in the basketball community in Georgia."