The McEachern Indians are 26-0, the only undefeated 7A team in Georgia entering state tournament play this weekend. McEachern burst onto the national scene and got the attention of many within the state of Georgia with four wins in four days at the Tournament of Champions at Wheeler (GA) high school in late December.
The Indians defeated known powers Thomas Jefferson, NY (defending NY 2A champs), Scotlandville, LA (led by top prospect Javonte Smart) and Oak Ridge (FL) before handling state business over host Wheeler (GA) in the finals. The following Monday they were a top ten nationally in the rankings. McEachern has held firm in the top ten national rankings and a top two spot in most state polls since.
McEachern’s rise surprised some and not others depending on who you ask and who covers basketball.
The Indians’ youth had been a major thing that has gone against them within the state of Georgia. Nationally their play is what shot them up the rankings. State people didn’t understand but for years this site has shown you state borders must be broken.
McEachern goes 8 to 12 deep and maybe beyond. The Indians are versatile, interchangeable and can win ballgames at multiple paces while finishing their defense with rebounding.
Outside of a scrimmage loss to Newton, McEachern has withstood all. The Georgia 7A brackets are out and if both advance to the semifinals they would meet at a neutral site.
McEachern boys have never won a basketball championship in Georgia, never finished a season undefeated and are looking at a historic result no matter when their season ends. In the locker room on the other side of campus the McEachern girls are gunning for their fourth in five seasons and fifth overall.
“Well they have four, we don’t have any,” McEachern boys head coach Mike Thompson said.
“The boys, they remind me a lot of my 33-0 state champ team in 2012. They go above and beyond what is expected. They put in countless hours in the gym and that’s why they are where they are today,” McEachern girls head coach Phyllis Arthur responded when asked about the recent boys success.
Sophomore Isaac Okoro and freshman Sharife Cooper are the leaders for the Indians, but the supporting cast provides the solid backbone.
Valuable contributors whether starting or off bench are Tre Peoples, Brandon Suggs, Babatunde Akingbola, Devin Gordon and Tyler Willoughby are just a few that solidify McEachern’s depth.
“First and foremost they don’t mind giving up the basketball. This team has an air of unselfishness that makes us better. Our bench doesn’t care about coming off the bench. (Isaac) Okoro and (Sharife) Coop (Cooper) with the way they play are a big part of that and Stretch (Babtunde Akingbola) leads us defensively, he give us the ability to take chances,” Thompson said.
McEachern’s path begins with a home tilt against at-large berth Mill Creek, a 13-12 team who got hot late in the year but lost in the region tournament quarterfinals. The Hawks are gunning for an upset however pulling it off would be a tall feat. Mill Creek does not play at the level of McEachern, upsetting McEachern would only hurt the state of Georgia nationally.
McEachern is young and that youth has hidden yet public basketball experience. In 2017 basketball experience is overlooked.
“We started a guy in the region tournament who had not started all year and only played limited minutes all season, he continued to compete in practice, got the nod and will play in state,” Thompson added.
McEachern did not leave the state this season but posted a 3-0 record against out-of-state opponents.
“The state (Georgia) is well equipped with talented teams. There are at least ten teams that can win it in our class (7A). We wanted to schedule non-Georgia teams and tried to schedule them but it did not work out this year. I knew going into the Tournament of Champions at Wheeler we’d get tested and we did, that Scotlandville team gave us all we could handle,” Thompson stated. “I think we’ve put ourselves in position going into state to remain in the conversation.”
McEachern may not finish higher than where they are nationally (6th in Max Preps) unless a lot happens and that’s ok. The four-time champ ladies were undefeated and finished second nationally a few years back but that crew set off what currently is happening at McEachern. The boys are seeking to compete on the Powder Springs campus.
State tournament games against Wheeler, Newton/Westlake and either Norcross or Pebblebrook or longshots Collins Hill/Campbell/Hillgrove in the watered down Georgia playoffs few get to experience this kind of fun.
Fun is exactly what coach Mike Thompson is experiencing in his 10th season heading the boys hoop program at McEachern. That does not bode well for the rest of 7A Georgia. This “young bunch” accepts nothing less than winning.