With high school basketball in full swing again, the Times Free Press is taking a closer look at the Chattanooga area's top five boys' teams and top five girls' teams to watch during the 2021-22 season, along with the key players who are pivotal to their success this winter as they seek deep runs in the GHSA and TSSAA playoffs.
1. LaFayette: The Ramblers are 123-16 over the past six seasons, and their current lineup is highlighted by reigning Best of Preps player of the year Aidan Hadaway (6-foot-8, 195 pounds), a senior guard who signed with Ohio University last month. Hadaway, who set the Ramblers' single-game scoring record with 48 points against Ridgeland this season, is hard to stop around the rim and has a sweet jumper from outside. He is the No. 16 prospect in Georgia for the class of 2022, according to 247Sports.com. Another key player is senior Jaret Barber Jr., who had 25 points and five 3-pointers in a win over North Murray last week.
2. McCallie: The Blue Tornado have playmakers all around the court, including a trio of seniors: Mercer-committed center David Craig (7-1, 270) has averaged 12 points, eight rebounds and two blocks per game while shooting 83% from the field this season; newcomer Milos Stijepovic (6-7, 200) is 20-for-52 from 3-point range; and guard Wilson Rankin (6-5, 175) can drive or score from outside. Guillaume Bogaert offers flashy passing and lockdown defense, while fellow junior Kollin Claridy brings elite athleticism and sophomore Parker Robison is a solid 3-point shooter and defender.
3. LFO: The Warriors won 23 games two seasons ago and are off to another strong start. Jamichael Davis (6-1, 155) has led Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe early by averaging 28.6 points, 13.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists, three steals and 1.8 blocks per game while shooting 63% from the field and 44% from 3-point range. Fellow junior Brent Bowman has been another big factor with averages of 20.2 points, six rebounds, five assists and 1.5 steals.
4. Notre Dame: Sophomore guard Cole McCormick (6-4, 185) could be on his way to a breakout season after making six 3-pointers in the first quarter of a 31-point performance against Collegedale Academy this week. That would bolster a lineup led by explosive forward Tim Vaughn, the region player of the year last season as a junior. The return of DJ Adams, Kenny Hammond and Christian Robinson also adds experience for coach Jonathan Adams' squad.
5. Christian Heritage: Super sophomores Jax Abernathy and Zundra Jackson are setting the tone for the Dalton program. Abernathy (6-4) is a creative scorer who does a little bit of everything for the Lions on the court and does it well; he had 23 points in a win over Cass this season and averaged 20.1 points and three steals last season. Jackson is a fleet-footed guard who can bury 3s in a hurry.
1. Bradley Central: Relentless defense helps one of the top TSSAA Class AAA threats get rolling, and that's been the case since Jason Reuter took charge as head coach of the Bearettes 12 years ago. Junior forward Hannah Jones has averaged 16.7 points while shooting 68% this season — she also chips in nearly two steals and a block per game — Sloan Carpenter and Ashlan Crittenden are tough defenders, and senior shooting guard Karsee Weber and others play their roles to a tee. The Bearettes are seeking the program's seventh state championship.
2. Ringgold: Led by seniors Rachel Lopez and Baileigh Pitts, coach Margaret Stockburger's team has played fantastic defense while allowing 31.8 points per game so far this season. Ringgold's senior class has been a part of 18-, 20- and 18-win seasons and looks capable of setting a new bar. Pitts is a versatile center, while Lopez's tenacity at guard can cause opponents frustration quickly.
3. McMinn Central: Chargerettes coach Johnny Morgan is quickly approaching 1,000 career wins with a team led by sophomore point guard Molly Massingale, a left-hander with great instincts on both ends of the court who has averaged 17 points, four steals, six rebounds and two assists this season. Senior Kellan Baker has averaged 14 points, and freshman Karina Bystry has also been a reliable scorer.
4. LFO: The Lady Warriors appear to have bounced back from an 0-19 campaign already, with their early highlights including a 47-41 triumph over Heritage, which beat them by a combined 61 points in two meetings last season. Two sets of siblings are among LFO's top contributors: Christen and Christina Collins and Angel and Princess Simmons.
5. Boyd Buchanan: The Lady Buccaneers have outscored opponents 118-28 in the first quarter of six wins. Dani Reeves is strong on the drive and recently scored a season-high 23 points, Jalisa Sanders is a creator at point guard and Sarah Durham, Allie McFarland, Riley Robertson and Jada Sanders have all helped a strong start.