Kings of Their Court

The Social Circle High School boys’ basketball team took friends, classmates, teachers and an entire community on an adventure of a lifetime during a breathtaking five-month campaign that saw the Redskins bring home their first region championship in 40 years and make the impossible seem possible. 

by Brian Knapp

Taylor Jackson stood near center court at The Complex in Valdosta and held a crestfallen KJ Reid, one of five graduating seniors for the Social Circle boys’ basketball team. It was an enduring and powerful image that said everything about how the third-year head coach feels about his players and how they feel about him. Moments after their historic season reached its unceremonious conclusion, they were there for each other one more time.

The Redskins ran out of road on March 5, when they lost 70–66 in overtime to Drew Charter Academy in the Georgia High School Association Class A State Tournament semifinals. They entered the game as the only undefeated team in Georgia at any classification, as they had gone a perfect 30–0 to that point and clinched the school’s first region championship in 40 years. The sudden finality of their last game ending in defeat was difficult to stomach. In the locker room afterward, Jackson was confronted by a mixture of disbelief and sorrow.

PHOTO BY: Miller Mama Photos

“Through my tears, I told them that it was OK to cry, that this was crushing,” he said. “I told them that I loved them and that I was so thankful they trusted me to coach them; and I told the seniors that I wish we had one more game. Then I prayed with them.”

The result would have been heart-wrenching enough had it been just. However, Drew Charter had been awarded two phantom points by the GHSA official scorer in the first half. The two separate scoring errors—which were later confirmed by video replay—were addressed at the time they occurred, but pleas to correct them were brushed aside. The game was locked in a 56–56 tie at the end of regulation when, in actuality, Drew Charter had scored two fewer points than the Redskins. Overtime should not have been played, and Social Circle should have advanced to play Warren County in the state final. An official appeal was denied and repeated calls for the GHSA to rectify the situation fell on deaf ears. 

“It was super special because we grew up together, all of us. We didn’t go out and recruit nobody. We just stayed together, played together and played hard.”

Tyrhell Branch

So it was that a remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime team saw its glorious story end in a most inglorious fashion. However, the events that came before the Drew Charter debacle were far too rich and memorable to get overshadowed by bureaucratic oversight. 

Social Circle won 25 of its 30 games by double figures, 16 of them—including the Region 8-A championship game against Towns County—by 30 points or more. The Redskins surpassed the 100-point plateau three different times, highlighted by a school-record 114 in a 78-point blowout of Atlanta Classical Academy in the first round of the state playoffs. Perhaps most importantly, they galvanized an entire community. By the time the team reached the postseason, school officials were having to turn people away at the door, the 700-seat gym having swelled beyond its capacity. “I saw people at the games I hadn’t seen in 20 years,” said Kevin Brooks, a 1991 graduate of Social Circle High School. The student section pulsed with activity and spirit, its “Start the Buses” chant often echoing between the four walls.

“We needed the fans,” Reid said. “They just bring more energy.”

No one benefitted more from the experience than the players themselves, their efforts led by those five battle-seasoned seniors: Reid, Tyrhell Branch, Cam Gaither, Amarion Russell and Trey Douglass. The group formed unbreakable bonds, winning 86 games over four years in the process. Russell selflessly accepted a more limited role with the rise of junior Lamarius Jackson, and Douglass, despite spending much of the season on the shelf with a knee injury, remained a presence in the locker room, at practice and on the bench. Reid, Branch and Gaither—who have played basketball together since Pre-K—were All-State selections in their final season together, with Reid and Branch both surpassing the 1,000-point mark for their careers. They put the program on the map and took a small town along for the ride.

“It was super special because we grew up together, all of us,” Branch said. “We didn’t go out and recruit nobody. We just stayed together, played together and played hard.”

“I think we were a one-of-a-kind group because we’ve been knowing each other since we were babies,” Gaither said. “That did nothing but help us build strong chemistry, which translated to the court and helped us get where we got.”

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Social Circle will return a talented team in 2022–23. It includes Lamarius and his identical twin brother Quindarius, defensive dynamo Phillip “Petey” Baynes, sharpshooters Jaylin Robinson and Parker Dial, Dashon Hyman and 6-foot-6 center AJ Vinson. The Redskins will likely be favored to win their second straight region championship and once again advance deep into the state playoffs. When the time comes, they will call upon the events
of March 5, 2022 as inspiration to ensure the legacy of those departing the program lives on. 

“They are already motivated,” Jackson said. “These guys see how close we are to creating a sustainable program that expects to win region and compete at state year in and year out. I’ve already had requests to get in the gym after school.” 

Click here to read more stories by Brian Knapp.

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