Last night, I was lucky enough to travel to Buford, Georgia to see a major game in high school basketball. The Buford Lady Wolves - #2 ranked at the AA level - lost 48-37 to the Wesleyan Lady Wolves, the #1 team from A ball in Georgia.
Not only are these teams state ranked, they're nationally ranked as well. According to the Powerade Girls Basketball Fab 50 rankings at ESPN RISE, Buford was ranked the #13 team in the country with Wesleyan ranked #49. (The other nationally-ranked girls squad in Georgia is #19 Norcross.) For those that don't follow prep ball, you might have read about the Atlanta Dream coming to visit Buford on Pro Day.
Buford is led by 5-8 junior Andraya Carter and 6-2 sophomore Kaela Davis, both of whom have already committed to Tennessee. Against the two blue-chip players from Buford, Wesleyan's talent was more evenly distributed, led by 6-4 junior Kaelyn Causwell.
It has been a very, very long time since I've seen a high school basketball game and I thought it would look much like the gym I remembered growing up with. I went to high school in the 1980s, and the gyms were dingy and industrial looking and I imagined a few bored spectators sitting around. Color me surprised when I got to Buford High School! The recessed gym at Buford is smaller than my high school gym was but it was bright, clean and impressive looking. At the ground floor level - the gym is below ground floor - there is a concessions counter and several tables, and customers can look down into the expanse of the gym to watch the game from on high.
There's a lot of game to watch. Buford's Lady Wolves have won back-to-back girls state championships. Their pedigree in football and softball is nothing short of outstanding and it would take you five minutes to reel off everything the (Gentleman) Wolves and Lady Wolves have won, all of which is helpfully inscribed on the gym wall. As for the crowd, the place was packed, almost shoulder-to-shoulder. It appeared that the Buford-Wesleyan game was part of a triple-header, sandwiched between a boys junior varsity game and a boys varsity game...and it looked like some Buford fans were going to stay for all three games.
Norcross is not very far from Buford and Wesleyan - a private Christian school - had more than their share of supporters making the trip and occupying a quarter of Buford's gym. Other than that, the crowd seemed to be mostly local but there were a few exceptions outside of myself. I could swear (but I can't prove) that I saw a few Tennessee supporters in the crowd dressed in orange, undoubtedly making the trip to cheer on their newest acquisitions. I know for a fact that the coach of a Division I mid-major was there (he was wearing his school's shirt) to scout out a player on the Wesleyan side.
So who would win? Would blue-star talent (Buford) beat the team ethic (Wesleyan)? And what would the game be like?
First, for those going to see high school ball after a lifetime of college and pro ball, let's get the truth out there right away - high school ball will look more ragged than anything you've seen before. Buford isn't going to be able to break Georgia Tech's pressing defense. Kaelyn Causwell is not going to bang with Sancho Lyttle and Erika de Souza in the post. Many of the players on girls high school teams end up in Division II or Division III and for the most part the emphasis is on fundamentals - these players are unfinished.
The rules are also different. At least in A-AA, we have eight minute quarters and no shot clock. I wondered by teams just didn't stall whenever they had a comfortable ball, and then I realized that a good press could probably squelch any attempt to break out the four corners.
Before the game, Andraya Carter was honored for scoring her 1,000th point at Buford...but that would be the high point of Buford's night. Wesleyan went to the box-and-one on defense and had senior guard Grace Leah Baughn trailing Carter for most of the game. When it wasn't Baughn it was usually two other players and Carter never got out of the gate, held to just nine points according to a writeup on the Wesleyan Lady Wolves website. Wesleyan led 15-1 to start and even though Buford closed it to within three at one point the early Wesleyan lead was just too big to erase. Kaelyn Causwell had 11 rebounds for the Lady Wolves.
Would I go back again? Of course! For those who want to see a good game on the cheap (cost to me - $5), you need to check out your state high school basketball web site (mine is ga.prepcountry.com). There's so much to see in women's basketball - Euroball, pro ball, college ball, high school ball - that you can find the level and price that you're comfortable with and you can have a great time. February is a busy time for the college game and I don't know when I'll get out to Buford (or Wesleyan or Norcross) again, but it was definitely worth the visit.