Blue Devils to play at GHSA basketball camp

Azaria Smith is anticipated to be one of Tift County basketball’s leading returning players after making the varsity team as a freshman last season.

TIFTON — Tift County boys basketball will be in select company this weekend.

Starting today, the Blue Devils will be at the #NCAAGeorgia GHSA Team Camp, which takes place at McEachern, Wheeler and Marietta high schools in Cobb County. Play will be today, Saturday and Sunday.

A graphic shared on Twitter confirmed 150 schools would be attendance at this camp. Nearly all are from the northern half of the state, with only Americus-Sumter, Jeff Davis, Monroe of Albany, Pelham, Schley County, Thomasville, Tift and Savannah-based Woodville-Tompkins hailing from south of Macon.

Head coach Chris Wade’s Blue Devils go into Cobb County after winning 21 games in 2018-19, a Region 1-AAAAAAA championship and advancing to the state final four. Tift County won all of its region games during last season and 15 consecutive, dating back to January 2017. Last year’s victories included upsets over then-No. 1 Coffee, Wheeler and Discovery in the state tournament, the former seeing them overcome an 11-point deficit with five minutes remaining in the game.

Basketball ended in March for Tift and the 2019-20 season is to begin in November. Though summertime means a slowdown in activities for many schoolchildren, Tift County High has been constantly buzzing with activity. Wade’s Blue Devils started practice in early June. Then football started its conditioning drills. Wade won’t be losing time, however. Athletes who play both sports are getting a double dose of practice, football in the morning, hoops in the afternoon.

“We’ve had everyone there,” said Wade.

Tift County won its seventh consecutive Region 1 championship last February. Seven was not so lucky in another regard: The Devils graduated seven seniors from the roster, including two of their top three scorers, Marquavius Johnson and Tyree Marshall. Also lost were McKenzie Jackson, Ronald Jackson and Jameson Turner, three others who either started or saw significant playing time.

Tye Conner, Azaria Smith and Jatorion Warren will be the main returnees, according to Wade.

Warren is a junior with two years of varsity experience under his belt. He was a full-time starter last year after being a part-time starter as a freshman. A strong defensive presence inside, Warren’s offensive performance last year (343 points) and two seasons to go seem to indicate he will be the next 1,000-point scorer.

Smith will be but a sophomore on the roster. Even with a rotation as deep as Tift County’s he had a good amount of playing time. An all-around athlete, Smith is a candidate for quarterback and wide receiver in football and went to the state track meet in high jump last spring. Conner will be the big man in the middle. A third generation Blue Devil basketball player, he stands 6’6” and ,thanks to his role on the offensive line, is a muscular 300 pounds.

“We have a big upcoming 10 grade class,” Wade said. Besides Smith, Jarius Johnson is in this group as is Torrance Galmer. Coming up behind them is a massive group of 22 freshmen that is very athletic — and big. Wade said three or four from the group should end up 6’5” or taller. “This group has everything,” he said.

Though the season is still months away, Wade is planning Tift County’s biggest event of the winter, the McDonald’s Invitational. He said there will be two days of action this season, which is slated for the last week of December. This year’s McDonald’s Invitational will continue the Georgia-Florida matchups from a year ago.

Among the Georgia schools that might play are Tiftarea Academy, St. Anne-Pacelli, Brunswick, Coffee, Morgan County and Denmark, the latter being a second-year high school located in Forsyth County. Potential Florida schools are Boyd H. Anderson, South Miami, Rickards, Lincoln, and Kathleen.

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