Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- If anyone wants to know why they're holding the 3rd annual Deep South All-Star High School Basketball Classic tonight at Darton College, just ask the organizer, Herman Porter.

"They love basketball in Albany,'' Porter said Friday. "Think about it, you can't even get in the gym when Monroe and Westover play.''

Imagine Monroe's Robert Arnold and Brandon Johnson on the same team with Westover's Onochie Ochie and Chris Wheeler.

Or how about Westover's Shevren Keaton sharing the same backcourt with Dougherty's Arabian Williams? Are there two quicker guards in the state of Georgia?

And anyone who knows anything about girls high school basketball knows the combo of Randolph-Clay's Destiny Mitchell and Bainbridge's Alexis Burke can match up with just about any pair in this part of the country.

Mitchell is still being courted by a long list of schools, including St. John's, which just jumped into the mix this week, and Burke turned down a ton of offers before signing with Illinois. But not everyone has a college scholarship, and that's what this game is about -- at least in part.

"This game gives the kids exposure they wouldn't have,'' said Albany girls coach Telly Turner, who is coaching the girls South Team. "I remember when I played, I went to the North-South All-Star Game, but there was nothing like this in this part of the state. This is great for the players to have this game.''

Porter, a well-known AAU coach based in Columbus, said there were nine college coaches at the games last year, and he expects about the same for tonight's game.

"The best thing about the game is the exposure for the colleges to see these kids,'' Porter said. "It gives the kids a chance to play in front of college coaches and it gives them one last hurrah.''

And for the fans?

"They love the slam-dunk contest,'' Porter admitted.

The girls game starts at 7:15 p.m., and will be followed by a slam-dunk contest and a 3-point shooting contest -- though contestants for both won't be decided on until tonight. The boys game, meanwhile, is expected to start about 8:45 p.m.

The South teams, coached by Turner and Monroe's boys coach Marquis Davis, are made up of players from the Albany metro area. The North teams, coached by Thomasville boys coach Ben Tillman and Thomasville Lady Bulldogs coach Thomas McAboy, are made up of players from Albany's surrounding area in Southwest Georgia, stretching from Americus to Cairo.

The players, all seniors, were chosen from nominations by coaches and The Albany Herald sports staff, and include stars from both the GHSA public schools and the GISA private schools.

Deerfield-Windsor had two players on the South's roster in Reggie Brown and Michael Matthews, but Porter said Friday that Matthews will have to sit out after suffering an injury playing baseball this week.

"This is probably the best group we've ever had,'' Porter said of this year's field of players compared to the last two years. "Because of the size and the guard play. Just look at these players. You've got Arabian Williams, Robert Arnold, Brandon Johnson, Onochie Ochie, Alre'k Brown.''

Then he stopped and took a breath.

"All these kids can play,'' he said. "It's great for the fans. "They get to see all these kids play at one time together. They love it.''

The price of admission is $10. For more information, call Porter at (706) 329-4442.