From left, Lee County wrestler Colton Grove, Dougherty basketball player Ra'Keta Shelton, Monroe basketball player Jabari McGhee, Westwood girls basketball coach Jenni Smith and Seminole County boys basketball coach Kevin Godwin take home top honors in this year's Herald Winter Sports Awards.
There were those moments — those high-flying, hold-your-breath moments — when Monroe’s Jabari McGhee would simply dazzle the crowd.
“He’s a highlight,’’ Monroe coach Marquis Davis said. “He can finish.’’
McGhee, who put on one rim-rattling dunk show after another this season, finished a remarkable career at Monroe, where he scored more than 1,200 points and emerged as a leader for the Tornadoes.
McGhee, a two-time Herald Super 6er, was a clear choice for The Herald’s Willie Boston Boys Player of the Year in basketball.
“It’s great to win this,’’ McGhee said. “It was a pretty good year. We got over that first round hump in the playoffs, and I got over the 1,000 point mark. I really wanted to win a state championship at Monroe, but it was a good year.’’
Monroe became the first team in the history of The Herald’s Fab 5 Poll to go wire-to-wire as the No. 1-ranked team in Southwest Georgia, and McGhee was the biggest reason. During that stretch of staying No. 1, Monroe played its biggest rival, Westover, three times in the regular season, and in every showdown Westover was ranked No. 2 in the Fab 5 poll.
McGhee took over those three games, scoring 84 points (28 points per game) and grabbing 35 rebounds. He was a leader on and off the court.
“He was our leader this year,’’ Davis said. “Last summer he kind of took the team on his shoulders and decided to lead them as far are they could go.’’
McGhee said it was important to him to emerge as the leader.
“I wanted to be the leader and lead the team the right way. It’s something I wanted to do,’’ said McGhee, a three-year starter at Monroe who even started some as a freshman.
McGhee added: “It was important to me to show people how dedicated I was to my team. I always put the team first.’’
That didn’t mean that McGhee didn’t take over games. He did. He wasn’t just Monroe’s leading scorer and rebounder, averaging a double-double for the season, but he was the go-to guy, and everyone knew it. At times McGhee would go coast-to-coast and end the drive with a dramatic dunk. And other times he would take over with a streak of points and rebounds to lift Monroe.
“If you are supposed to be that player and if your teammates put that trust in you, then you have to deliver,’’ McGhee said. “You can’t be scared of the moment. You’re going to make some of those shots and you’re going to miss some, but you have to be the one to take them.’’
He literally had to wait for the chance to lead at Monroe, where the Tornadoes have been one of the most dominating teams in Southwest Georgia for the past four years.
“I had to wait my turn to be the leader,’’ McGhee said. “I learned a lot from Rantavious Gilbert, Ted Hosley and Robert Arnold, who were leaders at Monroe.’’
McGhee, who has qualified academically for college and wants to major in sports medicine, still hasn’t made up his mind where to sign. He has narrowed his list to Auburn, Mississippi, Troy and Murray State. Georgia and a long list of other schools were interested.
“I’m taking my time,’’ McGhee said. “I want to make the right decision.’’
McGhee has improved every year at Monroe, and Davis believes McGhee has a bright future.
“He’s been productive for four years,’’ Davis said. “It’s very seldom you get a guy who is productive for four years. He began starting as a 10th-grader, and ever since then the sky has been the limit for him. He broke out his sophomore year, and he has gotten better. He has improved in all categories this year.
“He kind of filled up the stat sheet this year and had a double-double for the year, and he was better in every category. He had more blocks and more assists. He knows the game. He has a pretty good IQ of the game.’’
McGhee finished the season averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds a game. He also averaged two blocked shots and four assists and led Southwest Georgia in dunks.
“He’s definitely a highlight,’’ said Davis of McGhee’s high-wire act. “One of his best attributes is he can finish in the open court. That’s what teams are looking for. I think he will (get better) at the next level. As he goes on he will be a whole lot better.’’
When McGhee surpassed the 1,000-point mark this year, Davis said McGhee was “Among the elite at Monroe.’’
McGhee’s best memories of the season include Monroe getting past the first round of the playoffs — a hump the Tornadoes have had trouble with in recent years. And he takes pride in surpassing 1,000 points, but most of all, McGhee looks back on his relationship with his team.
“The thing I remember is my teammates and the way we came together as a team this year,’’ he said. “We played so hard together. That was one of the best parts of the season, the team, the way we came together.’’
Player of the Year Runner-up
T.J. Cromer, Westover, Senior
Why he’s here: He averaged 23.3 points and six rebounds per game and handed out five assists while averaging two steals a night. He was Westover’s leader and helped the Patriots reach the Sweet 16, where they fell to eventual state champ Eagles Landing.
Ramello Carter, DWS, Senior
Why he’s here: He averaged 19 points, four rebounds and five assists a game and was even better in the state playoffs, averaging 27 points a night to lead DWS to the GISA Class AAA state title game. He was an All-State player and the POY in Region 3-AAA, and his performance in the state semifinal comeback win was unforgettable as he scored 16 points during DWS’s 21-0 run that ended the game and lifted the Knights into the state finals.
Kel Miller, Westover, Senior
Why he’s here: He averaged 20 points and six rebounds per game while handing out 2.5 assists and making 2.8 steals steals and blocking at least one shot a game.
Gary McRae, Randolph-Clay, Sophomore
Why he’s here: He averaged 20 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.5 blocks, 4 steals and 3.5 assists per game. He was a GACA All-State player and the Co-Player of the Year in Region 1-A, and he led the Red Devils to the Elite 8 round of the Class A state playoffs, where R-C lost to eventual state champ Wilkinson County by five points.
Jordan Harris, Seminole County, Freshman
Why he’s here: He averaged 14.6 points and 9.4 rebounds per game and helped lead the Indians to the Elite 8 round of the Class A state playoffs. He also averaged 4.5 assists, 3.7 steals and 3.1 blocks, and shot 48 percent from the field and 87 percent from the free throw line. He had 19 double-doubles and one triple-double, which came in the Elite 8 game against Jenkins County when Harris scored 25 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and handed out 10 assists. He also had eight blocks in that game.
Jermaine Hartsfield, Mitchell County, Senior
Why he’s here: He was the Co-Player of the Year in Region 1-A and averaged 11 points and 12 rebounds per game. He also handed out three assists and averaged three steals while leading the Eagles to the Elite 8 round of the state playoffs.
Jaquan Williams, Mitchell County, Senior
Why he’s here: He averaged nine points, three steals, five assists and four rebounds and was a big reason Mitchell advanced to the Elite 8 round of the Class A state playoffs.
Dontavious Marshall, Bainbridge, Senior
Why he’s here: He averaged 17 points and 4.6 assists and was the floor leader for the Bearcats.
Darrien Anderson, Monroe, Senior
Why he’s here: He averaged 11 points, four assists and three steals per game and was a big reason Monroe had such an impressive year as the Tornadoes became the first team in the history of the Herald’s Fab 5 Poll to go wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in Southwest Georgia.
Jamal Martin, Seminole County, Freshman
Why he’s here: He averaged 12.3 points and 3.6 rebounds and was a big reason Seminole emerged as a power this season. The Indians won their first Region 1-A title since 2001 and advanced to the Class A Elite 8 round of the state playoffs.
Javoris Cooks, Crisp County, Junior
Why he’s here: He was the leader for the Cougars and averaged 14.4 points and three rebounds per game. He made 47 3-pointers.
Shydarius Williams, Pelham, Senior
Why he’s here: He led Pelham to the Region 1-AA title and was the leader on a well-balanced team, averaging 12 points