ALBANY — At 6-foot-10, Alexander Johnson dominated inside and helped Dougherty High School to the Class AAAA boys state basketball championship in 2001.
On the same day, Westover blew away its competition, capturing the boys Class AAA state championship, its sixth in a 12-year span.
The 2001 season was the best of times in Dougherty County with two of its prized basketball programs garnering state titles. It seemed that winning championships was a rite of passage.
However, it has been more than a decade since any county public school has reached the pinnacle in the high school basketball world. It has been a mini-drought, and the dry spell has been even longer for girls basketball teams.
The Albany Lady Indians claimed back-to-back Class AA state titles in 1952 and ’53. However, no girls team has claimed a state title since, although Dougherty, Monroe and Westover have finished as state runner-ups during the past 25 years.
Girls programs at Monroe and Westover advanced to the state semifinals in 2012 and ’11, respectively.
“Winning a state title is something we all want here in Dougherty County,” Westover girls coach Lewis Smith said. “We just haven’t quite put everything together.”
Meanwhile, Dougherty County boys programs have not reached the ultimate prize since Johnson led Dougherty and Greg Tinch led Westover. Albany High coach Archie Chatmon said basketball fans were spoiled.
“God blessed this city and South Georgia with some unbelievable basketball talent in the late 1990s, early 2000s,” Chatmon said. “The talent was off the chain. All four local basketball teams in the city won 20-plus games while playing in the same region.”
In those days, it was nothing for 8,000 to 10,000 fans to pack the Albany Civic Center to watch basketball. Local gyms couldn’t handle the capacity crowds, and fans attended high school games more than they did college games at nearby Albany State.
Monroe boys coach Marquis Davis was an assistant at Dougherty in 2001. He said the talent level at all four public schools was second-to-none. While Westover and Dougherty garner most of the talk because they won titles, Monroe and Albany High were strong, too. Had it not been for Westover’s run in the 90s, it could have easily been Chatmon’s Indians who finished as state runner-up two times to Westover in 1990 and 1993.
“That talent level was hard to beat in those days,” Davis said. “I think the talent level is coming back. Albany basketball as a whole is always going to be competitive.”
Johnny Seabrooks, Dougherty County’s Director of Athletics, said the county’s state championship run that started more than two decades ago was special. However, he believes the county could see another dominating run in both boys and girls play soon.
“You look at some of the middle schools now,” Seabrooks said. “I think some of that is coming back. Back in the 1990s, some of those guys were middle schoolers who were then spotted on the high school teams. Several freshmen started and they played four full years of basketball. We’re seeing some inklings of that now.”
While the county hasn’t hoisted a championship, its teams are still very competitive. Last season, Westover made it to the third round in the Class AAAA tournament, falling to eventual champion Eagles Landing.
“Last year, if there was no Eagles Landing, that Westover team was capable of winning state,” Chatmon said. “But Albany schools are always going to be capable every year. We’re all very young right now.”
Seabrooks said a lot more goes into winning a title than just talent and coaching.
“A lot of times it depends on what bracket you fall in,” he said. “Then a lot of other variables come into effect.”
Chatmon said he isn’t sure if the city will ever see another run like it did in the 1990s.
“You don’t see that kind of run in places like Atlanta much less a small area like Albany,” he said. “That was something special.”
While basketball has been exciting to watch during the past decade, Dougherty County schools would like to find an oasis again soon.