Columbia County has never been described as a girl's basketball hotbed.
In fact, until Lakeside in 2002-03 and Greenbrier last season, we really haven't had much success on the hardwood. All of that may be changing, thanks to a solid core of young players and a new feeder system that is starting to pay off.
The Georgia Sting AAU Basketball program, which is run by Billy Jackson and is made up almost entirely of Columbia County players. Jackson began to form a summer program a few years ago and admittedly they took their lumps.
"A couple of years ago we really had a tough time, but the girls are starting to play so good," said Jackson.
Jackson, who owns The Tile Center and runs the store on Reynolds Street, has a vested interest in Columbia County girls basketball.
His daughter, Brooke, is one of the key members of his program and played on the varsity at Greenbrier as a ninth-grader in 2003-04. The Sting's 15-and- under team also features Greenbrier freshman phenom Michelle Sweic and Wolfpack sharpshooter Tiffany Blackburn.
Greenbrier isn't the only school represented.
Evans rising star Lauren Middleton, ARC freshman standout Brittany Jones and eighth-grade talent Kaylyn Small of Langford Middle School also play. Jones and Small are the only members of the team who do not hail from Columbia County.
Other team members inlcude Alex Cassagnol, Kelsy Sharon, Megan Mazur, Suzannah Jenkins and Janay Moore.
Jackson is quick to point out that there are no superstars on this team. "They all play a lot and help the team be successful," Jackson said.
Members of the Georgia Sting AAU Basketball program won the State Division II Championship and will play in the National Championships in Orlando, Florida, in July.
He and this group of young people are helping to put Columbia County girls basketball on the map. This summer the team has played in four prestigious tournaments, setting an overall record of 12-4 and capturing two tournament titles.
One of those tournament victories came this last weekend in the Georgia State Tournament, where the Sting captured the State Division II Championship by rolling through the tournament with a perfect 5-0 and winning by an average of 20 points per game.
In the title game, the Sting knocked off the Atlanta Warriors, a team that a couple of years ago would have laughed at the idea of losing to a Columbia County team.
Well, the rest of the state is laughing no more. The 15-and-under squad is a special group.
"They are so unselfish. I really don't have starters or key players. I just rotate players in, and they play as a team," said Jackson. "In these type of tournaments you cannot get by with five players. You have to have nine or 10 players who can play key minutes."
In addition to that state title, the Sting also captured the YBOA Cherokee Classic which is a huge tournament in the basketball-crazy Cherokee County area just north of Atlanta.
Also for a second straight year, The Sting will play in the AAU National Championships in Orlando, Fla. in July. The event is held at Disney's impressive Wide World of Sports Complex and draws most of the premier women's college coaches in America.
Jackson has big plans for Georgia Sting Basketball. In addition to the 15- and-under team, they also have 14-and-under and 13-and-under teams.
Eventually he would like to field a 12-and-under team as well. "We are competing with teams that started playing in an AAU program when they were 10 years old and that gives them a huge head start, so we have to get these girls started younger," said Jackson.
So congratulations to the Georgia Sting - Georgia State AAU Champs!
If you are interested in additional information on the Georgia Sting AAU Program, call 863-8783 or check out their Web site at www.georgiasting.com.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.