The Morgan County Bulldogs will get tested this week. Like really tested. Putting their undefeated record on the line against two highly ranked AAAAAAA teams in Meadowcreek (number six) Monday and Newton (number five) Saturday will give the boys some big-time competition to say the least. On top of that, the team will go on the road to take on 8-AAA foes Jackson County Tuesday and Franklin County Friday.
The week starts off on Martin Luther King Holiday vs. the Mustangs at Morehouse College in a venue that will also feature Newton playing Warner Robbins (number one in AAAAA) in another high profile game. The Dogs will come into Monday at 17-0. Can they keep that unblemished record intact with the quality of teams they will be playing? We hope so.
The Newton game is not on either school’s original schedule. It is taking the place of games that both teams had cancelled due to weather back in December. It’s a game that will pit two of the state’s most elite programs against one another in the Dog House. Morgan has been to the AAA finals four straight times coming away with two state championships. The Rams have finished the past two seasons in the Elite Eight and Final Four, losing to the eventual state champs in the highest classification in Georgia.
Newton’s Ashton Hagans is the spark plug that runs the Ram engine. The five-star junior guard is averaging 19 points, 11 assists, and 8 rebounds for his 15-3 team. At 6-4 he is currently ranked as the number two point guard in the country and recently committed to the University of Georgia. Some analysts compare his play to that of John Wall of the NBA or Jason Kidd in that he can score, see the floor, and defend. Coach Rick Rasmussen said this about his star, “Ashton is projected by some to be at number 11 in the NBA draft after one year at Georgia. He’s athletic, a great passer and defender with anticipation, has an improved jumper, and impacts the game on both ends of the floor. He will graduate from here as the most talented we’ve ever seen and the obvious assist leader. He scored his 1000th point on December 28th of this season.” Teammates Dre Butler and Armani Harris add scoring and rebounding to Rasmussen’s juggernaut. All five starters are averaging in double figures in scoring output, and give Newton one of the most potent offenses in the state averaging 80 points per outing while holding opponents to 59 points.
Rasmussen’s resume reads like a future Hall-of-Famer. That’s no surprise. He spent seven years learning from two of the best, Ron Bradley (the winningest coach in Georgia High School history) and veteran Billy Hendricks. His 76% winning percentage (274-87) over his 13 years at the helm of the program stacks up with the best in the state. Rasmussen has won numerous Coach-of-the-Year Awards, grabbed four Region Championships, made the State Tournament seven times, been to either the Final Four or Elite Eight five times, and in 2003 was named the AFLAC National Assistant Coach-of-the-Year. Let’s just say he’s been hard to beat over that time.
The three losses that Newton has on their record this season came by a combined seven points. According to Max Preps, they have one of the highest strengths of schedule in the state. They lost to Trinity Catholic Private School, the projected number one team in Kentucky that sports three Division-I prospects and the number one sophomore in the state by five. The other two were one point losses to Grayson and Mountain View, both ranked in the top 10 in class 7A.
Rasmussen said, “It’s going to be a tough week for us. Morgan County will be another great test for us in a great environment. Our team this year is different for us in that we only have one returning starter. I look forward to playing Morgan. It will be a game between two great programs east of Atlanta that will help us get ready for the region and state tournaments coming up.”
The game will have a reciprocal matchup next season where the Dogs will travel to Covington for a rematch of the two teams. Included in Saturday’s games will be the Newton-Morgan girls starting at 4:30 followed by a game between two more Georgia top-tier teams at 6:00. East Hall will face off with Jenkins in that one before the Rams-Bulldogs nightcap at 7:30. Newton’s girls are 14-2 and leading their region as well.
Just how good are the Dogs? Will they back down from these titans? Will they be able to defend against the talent and size? Will they be intimidated? You can bet your boots they won’t and can. Can Coop, Quin, KJ, and the boys keep it close on the boards. Can they put a stop to an all-world player heading to the pros? Can we get it done in transition? Can we give the Rams a run for their money? I believe in this team so I say yes, yes, yes, and yes! I’m going with my heart in this one. Morgan 68-Newton 67 in a squeaker. And, I hope it goes into triple overtime. That would be heaven. Can I get an Amen? Go Dogs!