When North Murray High School’s boys basketball team lost in the second round of the Class 3A state tournament this season, Woodward Academy coach Anthony Thomas had major praise for Mountaineers senior center Zach Vess.
Lots of other coaches were impressed with Vess, as well.
Vess was one of 24 players selected to play in the boys senior game at the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association All-Star Basketball Showcase on Saturday at Savannah’s Armstrong Atlantic State University. The senior boys will tip off at 7 p.m. and Vess will play for the North squad, which is made up of players from regions 5, 6, 7 and 8 for all six Georgia High School Association classifications. The South team is made up of players from regions 1, 2, 3 and 4 for all classifications.
North Murray coach Tim Ellis said the teams were picked in January. Although North Murray had not yet faced Woodward Academy, Thomas — who was on the all-star selection committee — knew Vess was a standout. The 6-foot-5-inch Mountaineer gave Thomas no reason to change his mind on Feb. 23, when the host Wildcats won 48-39 but Vess finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds.
“(Thomas) after the game said, ‘He really deserves to be a part of that team. He’s all that he’s advertised for,’” Ellis recalled.
“This is the biggest game being put on at the state level.”
The honor is special to Ellis and Vess for another reason as well.
“Zach was very proud, very excited about the opportunity,” Ellis added. “Him being way up here in North Georgia, we don’t get a lot of publicity. That was a big accomplishment for him, to get recognized.”
Vess will head down on Friday for an afternoon practice, plus another one Saturday before the game, and he’ll definitely be getting to know some new faces as the only representative from the area.
His teammates include players from state championship squads Greenforest Christian (Class A) and Miller Grove (5A), but none from Region 5-3A champion Cartersville or Gordon Central, which finished third in the region — one spot behind North Murray, which advanced to the state tournament for the second straight season and picked up the first state tournament victory in program history with a 69-58 win against Hart County in the opening round. The North team will be coached by Athens Christian School’s Ron Link.
The South team, which is coached by Ricky McCullough, will include players from state champions Eagles Landing (4A).
“It’s good to play against some other people and see some other talent from around the state,” Vess said. “It’s an honor for sure. These guys don’t mess around. It’s a solid group of athletes.”
Vess averaged 22.3 points and 15.2 rebounds per game, the best for his team in both categories. But in this game, Vess acknowledged it might unfold similar to the NBA All-Star game, with little defense and lots of opportunities for individual players to stand out.
“I’m going to play defense,” he said. “A lot of guys don’t play defense in these all-star games, like you see in the NBA. I’ll be playing defense, though.
“If I get on a few fast breaks myself, I’ll try and throw some down myself.”