Wheeler High School, located right outside Atlanta, Georgia, has been known for their basketball program for decades and the success has continued with current head coach, Larry Thompson. Famous alumni include Jaylen Brown, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, J.J. Hickson, Jelan Kendrick, Charles Mitchell, Amir Abdur-Rahim, and others.
Thompson is coming into his sixth season as the head coach at Wheeler High School. After winning a couple state championships over at Greenforest Christian (GA) in Atlanta, he has bought back two state championship banners back to the powerhouse program since he has been in charge.
I had a chance to speak with one of the nation’s best high school coaches recently. We spoke on the history and culture of the Wheeler program, his back-to-back state titles, next season, and more.
Wheeler basketball has been considered a historic program and former Wheeler head coach Doug Lipscomb started it all before retiring a few years ago. Larry Thompson has taken his place since then and I asked coach Thompson to just talk about the history and culture that has been set and how he has continued that brand of basketball.
“Super super rich tradition. Coach Doug did a number of tremendous things here during his time. People always say when you walk in a shoes of a legend it is really tough to do. I never looked at it that way. I looked at it that everyday is a challenge to better myself and the craft that has been chosen for me. While it is somewhat difficult to come behind a guy that won about 600+ games, it is a challenge everyday in itself.
The state of Georgia looks at Wheeler basketball as a staple for greatness. To be able to come in and learn, grow, make it my own, and run the program how I think it should run. Blue collar mentality, toughness, and defense. To be able to win two in the last five years, I think it is really big and step in the right direction. We are getting better and teaching young men how to compete on a daily basis, preparing themselves to be who they want to be in this game.” He replies.
Coach Thompson has shown his elite ability to run a program, winning back-to-back GHSA state championships in two different classifications. Wheeler captured the class 7A title over Grayson (GA) back in 2020 and captured the class 6A title over Kell (GA).
“That was big man. This place is known for winning. We played Grayson earlier in the season that year in December. I knew we matched up well, I knew we could defend, and score. We had to make sure we did not play their game, they had some dudes on that team. We were actually beating those guys and up by 15 at a point in time. Then some of the youth kicked in and Isaiah got a couple fouls with a few bad shots. I knew if we seen them again we could win the game. Some of the seniors that season, Nash Kelly, Prince Davies, Sam Hines, they led us to victory when we met them in the state title game. Jaylen Brown calls us after that game just saying how that state championship game reminded him of how he won back during his senior year.” Coach says regarding the 2020 state championship.
“It just goes to show that this a humbled place. The blue collar mentality that we kind of strive on. Work every single day, take nothing for granted, and get in the gym and just work. We have had some success over the last few seasons.” Larry continues to say.
The Wildcats could have easily made a run for their third straight GHSA state championship last season, but unfortunately was eliminated in the Elite 8 round and finishing their season with a 25-5 overall record. I asked Coach Thompson to just reflect on his last season squad.
“I thought we were good enough to make a run. Early on, I thought we would be a team that would be right there in the ranks, getting to a final four. We fell a game short. We ran into a really really hot and young at the time Grovetown (GA) team. I thought we were good enough to make a final four, and if we got there, experience can take over and coaches can take over. Overall, to win 25 games with a team that you did not know where most of their production was going to come from on a nightly basis, I thought we played well last season.” Coach Thompson answers.
Isaiah Collier, a highly rated 6-foot-3 point guard, is arguably the best point guard in the 2023 class and will be the headliner for this season’s Wheeler High School team once again coming into his senior season.
“It’s great to have a guy, who is highly regarded as he is, but still working and approaching the game on a daily basis. That dude is a hard worker, he is humble, he competes, and he makes everyone around him better. His calling card is to get better every single day. The younger guys, and it crazy to say he is one of the older guys now, see that how he carries himself and want to follow that trend.
Having him has been great the last three years. Going into his senior year we want to win state. I think we will be able to see just how special and talented he is this season. He will be the main focal point on everybody’s scouting report and he will get to prove the “ranking” this season as we play a national schedule.” Larry says regarding Isaiah Collier.
Georgia basketball has had a plethora of next level talent come out of the state over the last few years. Guys like Jaylen Brown, Chuma Okeke, Wendell Carter Jr., Collin Sexton, Anthony Edwards, Brandon Boston Jr., Sharife Cooper, Jabari Smith Jr., Walker Kessler, Scoota Henderson, and others have been representatives of Georgia basketball at the next level.
“Georgia man, this state is just really rich when it comes to basketball. To see this generation of guys, I don’t think it is a more talented or rich state in terms of basketball right now. We are pumping out dude after dude after dude and at various different schools, they are all over the state. I think 7A has had four or five different state champions, showing there are dudes at all different places. The talent in the state is incredible and even at lower levels like Pace Academy. It is great basketball being played all over the state and I don’t think any other state is even close from top to bottom. We hoop in the Peach State.” Coach Thompson says praising Georgia basketball as a whole.
Wheeler is expected to be one of the best teams in Georgia once again this season and will also be one of the top teams in the country heading into 2022-2023. The Wildcats are currently ranked in the preseason top-25 nationally according to the High School Circuit.
“Coming off of a 25-win season and you only lose two guys, of course it will be high expectations. Kids want to be apart of winning situations. We have had guys shown interest in playing for us. We have a kid coming in, Josh Hill, a 6-foot-10 kid out of North Carolina. I think the sky is the limit for him because he is so long and athletic and he can fit right in with Isaiah and Arrinten. We will be a team that will at least be two deep at every position and with our youth.
We will be senior heavy with three juniors and couple freshmen that have already made great strides with this team during the summer. The depth and talent is there. Guys have to give up the “me” for the “we” and guys have to learn how to compete everyday defensively. I think if we do that, with the veteran leadership we have, we have an opportunity to be pretty good in the state and the nation.” Coach Thompson says when speaking on the expectation of this year’s team.