Greenforest wins fourth state title

Greenforest Academy took down Kings Ridge Academy 61-52 in the GHSA 1A – Private Boys’ Basketball State Championship game March 12 in Macon.

The win gave Greenforest its fourth state championship and the first it has won under head coach Rory Griffin.

The 1A – Private State Championship game was back and forth from start to finish. Greenforest had the defense, athleticism, and scoring power to put together scoring runs, but most of the runs were answered by big shot-making from Kings Ridge.

“We found a way today. I love this community, and it was a family win,” said Griffin. “Give it up to Kings Ridge. They knew they had to come in and make shots, and that’s exactly what he did.”

Kings Ridge was 10-29 from three-point range against Greenforest, while the Eagles went 0-9.

Greenforest didn’t shoot much from three against Kings Ridge, which is expected with two 7-foot players on the team in Dhiakuei Manyiel Dut and Gai Chol Atem, but it was still the clutch play down the stretch from senior guards Jalen Forrest and Florian Tenebay that secured the win. 

“They’ve been carrying us all year. We get a lot of conversations about our big kids, but [Forrest and Tenebay] are the ones who carry us year after year, game after game,” said Griffin. “We know, when the game is on the line, you put it in [Forrest’s] hands or [Tenebay’s] hands. Something good will happen. I couldn’t be prouder of those guys.”

Greenforest took a 26-24 lead over Kings Ridge at halftime, and Kings Ridge didn’t quiet down in the second half. The game featured six lead changes and seven ties.

The last tie came with about five minutes left to play, with Kings Ridge knotting the game at 50, but that was the last answer that Kings Ridge had.

Forrest then sandwiched a dunk from senior Jaylen Peterson with four points of his own to give Greenforest a 56-50 lead that it never looked back from.

“I just had to hit those. I had to lift my team over the hump,” Forrest said about his late game shots. “I stayed composed and did what I had to for my team.”

Peterson’s defensive abilities also helped spark Greenforest’s late game run. Griffin switched to a defense that featured Peterson at the top, disrupting passing lanes with his length. Players such as Forrest and Tenebay took advantage of the turnovers.

“It started on the defensive end and that’s what led to the offense. Once we settled down on the defensive end, flying around, getting steals, and converting, they couldn’t do too much with us. We just took off,” said Forrest.

“That’s what [Peterson] does with his length and tenacity,” added Griffin. “I was trying to wait as long as I could before switching defenses, because those guys were shooting lights out.”

Kings Ridge tried returning the favor by setting traps for Greenforest’s guards, but the senior backcourt of the Eagles was once again too much to handle. Griffin said he simply left it up to Forrest and Tenebay.

“What [Forrest] said was ‘do not call a timeout when they trap me. I got this,’ and right there, when he came through it, he said “I told you coach,” explained Griffin. “Hats off to him, he’s a four-year kid. I’m going to miss him.”

“It’s in his bloodline,” Griffin added. “His dad, his brother there are just superstars in their family. He’s so poised though. You see it. He never gets high, he never gets low.”

Jalen Forrest (1) led all players from DeKalb in Macon with 26 points. Photos by Jay Phillips

Forrest’s father—James Forrest—was a McDonald’s All-American at Southside, now Maynard Jackson, High School. His brother Justin Forrest won multiple state championships at Greenforest and is now at Appalachian State University.

It was the first state championship for Griffin as Greenforest’s head coach, but the team came close to winning the last two. Greenforest fell to eventual state champion St. Francis Academy in the state championship in 2020 and in the semifinals in 2021.

An experienced senior class and a tough schedule this year prepared them for a hard-fought state championship, according to Forrest.

“Me and Flo, we’ve played so many games with each other, we know each other’s play and how to get each other going. We got aggressive and it paid off for us in the end,” said Forrest. “Those prepared us to see everything. This year, our schedule was tough the whole year to prepare us for this.”

Forrest led all scorers with 26 points and Tenebay had 17. Greenforest finished the season 28-4 and on a 24-game winning streak.

The win marked Greenforest’s first state championship in basketball since 2017 and the fourth state title in program history. All four of Greenforest’s state titles have been won since 2013.

“It means so much,” added Forrest. “Words can’t describe it. I had to win. I’m so proud of my team, and so proud of myself. We deserve this.”

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