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The best game that some saw

An oral history of the 1995 Thomson-Westside basketball game

Westside's Ricky Moore guards Thomson's Vonteego Cummings.
Westside's Ricky Moore guards Thomson's Vonteego Cummings. Photo by Eric Olig.

In Augusta, it’s simply known as “The Game.”

Attendance is a badge of honor for the town’s old guard.

To say you were there means something. It separates you from the embellishers and fibbers who cobbled together an incomplete retelling from newspaper reports and secondhand recaps.

Given the technology at our fingertips today, it’s hard to process that there isn’t readily available footage of it out there. In 1995, there were no iPhones, no YouTube, no Twitter. If you weren’t there, you didn’t see it. Simple as that.

The only way to experience The Game was to have actually been there.

All this game featured were the top two teams in the state. And four future professional players on the court. And a double overtime thriller. And a loser-goes-home matchup with a spot in the state tournament on the line.

Now, 25 years later, it’s time to learn the stories behind The Game and the remarkable hype leading up to it. I tracked the key players from the game to relive one of the greatest high school basketball games in Georgia history.

“As good as anybody and better than most.”

Westside had roared through the season as the No. 1 team in Class AAA, earning a spot in the prestigious USA Today national high school rankings. The team was buoyed by senior guard Ricky Moore, a UConn signee who was ranked as one of the state’s top three prospects (with future NBA star Shariff Abdur-Raheem of Wheeler leading the way his senior season), and sophomore guard William Avery, who would eventually play at Duke. The team also had “Big” Mike Cummings, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound center, who played at Pensacola (Fla.) Community College, as well as Michael Wright, a versatile small forward who played at Georgia College & State University.

Likewise, Thomson had established itself as one of the state’s premier programs, sitting at No. 2 in Class AAA. Like Westside, the Bulldogs had its own star-studded roster. Vonteego Cummings, a senior guard, was considered to be the No. 2 prospect in the state and would join Moore in the Big East at Pittsburgh. Senior Antrone Lee, a 6-foot-7 stretch forward who could handle the ball and play in the post, would sign with Florida. Shauncey Cheatam was an athletic forward who provided a dynamic scoring option for the Bulldogs, while Carlos McNair would play collegiately at Paine College in Augusta.

The two teams entered the matchup with a combined record of 49-5.

KEN WRIGHT, Westside coach: The loser of the game was going home, and that’s pretty tough when you’ve got that type of talent on the floor and the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams. The hype for the game was legit.

STAN BYRDY, Augusta sports anchor: When I talk to people in Augusta, that game is one of the marquee events. They always say when Jack (Nicklaus) won (The Masters) in 1986, that was one. But they’ll also ask you, where were you for The Game? Everybody claims they were at that game.

MICHAEL THOMAS, Thomson coach: You’re talking about four pros on the floor in (William) Avery, Ricky (Moore), Vonteego (Cummings) and Antrone (Lee). Most high school games, you’re not going to have four pros on the floor at the same time.

VONTEEGO CUMMINGS, Thomson player: For me and for Thomson, we were trained to think of the game like it was any other game. But we knew it was a big game because of everything on the line and because of Vonteego Cummings and Ricky Moore, William Avery and Antrone Lee.

The two teams last played in the Region 4-AAA championship a year earlier, a game won by Westside 54-53 thanks to a last-second shot by Moore. Despite being region foes, they didn’t face each other during the 1994-1995 regular season due to Thomson’s decision to play a non-region schedule.

WRIGHT: Thomson being about 30 miles away, they didn’t want to play a region schedule because a lot of the teams (in the Augusta area) didn’t really travel well. That made it hard to make money, and if they played a region schedule it would have eliminated some teams close by they could schedule and have bigger gates with.

THOMAS: We said, look, we need our JV teams to play you all so we can have a JV schedule. The Augusta schools said, no, we play our own schedule against the city teams, and there were enough schools in Augusta that everybody could play each other twice.

CUMMINGS: We didn’t feel like we should be penalized because we didn’t play in the region during the regular season. They penalized us, but we knew going into the playoffs what we were up against. It wasn’t like we finished the regular season, headed to the playoffs and they suddenly told us “Oh y’all are the last seed.” It wasn’t like that. We knew what we were going into before the season.

ANTRONE LEE, Thomson player: I wish those teams back then from Augusta wanted to play us home-and-away so we really could see what we were going up against before the region playoffs.

RICKY MOORE, Westside player: As players, we wanted to play. They wanted to play us, and we wanted to play them.

CUMMINGS: We played with a chip on our shoulder. We weren’t one of the teams in Augusta. We were on the outskirts. We were the outsiders. We wanted to show that we’re just as good, if not better, as the teams from Augusta.

THOMAS: They realize they messed up because now your best team has to play Thomson, and Thomson is as good as anybody and better than most.

In the Region 4-AAA postseason setup, the top seed in each sub-region bracket enjoyed home court advantage and an automatic bye into the sub-region finals, which assured them a spot in the region semifinals. Thomson, despite being the No. 2 team in the state, entered as the lowest seed in its bracket and played three games in three days on the road against Glenn Hills, Richmond Academy and host Laney. The Bulldogs ran out of gas in the second half of the finals, and a last-second shot sent Thomson to the loser’s bracket of the region semifinals for a do-or-die matchup against top-seeded Westside.

WRIGHT: I guess the committee said “Well, if you don’t play a region schedule, you’re going to have to come in as the last seed in the tournament.” And that’s what happened, and they ended up having to play three games in a row to get into the region playoffs.

THOMAS: This is not speculation. Years later — and I won’t say the coach’s name — one of the coaches in the region who has since retired told me that was the whole game plan.

ANDY JOHNSTON, Augusta Chronicle reporter: We realized that either Westside or Thomson, one of them is now not going to make the state playoffs. We knew there was a little bit of injustice in that happening.

THOMAS: We never should have been playing Westside in that particular game. We should have been playing Westside in the championship.

“If a fire marshal had come in, they would have lost their mind.”

Laney’s upset of Thomson set up a loser-goes-home showdown between the top two teams in Georgia and instantly transformed the game into the city’s most talked about sports event beyond a certain tree-lined stretch of Magnolia Lane. The local media put the spotlight on the matchup with a heavy emphasis on Cummings and Moore who were ranked as two of the top three high school prospects in the state. In-depth profiles of possibly the two best players in the area’s history shared their stories with the broader community, but the photography and design of the pieces, along with the inclusion of a minor legal incident involving Cummings, rankled the Thomson side.

JOHNSTON: Obviously, me and (Mike) Berardino were the team that probably planned the (coverage for the) week. I remember Berardino wanting to do the big Ricky and Vonteego, face-off kind of features. I remember we ran them with big art of them looking at each that Friday.

CUMMINGS: I remember the headline – “The Joker vs. The Riddler.”

MOORE: I don’t know who it was, if it was Vonteego’s camp or who, but (the newspaper) made me out to be the joker and him to be the riddler. There was a big controversy with that, and (Thomson) didn’t like the way it played out. I do remember the photos. We were facing each other.

THOMAS: The article comes out, and player after player came up to me and said ‘coach, you see this?’ There’s Vonteego, looking like a villain.

Augusta Chronicle - Article about Ricky Moore and Vonteego Cummings
Courtesy of the Augusta Chronicle

CUMMINGS: What got to me was that everybody in my school, the staff and teachers, read the article and they got upset about it. They didn’t like it. That’s when it dawned on me that (the Augusta Chronicle) had put me out to be the bad guy and make (Moore) the good guy.

MIKE BERARDINO, Augusta Chronicle columnist: (That is) one thing I will say that I regret a little bit, but I was just writing what was in front of me. The Ricky Moore side of it was pretty much traditional hero making, positive. There was really no balancing factor to it. His dad being a well-respected caddy, the family story being a good, uplifting story. But in the Vonteego part, there was one incident that had to be explained, and it wasn’t like what Allen Iverson went through in high school or anything, but it was something that I remember thinking I wish we had time to get more explanation behind it.

THOMAS: I think he took advantage of a 17-year-old and led him into something where his words got twisted around. I think (Cummings) talked about throwing some rocks or something. Well, what kid hasn’t thrown a rock or hit a window? He wasn’t going through the neighborhood busting out windows. He took little stuff that happened and magnified it through black hat and white hat positions so when you read it, you think ‘oh this kid is bad.’ There was nothing further from the truth.

JOHNSTON: You always get that situation with fans who read the paper where you are the Augusta Chronicle and Westside’s an Augusta team, so obviously you favor Westside and want Westside to win. We never felt that way as journalists.

BERARDINO: I remember Michael Thomas, and I can’t remember if he said it to me in person or if he wrote it to me, but he was not happy about (the article). He was disappointed the story ended up having that element to it, but I couldn’t leave it out.

CUMMINGS: I knew the people that had written the article didn’t really know me. The people in Thomson knew me, and that was all that mattered.

LEE: My focus was to keep everybody positive. I had (Cumming’s) back, and I told everyone that we were going to go out and play and not worry about what the newspaper is saying or what anyone else is saying.

The controversy around the media coverage added to the tension, generating even more hype around what was shaping up to be the biggest game in Augusta history. The Region 4-AAA tournament was held at Augusta University’s Christenberry Fieldhouse. In 1995, the capacity of the arena was 2,216. The largest crowd officially recorded at the venue is 3,718 on Feb. 3, 2010 for a 73-59 win by Augusta over USC-Aiken.

That night, the Augusta Chronicle listed attendance for the Thomson-Westside game at more than 5,500.

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WRIGHT: I believe the tickets sold out in a little over an hour and a half.

MOORE: There were cars lined up and down Wrightsboro Road. As you turned into Augusta University, they’re all on the sidewalks on both sides.

LEE: As we got into the arena, I don’t think I had ever seen it that packed.

BERARDINO: We had been at enough of (former Augusta College men’s basketball coach and current Augusta University athletic director) Clint Bryant’s games where there were maybe just a few hundred or a thousand in the stands. To see it for the first time packed like that, and for it to be a high school game and for it to deliver that quality of entertainment?

JENNIFER HILLIARD SCOTT, Westside student: Christenberry has these long rows of bleachers with plastic, fold-down seats, and there are concrete stairs that lead up past the aisles. Those stairs were full of people sitting on them. If a fire marshal had come in, they would have lost their mind. There was no way to get up or down those stairs.

JOHNSTON: I think there were these little concrete awnings above the doors inside the gym, going to other parts of the gym, and I remember people were sitting on top of those.

BERARDINO: I’m not sure how I figured people were still scalping tickets late in the second quarter, but they were.

THOMAS: I had a friend of mine tell me he paid $100 just for the right to stand closer to the edge so he could look down. He already had a ticket, OK? He was in the building, and he paid $100 to a guy so he could get a better angle to watch the game. That’s crazy.

“The best team is going to come out and win this game.”

The overflow crowd was expecting a close game between the best two teams in the state, but it didn’t start out that way. Thomson exploited soft spots in Westside’s zone defense and leveraged Lee’s size and range to create a host of match-up problems for the Patriots, who also started slow offensively. The Bulldogs raced out to a 27-18 lead at the end of the first quarter, extending it to 38-22 midway through the second quarter.

MOORE: We got off, and we didn’t shoot the ball particularly well in the beginning.

THOMAS: I just thought we were better, and if we did what we do, then the game was going to be like it went in the first quarter. I thought we were a little too quick. I thought we were a little better in the open court.

MOORE: Antrone being 6-7, being versatile, being able to put the ball on the floor at his size, and his length, that gave us a lot of trouble.

THOMAS: Antrone to me was the wild card. I thought Ricky and Vonteego would probably cancel each other out. But I thought Antrone was going to be the one they didn’t have an answer for because he was going to be too long, too athletic and too skilled in there for any of them. And he was.

LEE: We came out and jumped ahead real big. We made a good run, but we always knew that all great teams were going to have their runs too.

WRIGHT: What we actually did was go to a triangle-and-two, and we put Michael Wright and Jacob Frazier on Antrone and Vonteego. That left Mike Cummings, William and Ricky in a little zone inside there, and that protected them from foul trouble.

MOORE: Anytime you play those types of defenses and your two primary scorers see someone every time they go off the dribble, it feels like you’ve always got two guys guarding you. That posed some problems for them.

THOMAS: The game changed on an open court fast break outlet pass to Antrone where he goes up, and they give him a charging foul, which is number three for him in the second quarter. That’s when it all changed. That’s really the ball game.

With Lee on the bench, a flurry of Westside three-pointers in the second quarter narrowed Thomson’s lead. Moore nailed a three to close out the half to pull Westside within seven.

WRIGHT: (Thomson) got rolling, going with that emotion and everything was falling their way, but I said you kind of lose that emotion at halftime. I told our guys in the second half, the best team is going to come out and win this game, and I still believe we’re the best team.

THOMAS: They had chipped away and chipped away, and even though we were up seven at the half, I just knew they were back in it.

MOORE: We didn’t get down easy. The morale of the team was even if we were down 20 points, we always thought we could get back in the game.

THOMAS: We probably could have put them away if Antrone doesn’t get that foul. We could have been up 14 or 15, but it’s not so much the score, but rather the game would have been more to our liking. … It allowed them to take the next two quarters to catch us.

“Those were the two best teams in the state who played that night.”

The second half took on the feel of a prize fight with both teams trading blows. Thomson’s depth enabled the Bulldogs to send in waves of players against a shallower Westside roster.

THOMAS: Mike Cummings was a load, but I think we had more big people than they did. He by himself might be bigger than mine, but I can sub and bring in another guy who could bang with him a while, and then rotate another guy in.

WRIGHT: I think we went about seven deep, and William and Ricky were playing a lot of minutes. Mike Cummings was running a temperature at the time, and I think he played all but about a minute of the game running a 101 degree temperature. It’s a matter of having to keep those guys on the court.

MOORE: Oh yeah, I was cramping. It was hot.

WRIGHT: The second half was just a battle royal. We kept chipping away.

JOHNSTON: You go into a Super Bowl sometimes, and it’s two weeks of hype and then it’s 52-10 or something at the end of it. That game was tremendous. I just remember the second half was so tight. The fans were into it the entire game. The emotions were there.

BERARDINO: There were times that night where I would write a sentence just so I could get back to watching the game.

Photo by Eric Olig

Momentum swung back and forth for both teams throughout the second half, and Westside took its first lead with just under four minutes left on a leaning jumper by Avery. The lead fluctuated back and forth, and the Patriots held a 68-66 lead with seven seconds left in regulation. Desperate to keep the ball out of the hands of Cummings and Lee, Westside applied full court pressure. Thomson turned to Shauncey Cheatham, who went the length of the court and made a driving shot to force overtime.

After another intense period of play, it was Westside’s turn to set up a chance to win at the end of the first overtime with the game tied at 74. Moore was set to inbound the ball, but Thomson’s defensive pressure posed a challenge.

WRIGHT: We did have a sideline inbounds there where we just didn’t do a good job of getting separation. Of course, Ricky didn’t want to throw the ball away and give them a breakaway layup, so it’s easier to take the five-second count if nobody’s open because at least you get to set up your defense.

MOORE: The only option I really had was to throw the ball back toward Thomson’s basket, and I think Antrone was on the basketball, so I couldn’t even see toward our basket. I definitely wasn’t going to throw it in. I would rather go down and play defense, and if they hit a big shot, they hit a big shot. I wasn’t going to take that chance of throwing the ball down toward Vonteego with the way he played defense.

The five-second penalty turned the ball over to Thomson, who again looked to Cheatam, this time to win. Yet, here’s where the passage of time and lack of documented footage comes into play. Some interviewed thought Westside’s Mike Cummings drew a charging foul which sent the contest to a second overtime. Others, however, recalled a controversial no-call at the basket. This is corroborated by the Augusta Chronicle game story suggesting Cheatam “threw up a shot that hit high off the backboard as he collided with a Westside defender.” Either way, Thomson failed to convert and a second overtime followed.

WRIGHT: (Cheatam) took it to the hole and “Big” Mike Cummings, who was great (as a post defender), stepped up.

THOMAS: Honestly, (given our foul situation), it’s a miracle we got into the second overtime.

In the second overtime, fouls and attrition took its toll on Thomson. By the end of the game, the Bulldogs would see three of their starters, including Lee, foul out. Cummings, along with Clinton Jones, both finished the game with four fouls. Westside would sink 10-of-14 free throws in the final overtime period to seal an 86-80 win for the ages.

The discrepancy in fouls and free throws was, well, pronounced. According to the Augusta Chronicle box score, Westside finished shooting 22-of-37 on free throws, while Thomson was 3-of-7. Thomas’s official game log had it at 36 attempts for Thomson to Westside’s 8.

THOMAS: We’re up three quarters, so why are we fouling? You don’t do that.

LEE: After the game was over, we just looked at it, like, dang, they did call a lot of fouls. But we had our opportunities, too.

CUMMINGS: Facts are facts. The free throws stats are there, but I’m not using that as an out.

WRIGHT: (Thomson) was a man-to-man team, and a team that applied great pressure, so we tried to attack that.

THOMAS: How do you play 40 minutes and the other team doesn’t commit seven fouls in a half? I can live with it if the disparity in the foul shooting was a little closer, but you shoot 28 more free throws than me?

WRIGHT: Of course, if we could get their guys in foul trouble, that’s always what you try to do.

Westside would advance to the Class AAA tournament and cruise to its first state title, winning its four games by an average of 19 points. The Patriots would go on to beat another region foe, Josey, in the state championship game. That particular Eagles team was led by future NFL star Deon Grant, who would guide Josey’s football team to the Class AAA title the following fall.

Thomson, the state’s second-ranked team, missed the state playoffs and ended its season at 22-5.

THOMAS: To this day, I haven’t watched the video of the game film. My son has seen clips of it, but I haven’t watched it since there’s nothing we can do about it.

BERARDINO: Really, they should have had every opportunity to meet again, most likely in the state final.

WRIGHT: I remember (Thomas) making a comment after the game that it took a state championship team to beat them that night, and that stuck with me. I thought that was a classy thing to say.

MOORE: A lot of teams were intimidated when Thomson came to town because they were so talented, and they should have been. They were a great team.

CUMMINGS: I give credit to Westside. They deserved to win.

WRIGHT: Those were the two best teams in the state who played that night.

MOORE: It’s 25 years later, and I still have people asking me if I can get my hands on a tape of the game. I tell them that I’ve made some calls, but I haven’t been able to find anybody who has the game. I’d love to find it though. It would be fun to watch it.

Where Are They Now?

Michael Thomas is still the head coach of the boys basketball team at Thomson, earning Coach of the Year honors in 2019.

Vonteego Cummings was a three-year starter at Pittsburgh before getting drafted by the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the 1999 NBA Draft. After more than three years in the NBA, he played professionally overseas for more than 10 years.

Antrone Lee signed with Florida, spending one season with the Gators before transferring to Long Beach State. He played for more than 10 years overseas and was a member of Puerto Rico’s national team.

Ken Wright guided Westside to its third straight region title in 1996, taking the Patriots to the Class AAA Final Four in his final season with the team. Since then, he has served as the head coach at Gatlinburg-Pittman (Tn.) High School and Sevier County (Tn.) High School.

Ricky Moore won a national championship with Connecticut before enjoying a professional career in the U.S., Canada and Europe. He also has served as an assistant coach for Dartmouth and Connecticut.

William Avery starred for Duke for two years, earning All-ACC honors in his sophomore year while guiding the Blue Devils to a national championship game appearance against Moore’s Huskies. He was drafted 14th in the 1999 NBA Draft, playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves for three years before pursuing a career overseas and today is serving as a graduate assistant for the Blue Devils

Mike Berardino has worked as the national baseball writer for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Miami, the Minnesota Twins beat reporter for the St. Paul (Mn.) Pioneer Press and Notre Dame beat reporter for the Indianapolis Star.

Andy Johnston would go on to become the assistant sports editor at the Port Charlotte (Fla.) Sun and the sports editor of the Athens Banner-Herald. Currently, he is the Chief Operating Officer of FastCopy, a copywriting company based in Watkinsville, Ga.

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Johnathan McGinty has worked in sports journalism and sports public relations for the past 20 years. If there's an opportunity to put together an oral history on something, he'll find a way to do it.