The GHSA State Basketball Tournament is just around the corner. This year promises more of the usual, as a ton of talent from across the Peach State will do battle for the right to be called "state champions."
But going deep into the tourney is about much more than just talent and ability. Some of the state’s top coaches say that while that is certainly important, winning a title is about much, much more.
THE HUNTED …
Head coach Sharman White and Miller Grove are no strangers to the tournament. They have made a habit of going deep into the postseason and have won back-to-back state titles.
”At our program we want to be playing for state championships every season,” White said. “For anyone who plays any sport the goal is to get to the top every year.”
Getting to the top is one thing. Staying there is another thing altogether. White has had to keep his star-studded team focused all season, as opponents surely know all about the Purple Wolverines’ accomplishments and accolades. Due to that, they will always have to absorb the opposition’s very best shot, as they try desperately to knock them down from their perch.
Amazingly, White’s team hasn’t blinked an eye. And a lot of that has to do with his philosophy.
“Although we’re defending champs, we tell our kids that champions attack and others defend,” he said.
They have yet to lose a game to in-state competition, and have moved into the top five in some national polls.
The talent at White’s disposal certainly helps. He’s got one of the nation’s top big men in junior Tony Parker, who has been offered by a host of big time programs, and has improved massively during his time with White.
“He has grown so much since his freshman year and he continues to strive to get better,” White said, “He’s been exposed to a lot but his demeanor and work ethic will let you know he’s just as hungry now as he was then.”
Parker’s attitude embodies the “team first” spirit that White has instilled within his players. At Miller Grove, a host of talents have put their egos aside and worked for the good of the team.
“I wouldn’t trade them for anybody,” White said. “All they want to do is win. And when you have guys like that it makes coaching a little bit easier.”
With Parker, and several other quality big guys in 6-8 Brandon Morris, and Henry Brooks, the Purple Wolverines are a matchup nightmare. Add in what White calls a “dynamic” backcourt tandem in Thomas Marshall and Devon Provost, and this is clearly a team that will be tough to beat.
AVOIDING COMPLACENCY …
Milton entered the season as favorite in Class 5A. They wholeheartedly deserved that hype. The defending state champions play an astonishing six Division 1 prospects.
For legendary head coach David Boyd, leading a roster that is likely his most talented ever has been a pleasure
“It’s been a great experience,” he said, “You’d think of it as a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Vandy commit Dai-Jon Parker and future Georgia Tech power forward Julian Royal give them dominant perimeter and post scorers. But its point guard Shannon Scott (headed for Ohio State), the No. 2 player in Georgia, who “runs the show” according to Boyd. Junior swingman Evan Nolte is getting looks from all the big boys, too, while Jordan Lloyd (Furman) is the unsung hero who Boyd credits for “doing all of the little things.”
Of course, we’ve seen teams like Boyd’s falter in the past. Their head coach always warns against cockiness. But he thinks that a mild upset to Miller Grove way back in December helped them learn their lesson.
“When we play poorly, we can point to that game,” Boyd said. “It’s an example of what can happen if we aren’t ready.”
Things turned around drastically for Milton thereafter. They beat nationally renowned Oak Hill, have gone undefeated in region play, and have retained their No. 1 ranking through all of it.
“We worked on some of the things we needed to improve,” Boyd said, “I really feel we’ve played as well as we could play since that loss.”
Clearly, when just one loss can end your season, focus is essential.
But Milton have also benefited from being so successful while playing a difficult schedule. According to White, that is one of the keys in keeping teams’ eyes on the prize.
“Every time you play a national schedule, you have to be prepared,” he said, “Our guys have gotten accustomed to being in that type of situation and have adapted to being and staying ready.”
VETERAN LEADERSHIP …
While momentum and focus remains essential, the teams that make deep tournament runs often resemble well-oiled machines on the court. The real contenders will have spent countless hours working on their offense and defensive schemes.
Norcross head coach Jesse McMillan knows that executing the things that they work on in his practices, is of paramount importance.
“When we play the good teams, we have to take high percentage shots,” he said. “We also have to maximize our possessions, avoid bad three point shots, and rebound on both sides.”
He also says that his most experienced players have to lead the charge.
“We lean on the seniors,” he said. “They’re the guys that have been there before. We want them to take ownership of this team.”
Meanwhile, White is happy to have a squad full of veterans at his disposal.
“This team has a lot of experience and moxie and are very well seasoned,” he said. “Probably more so than any other team I’ve coached.”
Boyd wants his players to settle into their roles, with no one trying to do too much.
“We need Shannon [Scott] orchestrating the offense, Julian [Royal] and Evan [Nolte] getting rebounds, and Dai-Jon [Parker] to provide that defensive spark.”
Even for a team as talented as Boyd’s, winning a state tournament is far from simple.