Experience, goals, drive and maybe a bit of superstition is what powers Morgan County’s boys and girls players to succeed. During the past few seasons, the state has taken notice.
Morgan County has moved toward the top of Class AAA’s rankings for boys and girls following a stellar performance during the holiday break. The Bulldogs hosted and swept the Sweet South Classic.
The boys team, under head coach Jamond Sims, is 13-1 overall, 4-0 in region, heading into Friday's game against Monroe Area. The Lady Bulldogs, under head coach Joshua Reeves, are 11-3, 4-0 and will face Franklin County on Jan. 11.
Last year, the boys program lost to eventual champion Greater Atlanta Christian in the state tournament semifinals. The girls made it to the second round of the playoffs before losing the Haralson County.
In 2016-17, Morgan County lost in the championship game to a Wendell Carter Jr.-led Pace Academy team, 54-46. You might remember Carter Jr. for his one-and-done appearance at Duke before joining the Chicago Bulls. Also in 2016-17, the Morgan County girls appeared in the semifinals, where they lost to Johnson-Savannah, 48-39.
Sims answered a few questions by telephone on various aspects of his team and how the culture at Morgan County has produced quality teams year-in and year-out.
Q. Both the boys and girls teams are dominating and earning respect with each victory. What is it with the culture down I-20?
A. The biggest thing is that the players, both girls and guys, they hold each other to a higher standard. Probably a higher standard than the coaching staff could ever do. A lot of it is, the mere fact, they don’t want to be the class or the team that has any drop-off. It’s almost like, at the point guard position, its almost that the ghost of Tookie Brown is in the gym, so you don’t want to let that individual down because of the work that he was able to put into the program. Or you don’t want to let an Alexis Brown or Tatyana Davis, if you’re for the girls program. You don’t want to let them down because of the groundwork that they laid to make sure those programs – girls and guys – are respected and are able to be noticed on more of a state level. Even the sophomores and freshman, when they were in the middle school, they grew up practicing with us. They’d come over for drill work or individual work in the summer or the off-season and they’d hop in practice ... being around and soaking up things as far as how intense practice is and how their prep should be. They’re aware of that.
Q. Everyone hears about the Big 3 -- Stevin Green, Tyrin Lawrence and Alec Woodard. How do those three lead the team and how can they take over a game?
A. The biggest thing is that they have seen those “player adjustments” made on the floor, and so we talk out those situations in practice. The “what if” situations. And as a staff we try to put the guys in the toughest positions possible. The ones that they ... we ... rarely go over. Like a situation where, what happens if this particular player, who might not play a spot, what happens if he gets caught in that spot; what do we do to adjust to that? I think sometimes the practice situations help these guys prepare for game management. They give the players a bit more leeway to make decisions or adjustments without having to panic. A lot of times, these three guys have played together for so long that they are able to make plays for other players. Especially our juniors and sophomores that are coming along and haven’t been in those wars, they’re able to get them in position to make easy scores. That’s a big thing we lean on with those big three. The junior and sophomore classes, they are athletically capable, they just don’t have the experience to draw upon in order to make sure they make the proper plays. It’s on-the-job training, so to speak.
Q. Look around at Class AAA’s talent pool and tell me what you see?
A. It’s going to be, well, it’s getting down to the point where it’s really tough. When you look at the talent pool over at GAC and the collection of talent that they’ve been able to put together in Savannah, over at Johnson-Savannah, with the guys coming from Jenkins ... and even over at Islands. It’s shaping up to be pretty special. Not to forget what coach (NAME) White and the pieces he has over at Pace. You just never know what you’re going to get in the top-half of this classification.
Q. You have experience against those programs – GAC and Pace – and what have you learned about them that could be useful later in the season?
A. I guess the biggest thing that we were hanging our hat on is the fact that we have a group of seniors who have been through some battles over the course of four years. They played against the Paces and the GAC’s and some of them, even as early as their freshman year, were in the finals when we played Jenkins High School. They have a lot of experience, game experience, which should translate into putting guys in position to make plays down the stretch when it really matters, when most every game will be decided by a matter of two or three possessions. I think those guys have been in those types of situations and hopefully the ball bounces their way when they see those situations because they are just comfortable and its not anything new.
Q. What is a successful season?
A. The goal is always the same: Play and win the last game of the year. The guys just know. We don’t take anything for granted, but the level of importance when talking about region and state champs, they know they have to take care of business, region-wise, but they just want to get it done for the last five games of the year. We don’t overlook our region opponents as they help us prepare. But they’re really and truly focused on that championship game. Like last year, we were 29-2, but we lost the Final Four game against GAC, and the kids didn’t feel like their season was a success because they felt like they should have been able to finish the deal. Hats off to GAC the way they shot the ball in that game, but our guys felt disappointed. The only thing the guys know is the score of that game and we use that as locker room material, fuel to the fire, so to speak.
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