While some programs list winning region, advancing in the playoffs or maybe even a state championship as goals before the season begins, Butler Bulldogs coach Cervantes Boddy has learned over time that the best approach for him is to come into each season with no expectations.
“Everyone in the nation — everyone in the world — starts off saying, ‘We can win region, we can win state,” said Boddy, who has coached the Bulldogs since the 2010-11 season. “That’s not reality. There’s only going to be one state champion. Not many coaches really believe on Day 1 that they can actually do that, unless it’s (Columbia coach Dr. Phillip McCrary) or (Pace Academy coach Sharman White) — one of those elite guys. For myself and others, it’s a long way to a championship — from here to the moon.”
That’s not to say Boddy hasn’t coached title-contending teams at Butler. In fact, in his first season with the Bulldogs, he guided them to a runner-up finish in Class 3A. Last season, the Bulldogs had their best finish since 2011, reaching the quarterfinals.
Then there’s this season. At 13-5, they’re the No. 3 team in 2A behind No. 1 Columbia and Pace Academy. Ranked No. 4 is their Region 4 rivals, Westside (16-2), whose only losses are to the Bulldogs. Butler is 10-0 in region play.
Not bad for a team coming in with no expectations.
“I just try to get the guys to work hard, buy in, continue to do what we do and let the chips fall where they may,” Boddy said.
With a much tougher non-region schedule compared to seasons’ past, the Bulldogs started 2-3, though they were competitive in the losses. Jones County, currently No. 10 in 5A, beat them 63-55 in their season opener. They lost 67-64 in overtime to 6A’s No. 10 Grovetown to drop to 0-2, then after wins over Josey (68-44) and 3A’s No. 4 Cross Creek (46-40), they lost 59-55 to Columbia on Dec. 4. Their other two losses came to No. 5 Washington County (53-48) on Dec. 21, and again to Jones County on Dec. 22, this time 65-62 in overtime.
“Last season we had to cancel a lot of games,” Boddy said. “At the end of the year, we’d won region and finished in the Elite 8 playing 25 games. We dealt with cancellations of tournaments and games, left and right. So, when the season was over, I tried to load up on as many tough games as I could. During that process, I ended up picking a difficult schedule. If I had to do it over again, maybe I wouldn’t do that...but being in those battles, on the road in tough environments and dealing with adversity really helped us with our region.”
Senior guard Kedar Bodie leads the team with 14.5 points a game, also chipping in 6.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.3 steals. Chance Finklin averages a team-high 8.1 rebounds and 3.7 blocks. Zy’quan Grant (5.2 assists, two steals), Kendrell Glanton (11.8 points, 6.1 rebounds) and Elijah Martinez (9.2 points, 7.2 rebounds) are other key contributors. All are seniors except Grant, a junior.
Boddy likes to mix up the Bulldogs’ style of play depending on the opponent and credits his players for being able to adapt, whether its man or zone defense, slow or fast pace.
“This is probably the most versatile group I’ve ever had,” Boddy said. “They core has been together since ninth grade and everyone on varsity has a JV title under their belt. We won region last year.”
The Bulldogs are playing their best when they’re defending well and sharing the ball, Boddy said. They have four regular season games remaining, all against 4-2A teams they’ve already beaten once, and they’ll take an eight-game win streak into Tuesday’s matchup at Oglethorpe County (7-12, 3-6), a team they beat 49-29 at home on Jan. 7.
In these final games before the postseason, Boddy said he’s looking for the Bulldogs to continue competing at a high level, working hard and drowning out any noise outside of the locker room.
Based on the way the Bulldogs played Columbia close, and how competitive they were against Pace Academy in last year’s quarterfinals, Boddy isn’t counting his team out of the state title discussion.
“I think we can play with anyone and make a heck of a run,” he said.
The Bulldogs have one state title in their trophy case but it came in 1966. This season’s playoff field is wide open, the way Boddy sees it.
“I think 2A is full of great basketball this season,” he said. “Take any team in the rankings, Nos. 1 through 10, and I think all of them are very capable of winning a title.”
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