Class 2A blog: Columbia boys lean on experience

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Top-ranked Eagles return 9 players from last year’s finalist team

Last season, the Columbia Eagles were referred to by their coach, Dr. Phil McCrary, as the “cardiac kids” for their tendency to take games down to the wire before pulling out a win. That team, led by the clutch play of Kawasicki Ricks, finished runners-up to Pace Academy in an all-Region 6-2A championship.

With Ricks graduated, the team now leans on nine returners, including Mason Lockhart, a 6-foot-6, 225 senior post who averages team-highs of 15 points and nine rebounds.

The Eagles are 15-3 following a 72-35 win over Washington Tuesday in a sub-region crossover game, and own 2A’s No. 1 ranking after beating now-No. 2 Pace Academy 71-69 at home on Dec. 7. Their only losses have come to out-of-state teams during holiday tournaments, while notable in-state wins include No. 7 Butler, 4A’s No. 8 Miller Grove and 5A’s No. 8 Southwest DeKalb. They also beat Plainview, ranked No. 2 in Alabama’s Class 2A.

McCrary said the team has grown from last year, where he characterizes the championship matchup against Pace Academy as an inexperienced Columbia team against a mature, battle-tested Knights team.

“High school basketball teams change every year,” McCrary said. “We grew up a little bit. Now they know. Playing on that big stage isn’t new to them anymore, and they feel as though they’ve been able to play at a higher level than what they were accustomed to. It’s been challenging. We’ve played a rigorous schedule against the best teams around and a tough region. That’s what’s helped us.”

McCrary said the Eagles don’t value the win over Pace Academy higher than any other game despite the Knights beating them in the championship, because the focus now is to learn.

“We want our team to get the opportunity to see as many different styles of play as possible,” he said. “In the state playoffs, you’re seeing those teams for the first time, and they each play differently. So we’re preparing our guys way in advance on how to make adjustments on the fly and how to adapt to a play. Those are teaching moments and that’s what I’m in this game for.”

In addition to Lockhart, junior guards Rashaad Headges (14 points) and Kevin Bruce (seven points, three assists), and sophomore guard Jadan Baugh (defensive stopper) are key contributors. So is Terrell Wright, a 6-foot-8 junior wing who returns after missing last season.

The Eagles, who own a 3-0 region record, have eight regular season games remaining — all against 6-2A opponents. McCrary said he’d like to see more patience and role awareness from his team in the time between now and the postseason, and that the Eagles shouldn’t consider themselves the team to beat in 2A.

“The only way we can say that is at the end, if we win the championship Macon,” he said. “Until then, we’re just another 2A team fighting for the trophy.”

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