Class 2A blog: Columbia boys priming to ‘make a little noise’ in the playoffs

No. 2 Eagles maintaining non-region schedule up to final regular season game

The Columbia Eagles are in the thick of their Region 6 schedule and opened the week Tuesday with a 73-39 win over Landmark Christian. On Friday, the Eagles (17-1, 8-0 in Region 6) host ELCA (6-12, 3-5) in a rematch from Dec. 13, when they won 89-46 in McDonough. In all, the Eagles are beating league opponents by an average of 48.5 points.

They’ve won 10 in a row dating back to Dec. 13. The streak began after a 47-46 loss to cross-city rivals Southwest Dekalb, ranked No. 3 in 4A. On Jan. 14, the streak reached nine games when they beat the Panthers 55-42 in a rematch.

The Eagles are led by a trio of seniors in Terrell Wright (averaging 15 points, 9.8 rebounds, four blocks), Kevin Bruce (10 points, five assists) and Rashad Headges (12 points, four assists). They are complemented by a trio of juniors — Traveon Callaway (14 points, six assists), Jamarcus Hatcher (nine points, nine rebounds) and Jaden Baugh (eight points, six rebounds).

They have five league games remaining before the 6-2A tournament, which precedes the state playoffs. Longtime Eagles coach Dr. Phil McCrary said the team is playing well at the moment, but knows the Eagles are capable of more.

“We avenged the Southwest DeKalb loss at their place,” he said. “The kids are playing pretty good, solid basketball...I’d like to see us lock in more. Usually, we have a tendency to play down to an opponent instead of the level we need to play at. If we lock in a little more and continue to raise our level of play, I think we can make it past the second round.”

While it’s better for the Eagles to go undefeated against the region and earn a No. 1 seed, McCrary knows there’s competition in 2A beyond Region 6, and if they want to win a state championship, they’ll need to be ready for it. That’s why he continues to sprinkle non-region opponents into the schedule, all the way up to the region tournament.

The Eagles’ regular season finale is Feb. 4 at Tucker, ranked No. 10 in 5A.

“We asked to have the site changed to Tucker, too,” McCrary said. “We want to see how our kids respond to a hostile environment right before the playoffs.”

To prepare his teams for the postseason, McCray puts them in a number of different environments. Since 2010, the Eagles have opened the season in Freeport, Bahamas competing in the Tabernacle Baptist Thanksgiving Tournament, and this season they went 4-0 to take home the championship trophy. They earned an invite due to perennial success under McCrary, and by regularly competing in the Arby’s Classic in Bristol, Tenn., an event Bahamian teams regularly travel to.

The purpose of trip, McCrary said, is to show his players that basketball can open doors for them around the world.

“We want to give them the opportunity to see what it’s like in a different country,” McCrary said. “I want them to see where basketball can take them. If you use the game of basketball and take care of your academics, basketball can take you all over the world. They can experience different cultures while still playing a game they love. Sometimes, it opens their eyes. A lot of times here in the States, education is taken for granted, and some students don’t apply themselves. In the Bahamas, our players saw how they valued education, and it opened up their eyes a little bit.”

After the Bahamas, on Nov. 29 the Eagles beat 4A’s Miller Grove, a traditional power limping to a 10-7 record. On Dec. 12 in a cross-classification game, they beat No. 10 Washington 67-54. On Dec. 29 they got a 45-30 win over Plainview, ranked No. 2 in Alabama’s 3A.

Plainview is a team that stood out to McCrary, and that game is one the Eagles could draw from in the playoffs, an environment where some underdogs thrive.

“They don’t have the best talent, but talk about a team,” McCrary said. “They play hard, and they can all shoot the basketball. They live and die by the 3. They’ll dribble-drive you to death and if you can’t defend it, they’ll plaster you.”

The Eagles are hoping to go beyond last year’s second-round exit. They reached the 2A finals in 2021 and the 5A quarters in 2020. They have at least one win against every opponent they’ve played, yet their potential can’t be realized until the postseason.

McCrary, who guided the Eagles to five state titles between 2006-2012, won’t be the one to count this year’s team out from contention.

“We’ve got great potential and I can’t take that away from us or deny that, because our record says otherwise,” McCrary said. “But if we can lock in a little more and continue to play as one unit, communicate and do what is expected, we can make a little noise in the playoffs. I’m not going to deny that.”