Columbia boys again winning in milestone year for McCrary

No. 4 Eagles, longtime coach preparing for deep playoff run
Columbia's Deontae Hill guards McNair's Isaiah Wise during the high school basketball game at McNair High School on Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. (Mark Brock, DCSD Athletics)

Credit: Mark Brock, DCSD Athletics

Credit: Mark Brock, DCSD Athletics

Columbia's Deontae Hill guards McNair's Isaiah Wise during the high school basketball game at McNair High School on Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. (Mark Brock, DCSD Athletics)

With their 92-57 win over Elite Scholars Tuesday, the No. 4 Columbia Eagles improved to 20-2, 11-1 in Region 5, and they have three more games until the postseason.

In addition to another strong season, it’s also been a milestone one for Eagles longtime coach Dr. Phil McCrary. He picked up his 700th career win in November, when the Eagles were playing in a holiday tournament in the Bahamas. Later that month, Columbia dedicated its gym to McCrary.

McCrary was asked to reflect on both personal milestones, including what it meant to pick up his 700th win in the Bahamas. The Eagles have traveled there every year since 2010 to compete in a holiday tournament.

“Having my name put on the building is a great honor,” he said. “It’s something that will stay up there forever. Just seeing the fruit of your labor is nice. ...Picking up the win in the Bahamas was also a great honor, but to me, that’s more about our kids getting the opportunity to play basketball beyond their high school career.”

McCrary estimates the number of players he’s coached who’ve reached the next level is in the 100s, including professionally and overseas. Most notably, Class of 2008 Eagles guard Travis Leslie was drafted by the Clippers in 2011.

The Eagles have four seniors who can lead the team in scoring any given night, McCrary said. Quay Wallace leads the way with 14.8 points and 6.6 rebounds, followed closely by Jamarcus hatcher (14.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, 1.2 blocks), Trevian Callaway (14.4 points, 7.2 assists, 2.6 steals) and Tahmar Mann (11.7 points).

McCrary explains what the Eagles do right when they’re winning.

“We’re sharing the ball, and we’re defending properly,” he said. “Things like good help-side defense, and being locked in and focused on the court.”

The Eagles have mowed through most of their schedule, beating 5-2A rivals Landmark Christian (in overtime) and No. 6 ELCA, and county rivals Southwest Dekalb and Miller Grove. Their only losses were to Central, Ala., ranked No. 5 in 7A, and ELCA in a rematch on Jan. 19, by four points.

They’re on a three-game win streak since.

“We just want to be able to compete,” McCrary said. “We don’t underestimate our opponents, because on any given night, anything can happen. We saw that with the ELCA game. Hats off to them. They played well and we can’t take that away from them. They forced us into some things we weren’t ready for, and we learned from that.

“We have to make sure we’re on top of our game, and we have goals in mind that we want to accomplish each game. Minimize turnovers, shoot better than 80% from the free-throw line, take charges, get assists, rebounds. I still have an old philosophy. No rebounds, no rings...We’re making sure to work on our game on the floor in a positive way.”

Unlike the majority of teams this time of year, the Eagles still have a non-region opponent on their schedule. As an extra tune-up for the playoffs, the Eagles play Tucker (19-4), ranked No. 5 in 5A, on Feb. 3. This marks the second year in a row these cross-county rivals have met late in the season.

The Eagles close the regular season at home against Landmark Christian (13-8, 6-4) on Feb. 6. McCrary hopes the team uses the final games to further lock in.

“I want to see them a little more focused going into the game,” he said. “I want them playing with a chip on their shoulder, with attitude.”

The Eagles reached the semifinals last year, and were runners-up in 2021. They have reached the championship 11 times under McCrary, winning five, the most recent in 2012. They’re trying to reach the championship again.

“We are taking it one game at a time, one day at a time,” McCrary said. “If we go out and execute, lock in and do the things that are expected of us, we have the opportunity for a deep playoff run.”

Source: DCSD Athletics

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