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Tigers getting back into groove

By Brian Paglia

bpaglia@news-daily.com

Two coaches mired in misfortune sought out each other. Mundy's Mill coach Tu Willingham and Woodland coach David Bice spent part of the 2010 Woodland Christmas Tournament commiserating, Willingham hoping his team's 1-4 start was just a blip, Bice wondering when his Wolfpack's five-game losing streak would end.

"He just can't get over that hump," Willingham said. "He's had a couple of close games, and the only remedy for close games is to win. That's it."

Mundy's Mill (4-4, 1-4 Region 4-AAAA) found its remedy in the impromptu tournament at Woodland after the ELCA Hooptacular was canceled in mid-October. The Tigers went 3-0 against Woodland, Locust Grove and Union Grove, a span of winning they haven't accomplished in three seasons.

After starting the season 1-4, after losing all four games to region opponents by an average of 16.3 points, after another foreboding season-opening stretch, Willingham said he wondered if the Tigers would be resigned to another disappointing season.

But Willingham expected tribulation early. Five of the Tigers' top players made the transition from the varsity football team to basketball. Three of their first four games were against second-ranked Lovejoy, tenth-ranked Jonesboro and North Clayton.

That's why Willingham scheduled Mundy's Mill to play in two holiday tournaments. The Tigers will play in the Pickens Holiday Classic against Dalton, Creekview and Lumpkin County next week.

"We're just now getting into our groove," Willingham said. "We knew we had a lot of football guys, and it's usually Christmas and January before they really get into their groove."

Mundy's Mill got into a groove over the three-day tournament, winning its three games by an average of 19.6 points. The Tigers were taller and longer than its opponents, which created mismatches for forwards Jarvis Moses and Chris Bryant, but Willingham was more encouraged by players' effort.

"We play hard," Willingham said. "I think the most impressive play was when we were up 21 and (junior) Khari Hobbs dove for a loose ball. Those are the kinds of plays that we weren't making the first three games."

Sophomore guard Darrius Sizemore stepped up during the tournament, displaying athleticism and good shooting range. He scored 12 of his 15 points in the first half of the Tigers' 58-39 win over Union Grove on Tuesday, including eight straight points at one point.

"He's a major Division I prospect," Willingham said. "He's got some schools looking at him. ... He's just right now relying on his athleticism. He's a good shooter, a good penetrator. There's no question he's one of the top sophomores in the state."

Sizemore is developing alongside a group of young players. Willingham started just one senior against Union Grove. Only three seniors are on the roster.

Right now the Tigers sit at ninth place in Region 4-AAAA, but hope a favorable January schedule helps them build off a strong holiday tournament. Mundy's Mill will play five of six games at home.

"We're learning how to play the Mundy's Mill way," he said. "We won't worry about wins and losses. We don't worry about who the opponent is. If we go out and play hard, respect the game and honor the game, whatever happens is going to happen."