By Brian Paglia
At most Henry County boys basketball team practices, junior forward Larrentis Thomas takes to a $2,000 rebounding machine to polish his talent. The Warhawks call it The Dominator. He leaps, grabs a lever, and absorbs the quick abuse of a simulated hit to his body. After all, life under the basket isn't kind in live action. Why should it be in practice?
"He has been one to just fall in love with that machine," Henry County coach Vincent Rosser said.
Thomas' motive to endure the abuse of the The Dominator, to battle man against machine practice after practice, is to master his craft and his opponent. And when he dissected Henry County's opponent (Long County) before their meeting in the second round of the Class AA tournament Tuesday night, when he heard the Blue Tide roster contained no player taller than the 6-foot-3 junior, he thought of one thing.
Tuesday night showcased the consequences of Thomas' labor in practice. In a sound 85-61 defeat of Long County at home, Thomas put forth an uncanny performance. He scored 39 points. He grabbed 11 rebounds. He had two steals and blocked two shots, and then found rest on the floor next to the Warhawks bench for the remaining three minutes of the game, his work done for the night.
"It felt good," Thomas said. "We came ready to play and did what we had to do."
Rosser provided a more in-depth analysis: "He rebounds big and the team looks for him," he said. "They know he's active around the boards and he'll put it back in."
Thomas' night aside, Henry County (15-13) continued its remarkble resurgence. To think, the Warhawks had lost eight consecutive games at one point this season. They were beset by illness and inconsistency. They were sinking, and the bottom was coming fast.
Now, Henry County returns to the quarterfinals where it will face No. 6-ranked Thomasville (22-4) at Georgia Southwestern State University on Saturday at 8:30 p.m.
"They're hungry," Rosser said. "They want this. They've got a confidence. They've got a feeling that if they keep working hard good things will happen."
Perhaps Henry County feels entitled to such optimism. Since Feb. 6 (an 89-62 defeat by Class AAAAA Campbell), the Warhawks have not lost. They easily dispatched Fitzgerald in the first round Saturday, winning by 26.
Henry County's state of affairs only improved in the first quarter Tuesday. Senior guard Jeff Weeks, who had been mired in a shooting slump for some time, took just seconds to remedy his struggles.
In one swift series of decisions, Henry County senior forward Larricus Thomas knocked the opening tip to Zavier Rosser, who immediately pushed the ball up to Jeremy Mosely. Alone in the corner, Weeks took a pass from Mosely and hit a 3.
By the end of the quarter, Weeks had made four three-pointers, scored 14 points in all and given Henry County a 22-12 lead.
"That was big," Rosser said. "He hadn't been shooting well. We depend on him to score from the outside. He's our best outside shooter. Everybody knows that."
"I was just ready to play," Weeks said.
Justin Boyd eventually scored 22 points for Long County (15-14) and Norman Thompson connected on seven 3s for all of his 21 points. Mere footnotes on this night.
The Blue Tide had neither the athleticism of Henry County or the depth to chase it up and down the court. With its full-court pressure defense, Henry County forced 13 turnovers in the first half. With its proficient up-tempo offense, the Warhawks pushed its lead to 19 at halftime.
"We try to wear them down," Rosser said. "We're going to give up a few baskets here and there, but we just keep putting the pressure on them. We feel in the end we'll have the better legs."