By Brian Paglia
It was a funk. A four-day, two-loss funk, a time for introspection and changes for Eagle's Landing's boys basketball team.
Back-to-back losses to Region 4-AAA contenders Henry County and Drew forced Coach Clay Crump to re-evaluate his team, one coming off its first-ever state playoff appearance. Were players in their proper roles? Were the right players even on the court?
Isaiah Dennis was at the center of Crump's shuffling. The sophomore guard was good, and at times really good. He provided glimpses of that during the summer, which earned him a role as one of the first players to come off the bench. Off the bench, he brought a spark that was infectious.
So in Dennis went into the starting lineup, and Eagle's Landing hasn't looked back. The Golden Eagles (9-2, 4-2 Region 4-AAA) haven't lost since the 6-foot guard became a starter, a span of seven games that includes wins over Henry County and Stockbridge on Tuesday.
"Pretty much not starting him would be damaging to our team and to our record," Crump said. "The guys accepted those changes in position and those changes in roles very, very well. That's why we've been able to come out of those two tough, close losses without taking a step back."
Eagle's Landing took a big step forward Tuesday against the Tigers -- moving to within a game of Henry County for first place in the region -- and it couldn't have done so without Dennis.
He displayed uncanny athleticism. On back-to-back possessions, Dennis made a reverse lay-up to give Eagle's Landing a 56-50 lead in the fourth quarter, and then made an emphatic block above the rim on the other end.
Dennis finished with 15 points and further proof he can hang with varsity competition to go along with his 22-point performance against Henry County in the championship game of the Chuck Miller Classic.
"When I wasn't a starter, I just knew I was going to keep working hard until I could be a starter," Dennis said. "I guess with me working hard, I just want everybody else to work hard with me."
Dennis said his elevation into the starting lineup has made him more aggressive and confident, and his teammates agree.
"He's had a great impact. Isaiah is a very gifted player," sophomore center Desmond Ringer said. "Sometimes he just doesn't believe in himself all the time, and I think when he became a starter he got a lot of confidence."
Add Dennis to an impressive sophomore class for Eagle's Landing. He was one of three sophomores to start Tuesday, along with Ringer and Eric Wortham. When Crump brought his starting lineup out of the game for a brief stretch, his second unit was led by another sophomore, Marquis Griffin.
Dennis now gives Eagle's Landing another talented, athletic -- and now confident -- weapon.
"We knew after winning the Chuck Miller Classic we had the talent to beat anybody," Dennis said.