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Wade has Forest Park going in right direction

When they come out on the court for pregame warm-ups, the Forest Park boys' basketball team doesn't necessarily pass the eye test.

You know, the unofficial first take to see if they look like a basketball squad.

But once the game is underway, most opponents realize that it would be a mistake to take this team too lightly. While the school's girls' team is the headliner with a talented cast that reached the Class AAAA final four last season, coach Antonio Wade's group is less heralded.

The team has currently won its last three games has a 7-6 overall mark and 3-4 in a well-balanced Region 4-AAAA race. It has been a far cry from last season's 5-21 finish and first round region playoff lost.

Forest Park is more competitive, which is partly because the team has bought into Wade's system. Last season, there were too many individuals that wanted to do it their way.

Wade can see the difference.

"Overall the team attitude has been great," Wade said. "They are letting me coach them. We can see a big difference."

Discipline was an issue last season as Wade had to ask several players to leave and a few left on their own. He said they quickly wanted back in, but Wade refused.

"We started playing a lot of young players last season," Wade said. "It was basically addition subtraction for us. We have had less headaches this season."

This is Wade's fourth year at Forest Park, but second as a head coach, which started with some humble beginnings into the world of coaching. He spent two season's as an assistant on the girls' staff before getting the head coaching job.

Prior to coming to Forest Park, Wade spent a couple season's at a boarding school in North Georgia before moving into the area to coach girls' AAU basketball. Then, he got his break and was hired at Forest Park.

Wade knows about championship caliber basketball. He captained the Johnson C. Smith University team to a Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association title and trip to the Div. II Elite Eight.

Come region tournament time, not many people will want to face this scrappy Forest Park bunch. They gave then second-ranked Lovejoy all they could handle before losing just before the Christmas break.

The Panthers six losses have come an average of six points.

Over the next coupled weeks, Wade is hoping the team can improve on its seventh place position in the current region standings. Finishing in the top five would only mean the team has to win one region game to get a state playoff berth.

Teams that finish in sixth or seventh place in the 10-team region would have to win two games, and seventh and below would mean winning three times to earn a state berth.

Regardless, Wade likes his team chances if they can continue to improve.

"We can be competitive," he said. "Lovejoy and Jonesboro look to be the two teams to beat right now. But every night is a fight in this region. You got to come to play. We know it's not going to be easy. Our goal is to get better."

Derrick Mahone covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Herald Da.