Photo by Heather Middleton
By Derrick Mahone
They admit to hearing the occasional buzz in the hallways, but Jonesboro and North Clayton players are not permitted to discuss it.
The it is a potential third matchup between the two Region 4-AAAA rivals in the state playoffs.
For that to happen, both teams would have to win tonight to setup the quarterfinals game at Fort Valley State University this weekend.
"You heard people talking, but our focus is not on Jonesboro," North Clayton forward Marcus Hunt said.
The Eagles will travel to Columbus this afternoon for a matchup against Hardaway in the second round while Jonesboro will host Thomas County Central.
North Clayton coach Martisse Troup and Jonesboro's Dan Maehlman said they are not concerned that their players will be looking ahead instead of focusing on today's game.
"No, not concerned about that because we don't allow them to talk about any other team, but Thomas County Central," Maehlman said.
"We have Thomas County Central on the bulletin board in the locker room, and that is our focus. Only thing they can mention is Thomas County Central."
No brackets have been posted in the locker room, but Internet-savvy teenagers can easily find them.
A Jonesboro-North Clayton matchup in the quarterfinals would spark a buzz considering the teams split their two match-ups during the season. North Clayton won the first game 79-78 behind a 47-point effort from Hunt, but lost 47-37 in the rematch as Hunt was held to a season-low nine points.
But no one associated with either team wants to talk about a rematch, at least not yet.
"Not concerned about Jonesboro," Troup said. "We play Hardaway and that is the game that we are focused on. We don't mention Jonesboro in practice."
Said Maehlman: "Once the state playoffs begin, we don't put up a bracket. We just tell the players the next game that they need to be focused on."
Being focused has been the key to both teams success in the first round of the playoffs.
Jonesboro defeated Greenbrier at home 78-36 while North Clayton went on the road for a 52-49 win at Richmond Hill.
Tonight's matchup with Hardaway is a repeat of last season's first round matchup, which North Clayton won 63-58 at home. Troup is hoping for another effort like the team had in the win against Richmond Hill.
"It was an overall great team effort," Troup said. "This was probably our best game since losing to Lovejoy in the region tournament. I think we are starting to peak at the right time."
Maehlman expressed similar thoughts about his team, which is riding a 14-game winning streak into the Thomas County Central game.
"Ever since the region tournament, I could tell that our guys have been ready to play," he said. "It is something that I haven't seen through the course of the year. This time of the year, if you are not ready, then your season will be over."