Photo by Derrick Mahone
North Clayton’s Marcus Hunt (left) guards teammate Devin Lewis in practice. The Eagles are expected to rely on their defense when they take on Dutchtown in the first round of the state tournament.
Seldom does a 1-3-1 defense earn play-of-the-day status on SportsCenter. Maybe the occasional blocked shot, but even then, it’s usually in a subservient role to the fast-break jam that punctuates the highlight.
Defense may win championships — the mantra that has become so ingrained that it has risen to the level of cliché — but it’s hardly thrilling stuff.
Nevertheless, as the first round of the state basketball tournament gets underway, any number of coaches and players are swearing by it:
Forest Park coach Antonio Wade: “Defense doesn’t care how tall you are.”
North Clayton coach Martisse Troup, on what earned his team its first region championship since 1993: “Defense was going to be the key tonight and we played much better defense as a team.”
The formula for the girls is no different. After a recent win over Morrow, a Jonesboro player recited the mantra in detail.
Jasmine Mitchell, Jonesboro: “Basically, our defense was our offense. We knew if we played hard on defense that the offense would come automatically. We feel like our defense has gotten better with each game.”
But at some point, to contend with the high-octane offenses in the state tournament, you must to put the ball in the basket.
The Class AAA field boasts some scoreboard-challenging offenses, including the Thomson boys, who visit Eagle’s Landing, bringing a 74-point average to McDonough. Eagle’s Landing counters with the Southern Crescent’s best offense at 68 a game.
That pales in comparison to Douglas County, one of the top teams in the Class AAAA field, which is burning up the nets at 88 points a game, which allows it to surrender a devil-may-care 72. Rockdale County averages 75. Northside-Warner Robins averages 74.
Those teams may be down the road for Lovejoy, which can expect to have its hands full with another of the higher-scoring teams in the state in Fayette County. Lovejoy coach Rick Francis has no desire to get in an offensive slugfest with the top-ranked Tigers.
“I know we have some teams in AAAA who are some high-octane teams,” Francis said. “My belief is, and I continue to believe that if we can get everybody on the same page and play team defense, we can control our own destiny.”
When the high-octane teams lose, usually, they’ve fallen far off their offensive averages. In Douglas County’s three losses, it averaged 63 points — 25 below its par.
Francis hopes for a similar result against Fayette.
“For us, we’re gong to get our best performance, hopefully,” he said. “Nobody wants to go home early.”
Defense won’t work by itself. Neither will offense. Francis plans to add one more element to the equation.
“A whole lot of prayer,” the coach said. “I know Coach (Andre) Flynn, my man, and he and I have been going up against each other many many years. I know what his team brings and he knows what my team brings, so it’s going to be mano a mano.”