Ailing tournament teams make no excuses

Photo by Derrick Mahone
Forest Park coach Steven Cole (left) says his players have learned the meaning of toughness with Lisa Pease (right) among a trio that is out for the season with injuries.

Photo by Derrick Mahone Forest Park coach Steven Cole (left) says his players have learned the meaning of toughness with Lisa Pease (right) among a trio that is out for the season with injuries.

Short-handed doesn’t necessarily mean a short stay in the playoffs.

That’s the way the walking wounded at Forest Park, Luella and North Clayton are looking at things as the first round of the state basketball tournament begins this weekend.

At a time when you want have every weapon in your arsenal at your disposal — the state tournament, where defeat sends you home — Southern Crescent teams are dealing with aches and pains. Of course, for all they know, so are their opponents.

Luella’s girls make the long journey to Lowndes today minus a point guard and with another guard who is just getting back to full strength. Deft ball-handler Amber Griffin has been out for some time with a leg injury and leading scorer Britney Guy was less than 100 percent until this past week of rest.

North Clayton’s boys are hoping Dionte Agard, who played a key role in the Region 4-AAAA championship victory over Jonesboro, has been battling a bad hamstring for weeks as the Eagles prepare to host Dutchtown tonight.

And nobody knows better than Forest Park’s girls how to make do without. During the course of the season, the Lady Panthers lost Tiffany Wilson, Kayla Potts and Lisa Pease to injuries and soldiered on. Their superior depth took them to overtime against Jonesboro in the region championship game before foul trouble finished them off.

Forest Park freshmen Breasia McElrath and Kanisha Tharpe gained valuable experience that they might not have received without their teammates’ injuries. Are they ready for prime time now?

“I don’t think they have a choice,” Forest Park coach Steven Cole said. “They were kind of thrust into the spotlight, ready or not. I know it has to be a lot of pressure on them with the kind of team reputation we have in the playoffs.”

Though realistically, injuries play a role — they determine, for example, whether a player has to play out of position, whether less talented players spend minutes on the floor that they wouldn’t ordinarily get — very few teams use bumps, bruises and tears as an excuse for failure, even when it’s readily available.

“I never make excuses as a coach,” Luella girls coach Eddie Pratt said Thursday. “We’d like to have all our weapons, but we still have a lot of talent to get the job done. If we play our style of ball, we can beat anybody.”

North Clayton coach Martisse Troup, who expects Agard to play tonight, said teams don’t like to make excuses out of injuries because that emphasizes individual contributions rather than a group coming together.

“The main thing is, at the end of the day, it’s a team thing,” Troup said. “It takes a team, a collective effort to win.”

In Luella’s case, the collective efforts of Guy, LaGhanae Davis, Terri Jacobs and Brianna Moore have helped fill Griffin’s void, with Guy and Davis doing the bulk of the ball-handling.

Forest Park’s Cole says that rather than using injuries as an excuse, it has been an opportunity to learn toughness — especially for the two freshmen.

“I think our girls have been preparing all year for this,” Cole said. “As a coach, if you don’t show faith in them, how will they learn? I’ve got faith in those two girls. If you’d seen us play last year, that was one of the things we thrived on, always being tough and playing to the end. Hopefully, our seniors have left that same legacy with our younger players.”