Photo by Derrick Mahone
North Clayton senior swingman Marcus Hunt says the biggest difference in the Eagles from the start of the season until today’s Class AAAA quarterfinals game has been team unity. The now close-nit group regrouped from a midseason slump to win the region champion.
North Clayton started the season hot, winning seven of its first eight games. The Eagles were ranked in the coaches’ state poll.
For many outsiders, the Eagles appeared to be a team that was all together both on and off the court.
But that was far from the truth.
A midseason stretch of seven losses in 12 games told a different story.
Sensing that a good season was about to go to waste, Eagles coach Martisse Troup decided that some off-court bonding was desperately needed for his team.
Social outings become a common occurrence with the team, and it proved to be the right move.
North Clayton has won five straight, including the Region 4-AAAA tournament, as it takes on Alcovy this evening in the state quarterfinals. The winner advances to next week’s final four at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
“We have had guys that started buying into their roles,” Troup said. “I asked them what was more important: playing 40 minutes and losing or playing two minutes and possibly playing for a state title? For them, it became an obvious choice. I knew we could be a good team if we would jell and have good team chemistry.”
Aside from bonding as a team, standout forward Marcus Hunt said a renewed commitment to defense has played a large role in the team’s success.
In the last five games, North Clayton has held its opponents to under 60 points every time. In all but two of its 10 losses, the opponent scored more than 60.
“We started taking defense seriously,” said Hunt, who is averaging 22 points per game. “We realized that playing good defense will make it easier for us to win. We get a lot of our offensive points off good defense.”
With its current winning streak, the team has now built back its confidence.
“It is through the roof,” Hunt said. “As a team, we started hanging out together and believing in each other. We realized that it will take everyone to win, not just one person.”
Troup said the early-season adversity has made his team much stronger and closer on the court.
“Basically, we know it’s not how you start, but finish,” Troup said. “We started good, but peaked too soon. I thought we competed well despite the adversity. We did a lot of team building and that has been a big key.”
Alcovy vs. North Clayton
When: Today, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Fort Valley State University.
Records, rankings: Alcovy is 27-3 and ranked No. 2; North Clayton is 19-10 and unranked.
Last meeting: North Clayton won 72-68 in OT in 2010.
Game notes: The two teams used to be in the same region. This is the first season that Alcovy had advanced out of the first round of the state tournament. The Tigers are on an 18-game winning streak. Alcovy’s three losses have been by a total of eight points.