Barry Mayes (23) and Drew are one of three Southern Crescent teams — along with Henry County and Eagle’s Landing — playing in Saturday’s Class AAA quarterfinals.
By Gabriel Stovall
Special to the Daily
When Henry County boys basketball coach Vincent Rosser considered his team’s non-region schedule, he did so with the region in mind.
It was no rare occurrence for Region 4-AAA’s fourth-place team to be seen playing against larger schools and heavily talented teams during this season. It wasn’t because Rosser wanted his team to become gluttons for punishment; rather it was to prepare them for what he saw coming down the road in region play.
"I knew coming into the season it was going to be a very, very tough go in the region for us," said Rosser, whose Warhawks (18-12 overall) used a 75-60 victory over Howard on Wednesday night to advance to the Elite Eight against region rival Drew. "We purposefully went into non-region trying to play tough schools in order to prepare for a tough region."
Rosser isn’t the only coach who thinks highly of the quality of hoops in the region. Drew coach Jarrod Davis said that regardless of the teams his Titans would face, he always knew what to expect from the opposition.
"It’s a dogfight every night," said Davis. "There is such a good brand of basketball in between the two counties, Clayton and Henry, that it’s not a surprise to me."
What Davis is not surprised about is the fact that Region 4-AAA is the only region in the state with three teams still alive in the Class AAA state tournament. Drew and Henry County — who will tip off on Saturday at 5:30pm at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville — are certainly no strangers to each other. The two squads split the season series, with Henry edging out the Titans 75-74 in the teams’ first game and Drew rebounding with a decisive 74-58 victory on January 27th.
The rubber match has a bit more at stake however — namely a trip to the state tournament’s semifinals in Macon.
And with the two teams hardly strangers to each other, Davis said it can make game preparation easier for both coaches and players alike.
"I’m pretty sure coach Rosser has some good old tricks up his sleeve for this one," Davis said. “He prepares his teams well. But we know each other so well, I don’t think it’s going to come down to a secret play. It’s going to come down to players just making plays and coaches making adjustments.”
The fact that these two teams are so familiar with the other is just as important to their respective coaches as their familiarity with the region’s overall competitiveness when it comes down to being prepared for the heightened intensity of the postseason.
Count Eagles Landing coach Clay Crump among those who believes first hand his colleagues’ assessment of their region’s rigor.
"There’s nothing more disappointing as a coach and a team than thinking you’re really good only to get to here and find out you’re not," said Crump, who’s 27-3 Eagles finished atop the regular season region standings, but lost 54-49 to Drew in the region tournament championship game. "The toughness of our league prepared us to make a run in this tournament. You have to come to play every night in 4-AAA, and I think the way the state tourney has played out so far has proven that."
The Eagles’ opponent in Saturday’s quarterfinals contest will be the 17-9 Crisp County Tigers, fresh off of a 57-49 victory over Westside-Augusta and riding a five-game winning streak. What may make for an even steeper challenge for the Golden Eagles is the possibility of the revenge factor coming into play.
"We played them last year and knocked them out of state in the second round, so I’m sure they will be highly motivated this year, in addition to being highly talented," said Crump, whose Eagles advanced by defeating Central-Macon 67-65 on Wednesday in what Crump said was a "physically and emotionally draining" game.
"They have three really good players — D.J. Jackson, Jontavious Carter and Javoris Cooks — that we’re really going to have shut down,” Crump said. “They pressure really well. Well coached. Good at what they do. It’s simply going to come down to our strengths against their weaknesses.”
Although Drew, Henry County and Eagles Landing share the experience of fierce competition, Rosser says that the camaraderie and respect between the coaches is even greater.
"I think competition aside, we all wish the best for each team," said Rosser. "We’re pretty friendly toward each other in this region. Many of the coaches talk to each other on a regular basis. We’ll pull for each other. There’s no animosity. The basketball play is just coming up another level around here. We’re not being dominated by the Atlanta and Dekalb schools anymore."