In a perfect world, high school basketball coaches would simply be able to literally push a reset button to get their teams in the proper mindset as they transition from the regular season to the postseason.
Of course, young people being young people, getting a team ready for the state tournament isn’t quite that simple, as any one of a number of possible distractions are bound to come up.
In fact, for a handful of Gwinnett County’s top teams, the biggest challenges may be trying to keep from becoming victims of their own success as they begin play in the Georgia High School Association’s state tournament this weekend.
Class AAAAAAA No. 2 state-ranked Collins Hill (27-0) coach Brian Harmon and Class A (Private) No. 2 Hebron Christian (28-0) coach Jan Azar have repeatedly spoken of the importance about not getting caught up in the hype of their season-long winning streaks.
Among Gwinnett’s other postseason teams, Dacula comes into the Class AAAAAA tournament in a unique position.
On the one hand, the Falcons (24-3) are understandably riding high by coming into their opening-round game against South Cobb at home Saturday at 6 p.m.
Their thrilling overtime victory over Gwinnett-rival and defending state champion Lanier (17-10) in the Region 7-AAAAAA tournament championship game to give them the program’s first region title in 50 years is a big reason why.
“I think that definitely is a boost,” Dacula coach Jason Adams said. “If you’re going to make a run in the state tournament, you want to go in on a good note. Definitely going in on a win is always a positive. Earning a No. 1 seed, for the most part, puts you in a good position to advance. Obviously, you’re chances of advancing are a lot better than if you go in as a lower seed.”
The flip side of that accomplishment is that the historic nature of it could affect the team’s focus given all the attention in generated, though Adams has noted who well the Falcons have dealt with high expectations they’ve had from the beginning of the season.
“I think our kids are obviously excited about it,” Adams said. “It was one of their goals (at the beginning of the season) to win region, and it was huge for the community, for our school and everything. … It was very exciting to put our thumbprint on the program, but they’re not content. In fact, they came into practice (on Monday) saying, ‘We’re not done. … They realize they have the potential to make a run. We went five straight years where we got to the state playoffs. This will be our sixth straight year. … The first four years, we were one and done. Last year, we were able to get to to the Sweet 16, so this team, their goal is to make a deeper run. And everybody’s goal is to win a state championship. Our focus is one (game) at a time right now. That’s our mentality.”
It’s not just positive developments that can lead to distractions in the postseason.
A disappointing loss late in a region tournament, like Archer’s overtime loss to Rockdale County in the Region 8-AAAAAAA tournament Monday, can also lead to a hangover effect in the first round of the state tournament.
But Archer coach Dani Wright has dealt with such situations before in her experience as an assistant coach, as well as her previous stint as head coach at Norcross.
And she was confident that looking ahead and focusing on the potential positives ahead would help her Tigers (16-10) put Monday’s loss behind them and be ready to play for the program’s first-round home game in three years against Duluth (11-11) on Thursday.
“It’s nice to actually have a home game,” Wright said after Monday’s game. “I don’t remember the last time Archer had a home game for their first round, so that will be a nice advantage of it. We’ll just have to put (the loss to Rockdale) behind us and move on and get better.”