After a quarterfinal loss last season, Darren Douglas knew some things had to change for his Aquinas basketball team.
Irish star Tre Gomillion did it all as a junior last year en route to multiple postseason awards, but he often carried the team, which caused Aquinas to turn to him on many occasions.
Aquinas returned the majority of its roster from last season, but it can still be considered a new-look team after some tweaks from Douglas. A team-first mentality has the Irish rolling like it never has before.
“They’ve just bought in completely to playing like a team,” Douglas said. “They’re sharing the basketball and doing some of the stuff nobody really gets credit for. These days it’s all about scoring and who has the most points and who shot the most. Here, they all share the basketball.”
On any given night, Aquinas can get a leading effort from nearly anyone on the roster. Daniel Parrish has proven capable of doing it all, Gomillion is still producing at a high level, Trent Bowdre and Dajuan Hill have increased their production, and Gerald Merriweather and Cam Gardner have upped their contributions.
The result is four players averaging double figures in points while a couple more are just under 10 per game. More importantly, Aquinas is winning and further preparing itself for a state playoff run.
“Putting yourself to the side and putting the team first,” Gomillion said. “We did that last year, but we slipped up toward the end and did some different things, and you see what that got us. We keep that mindset that we’ll get what we want this year.”
Beyond the team-first mindset that has the Irish producing at a new level, another factor in their favor is the experience of playing tougher competition in nationally-recognized holiday tournaments.
First was the Holiday Hoopsgiving tournament in Atlanta to kick off the season in November. The Irish lost by only three to Bishop Loughlin, a team from New York, and blew out Eagle’s Landing Christian.
They followed up with the Lake City Classic near Atlanta over Christmas break and played Alpharetta, Dacula, Warner Robins and Huffman, a Class AAAAAAA team in Alabama. They split the four-game stretch against much larger schools.
After becoming battle-tested against talented programs, Aquinas is now pounding through the region slate. The Irish are 14-3 overall entering Friday’s road matchup against Hancock Central.
“It’s good to play better teams,” Bowdre said. “It helped us be able to fight through adversity, because we’ve never really been down before. It was good to experience being down and having to fight back and try to win a game.”
After learning from last season’s playoff exit, Aquinas is now checking off the boxes necessary to compete for a state title. With Douglas cleaning things up and the players buying into the mentality, the Irish are rolling with confidence as they play through the region schedule.
“We got a lot of wins but we didn’t get the end goal, which is a state championship, so to me last year we didn’t do anything,” Gomillion said. “This year, if we get the state championship, to me that’s what it’s all about.
“I already said at the beginning of the season I don’t care about awards, I just want a ring. That’s all I want.”
Reach David Lee at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.