While some focused on what was no longer there, Jerry Hunter saw the positives in what was coming back.
“It’s been like that. When you lose what we lost, people tend to think everyone is gone,” the Laney’s boys basketball coach said.
After opening the previous season 26-0 before reaching the state semifinals with then-seniors Rod Hall and Corinthians Brown leading the way, Laney came into this season somewhat unheralded and started 2-2.
But the Wildcats have since won 12 of 13, with the one loss coming by a single point to Glenn Hills.
The most recent win brought the most attention: a 53-40 victory against Morgan County, one of the top teams in Class AA.
Now the Wildcats are right there among the best, though they always knew it.
“It didn’t make us excited because we’re supposed to win,” said guard Raheem Newton, who’s averaging 10 points and five steals per game. “To us, a ranking is just a number.”
The reasons for the success might be cliché, but it’s the truth.
Instead of rushing shots, the Wildcats are showing patience, waiting for the open shot or the best look a defense will give.
Hunter noticed that early in the season, Jammie West tried carrying the offensive load too much. West does lead the team, averaging 17 points per game, but now he’s making those around him better. For West, it starts with leadership.
It’s all about substituting “me” for “we” – or whatever other meaningful quote Hunter uses.
For this season, “you don’t wait until winter to chop wood” perfectly describes the mind-set.
Starting with the off-season and the strength and conditioning program, Laney didn’t waste time in trying to get better, and the result is players like sophomore Curtis Hightower getting minutes and contributing during them.
Shaquille Cook, who averages 14 points, eight rebounds and nearly five blocks a game, attributes the strong run to his belief that no team around can challenge Laney’s work – or schedule.
In playing in packed gyms against Butler and Josey, winning tournaments like it did at the buzzer against Westside and defeating a talented team like Morgan County, the 2011-2012 Laney squad has shown it will make winning an occurrence about as often as it was the previous season.
But the growth and work isn’t done yet. This weekend, the Wildcats are home against fellow 3-0 region foe Swainsboro on Friday, and then play Butler on Saturday.
“These guys, they’re embracing the challenge,” Hunter said.