On ESPN, it’s all about the highlights; the dunks, the buzzer-beaters and the victories. The work needed is sometimes secondary.
But at Laney, coach Jerry Hunter said that work – the extra sets, the runs – made the excitement possible.
It helped lead to the Class AA state championship.
For his own work during Laney’s title season, Hunter is The Augusta Chronicle’s Georgia boys basketball coach of the year.
“I’m hoping it brings us together and instills the importance of teaching these young folks work ethic,” Hunter said about the title. “Yes, it’s OK to applaud them, and yes, it’s OK to reward them, but make sure they understand what it takes. We got to get back to the good old-fashioned way of earning things.”
Entering the season, most focus was on the Wildcats moving forward without stars Coco Brown and Rod Hall, and how Laney would replace them.
However, Hunter knew his team had a chance to be special, even after the 2-2 start and a loss to Dublin on Jan. 28.
With each player bringing something different, like Shaquille Cook and his blocks, Raheem Newton and his offensive leadership and Daniel Harris with his defensive intensity, Laney learned and grew from the struggles.
The Wildcats went on to win their last 11 games.
Hunter, who was born in Augusta and grew up in Columbia, also wasn’t afraid to run his players; to push them.
He and assistant coaches Buck Harris and Shiloh Robinson wanted the Wildcats to learn how to think when tired – how just because one’s legs ache, the mind doesn’t have to suffer.
Through this, Hunter realized his team had the “eye of the tiger,” which is the ability to get and keep the lead late. This was a problem with the previous season’s team.
Hunter thinks this version had what it took to win because of all the people telling the players what they couldn’t do – that this state title wasn’t possible.
“It’s because they were doubted,” Hunter said. “It was against all odds. It’s kind of like, the little brother is always going to be more competitive because he has to work hard.”