At the first practice, five players attended. Aside from standouts Austin Crown and Matt Miller, a few weren’t as familiar with basketball.
“One of them was a Russian exchange student who had never seen a basketball,” Cook said. “Another one had jeans on.”
Plenty has changed in four years. The Greater Augusta Independent School Eagles have developed into a national power, and they’ll show their strength this week.
The Eagles open play in the National Christian Homeschool Basketball Championships at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday against the Monee (Illinois) Patriots in Springfield, Mo. The winner advances to the second round at 9:50 p.m.
The Eagles, the Southeast Regional champions, are one of eight No. 1 seeds – the No. 4 overall seed in the 64-team tournament. Last year, the team advanced to the Sweet 16 and finished in ninth place.
If the Eagles advance to the Final Four, they’ll possibly face the HCYA Texas team that features junior guard Justin Jackson, who committed to North Carolina two weeks ago.
“We can win it,” said Cook, who also works as the director of the Augusta Metro Youth Foundation and editor of the Augusta Basketball Report. “I’m not saying we will win it, but we’re good enough.”
“Last year was our first year at the national tournament and it was a lot better competition than I was expecting,” Crown said.
“This year will be really fun seeing that we know we’re getting ourselves into.”
The Eagles are 23-13, but don’t let the record fool you. Eleven losses have come against prep schools featuring players who are 19 to 21 years old.
The Georgia High School Association prevents its schools from playing homeschool teams; lining up opponents close to Augusta is an almost impossible task, Cook said.
But during the summer, the Eagles have faced the likes of Laney, Thomson and Westside – Cook said his team has done more than just hold its own in those contests.
“These guys have the respect of their peers,” he said.
“The guys around town will say we’re legit.”
The Eagles are led by homeschool All-Americans in senior guards Miller and Crown.
Miller leads the team in scoring this season with a 23.8 average, while Crown is just behind (22.0) – both players have averaged more 20 points a game during their careers, each eclipsing the 3,000-point mark.
Crown received a scholarship to play at Division II Wingate, while Miller turned down Wingate’s offer. Instead, Miller will play basketball at the Merchant Marines Academy, where he plans to get an engineering degree.
The Eagles are also led by seniors Dominic Brown (10.0 ppg) and Paul Jones (6.5). T.J. Massenburg, a 6-foot-7 eighth-grade center, fills up the paint, averaging 8.5 points and 11 rebounds a game.
“Austin and I do most of the scoring, but one thing everyone really focuses on is defense,” Miller said. “We want to force teams to take shots outside the paint and get no extra shots.”