Emmett Rouse was dead wrong about Marco Brown.
"I have to admit it, at the beginning of the year, I felt he was going to be the downfall of the team if he was the point guard," said Rouse, Josey's first-year head coach. "I didn't think he had the right attitude or work ethic. I thought I was a pretty good judge of character but, with Marco, I made a big, big mistake."
It wasn't long before the rookie coach had become Brown's biggest fan. All it took for Rouse was a little flexibility and understanding of the versatile 5-foot-8 senior.
"Marco's a quiet type and doesn't show a lot of emotion, and I took that as lazy at first," Rouse said. "I didn't think he could lead this team until about the second or third week of practice. He busted his butt and the rest of the team just always seemed to follow his lead. He's the true leader by example on this team. He's the glue. Every day, he keeps on proving me wrong."
Brown and Josey proved the area's naysayers wrong last weekend with their victory over Richmond Academy for the Region 3-AAA championship, and return today to Albany, Ga., for their third straight Class AAA tournament appearance.
Josey (19-7) faces Sandy Creek (19-4) in the South Regional semifinal, 4 p.m., at the Albany Civic Center, and Brown is one of four seniors who hope to avenge two years of postseason heartbreak.
Richmond (22-6) faces No. 1-ranked Woodward Academy (26-1) today at 5:30 p.m. in Albany.
The Hephzibah girls, runners-up in Class AAA last season, also open in the state tournament.
The Lady Rebels (22-4), fresh off winning the Region 2-AAAA championship last weekend in Milledgeville, Ga., face Bainbridge (24-3) in the Class AAAA girls South Regional quarterfinals, tonight at 8:30, at Jones County High School in Gray, Ga.
In the 1995 Class AAA boys championship game, Josey fell to its mighty crosstown rivals from Westside, led by Ricky Moore and William Avery. Amid off-court troubles last February, the Eagles fell to Peach County in the first round.
Senior forward Ladell Webb, the team's leading rebounder last season, missed practice the day before the team left for Albany, and was benched by former coach Quentin Motley.
"We're all a lot hungrier this year because of what happened the last two years," said Brown, averaging 13 points, six rebounds and nine assists per game this season. "It felt real bad losing the last two times. Especially last year. Westside was a great team and we could accept that loss. But last year we should have done better."
With fellow seniors Jaamal Tate, averaging 12 points, nine boards and six assists, football All-American Deon Grant (14 ppg., 10 rpg.) and Rod Ashmore (15 ppg., 9 rpg.) jelling, Brown is ready to improve on last year's finish, one game at a time.
"Since the football team won the state championship (1995), people say we're a football school," Brown said. "We've all talked about that a lot lately, because we want to bring back the basketball tradition at Josey. We want to get back to being a hoops power."
"I think we want it more now than we have in the past because we've all grown up," Tate said. "Our style of play is different this year, as well, and I think that's a big advantage for us. We're doing a lot more up-tempo stuff, running and pressing, and that's right up our alley."
With Brown running the show, Rouse is just as confident as his players.
"Marco runs this team as good as it can be run, and I think his emergence this year could be the missing piece to the puzzle," Rouse said. "We beat Butler twice, we beat Richmond twice and that proves we are the best team in the CSRA this year. Now, they're ready to prove even more."