Emmett Rouse looks at his watch and it's 7 o'clock. Another grueling practice at T.W. Josey has come to an end.
Rouse scratches his head and wonders what's wrong with his Josey Eagles. After starting as the Georgia Class AAA preseason No. 1, it took just two weeks for Josey to fall from its perch in the state rankings.
Their first loss of the season was to highly touted Northwest Christian of Miami, Fla., in the 100 Black Men Thanksgiving Tournament. A loss in the Eagles' fifth game of the season to arch-rival Richmond Academy proved more uncomfortable.
Another loss a few days later to Class AAAA Butler had Josey feeling low and the pressure starting to mount on Rouse and his Eagles.
At 14-9, the Eagles have been inconsistent heading into the Region 3-AAA tournament tonight at the Augusta State PE Complex. Even though Josey assured itself of another state tournament appearance with a victory over Glenn Hills Tuesday night, Rouse still finds himself searching for a sparkplug this late in the season.
No question, he may have the most talented team in the area with 6-foot-4 senior Tyrone Hayes, sophomore point guard Cornelius Mitchell and talented forward Robert Wilson. He knows it's a new season and with a wealth of talent, a state title run may still be possible. Tonight's opponent Thomson and a possible region championship bout with Statesboro, the state's second-ranked team, should be signs of things to come.
"Being ranked No. 1 at the beginning of the year and then going out of the rankings, everybody was looking at us as being disappointing this year," Rouse said. "But I just keep telling my guys they have the talent, they have the skills and the heart to play here. We just got to show what we can do.
"We can't talk about what we're going to do and we can't worry about what everybody else is saying we're going to do, we just have to go out there and prove it."
That's what makes tonight's semifinal game against Thomson and Friday night's finals so intriguing. What happens when the Eagles play their best game of the season?
"At the beginning (of the season) we did (feel the pressure)," said Hayes, who is still being heavily recruited by Providence, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. "But now we feel like we're the underdogs in everything we do because of our record.
"I don't think people look at us to really do anything. I mean if we win, we win, so I think a lot of people look at it that way. But if we go in as the underdog, we can take a lot of people by surprise."
Hayes has certainly done his part this season, ranking among the area scoring leaders with 25 points per contest. But lately, it's been Mitchell and Wilson who have stepped their game up, taking the load off Hayes. And then's there bench players like junior Marvin Stone who have provided that much-needed spark.
"I think Marvin Stone has really been stepping up," Rouse said. "He's my first man off the bench and my big men (Tyreek Ravanell, William White, David Gilchrist) have been stepping up, but I'm looking for a little more out of them. And I'm starting to get good play from my bench, but I need more."
Josey's Eagles may be a big disappointment in the eyes of basketball fans around the area. But if there's one believer in the team, it's Rouse.
"If you go with what everybody else thought, I would rate this as a disappointment because of what everybody else thought," he said. "But from my aspect, I think this team has come a long way and they're playing hard. As long as they keep playing hard, I don't have any complaints. But my only complaint is that we haven't been playing consistent.
"I tell them not to worry about the pressure. I mean if they lose the region tournament, it's going to be might fault. If they win it, they won. So I think the pressure is on me to direct them to that, but I don't want the pressure to be on them thinking they have to win it."