When Neil Bailey landed the job of head coach for the newly created men’s basketball team at East Georgia College, he had to start from scratch — and quickly. He arrived at the college in Swainsboro in August and had to develop a schedule, a practice routine and scout players.
When he hosted walk-on tryouts, the coach was approached by four athletes from Hinesville: Derrick Nesbitt, Joseph Owens, Andre Holliday and Will Jackson. The players’ experience and cohesiveness won them starting positions for the inaugural season. Then, in mid-season, former Bradwell Tiger basketball player Dana King Jr., who had served in the Army, told Bailey he was interested in returning to school and to basketball."He finished his two years of active duty and is continuing on in the Reserves," Bailey said. "But he wanted to get back to school and play basketball and he learned about the opportunity here. He contacted me and we had several conversations and I brought him out here to work out. I was real hesitant about adding someone in the middle of the year, but there were a couple of things about Dana that made him stand out. One was his maturity. He knew what he wanted, his education, to play basketball."
The other factor, the coach said, was King’s skills on the court.
"He is lightning fast," Bailey said. "He’s one of the best on-the-ball defenders that I’ve ever coached and I’ve coached some pretty good ones. He adds an element of quickness, leadership, maturity and a certain degree of confidence — all qualities I really highly prize in basketball players. I told my guys and I tell my people a lot that I’ll take quick over big. And he doesn’t have the big part, but he has the quick part."
Suddenly, the college’s new program ignited. With the Hinesville five and several key players rounding out the roster, the Bobcats won six games in a row, improving to 6-5 in the Georgia Junior College Athletic Association.
They beat Southeastern Tech 119-47 on Jan. 21. Nesbitt led the Bobcats with 25 points. On Jan. 16, they beat Georgia Northwestern 81-78, coming back from a 15-point deficit.
Earlier that week, the Bobcats defeated Middle Georgia Tech 97-82. EGC also picked up a 72-70 win against Emory-Oxford College.
"We have absolutely exceeded our expectations," Bailey said. With the exception of Dana (King), everyone on our team was a student of East Georgia College when I was hired here. We truly are a team of walk-ons. They were at the right place at the right time. We chose a good group of guys who have really come together. They bought into the team concept. Everybody is contributing. They work hard every day in practice and they have improved. They have changed their bodies, their attitudes are great. They’ve become more skilled."
But, as a coach, Bailey thinks there is always room for improvement. He said the team’s weakest link is hitting the boards.
"We are very small," Bailey said. "We have a young man, Kenneth Jordan, who hails from Wadley. He is 6’4" and plays a lot of minutes inside, as does 6’5" Joseph Owens. These guys are going up against guys who are 6’8", 6’9" or bigger. So they are really having to battle for everything inside. That’s been our point of emphasis and need for improvement. I think part of our success over the last six games is due to our improvement defensively."
The Bobcat’s next home game is Feb. 4 against Middle Georgia College. It’s a game that is quickly becoming a local rivalry.
"We played them before and they beat us handily the first time, although our two leading scorers were out that game as well as a couple of other guys," the coach said. "But we will be basically starting five different players when we play them again. They are ranked in the top 25 in the country in the JCAA and they are in first place in the conference. It will be a real measuring stick as to where we are after in our first year. But we feel like we can give them a good game."