With Bradwell Institute’s boys and girls basketball teams heading into today’s Region 2-AAAAAA basketball tournaments as No. 2 seeds, here’s a question for all you BI basketball historians out there.
When’s the last time both teams were seeded so high in a region tournament at the same time?
Bradwell Institute Athletic Director Ken Griffin isn’t sure. He called it forever. Bradwell’s Hall of Fame girls coach Faye Baker, in her 23rd season at BI, isn’t certain either.
We’ll give Bradwell boys coach Will Douberly a pass. He’s only in his second season here after stints as an assistant at East Georgia and Bulloch Academy that were wrapped around some time in grad school. But we do think it’s been a while. And we’re also pretty sure it doesn’t take a Bradwell expert like coach Joseph Smiley to note that the 2017-18 season has seen a basketball renaissance at Bradwell.
Two of them, actually.
Not only do both teams have a state playoff berth locked up, but they have a shot at home court advantage in the first round of the state Class AAAAAA basketball tournaments.
All they have to do Wednesday for that to happen is win. The next step is playing for a region title, but that doesn’t happen without first winning this one.
"There’s a lot riding on that game," said Baker, who has a handful of Final Fours under her belt yet saw her teams miss the state tournament from 2003 until last season, and then the Lady Tigers were bounced out in the first round. At the same time, Douberly finished his first year as Tigers head coach a game under .500.
It’s been basketball fun since then. They’ve won a combined 33 games so far this year, with the Tigers finishing the regular season 18-6 and the Lady Tigers at 15-9, and both squads have a solid chance to pick up more wins entering today’s tournament semifinals as the region’s No. 2 seed, facing No. 3 Richmond Hill — teams the Tigers and Lady Tigers swept in the regular season.
Those dual No. 2 seeds aren’t exactly par for the course, and neither were the No. 1 and No. 3 finishers, either.
"It unique," Baker said. "Bradwell’s girls and boys are second, Brunswick’s girls and boys are first, and Richmond Hill’s girls and boys are third. That doesn’t happen in a region very often."
Here’s something else that doesn’t happen all that often. It’s called beating a team three times in the same season.
Both Baker and Douberly are aware of that, and they’re sharing the message with players, who, so far, have done well at making their coaches happy.
In the meantime, here’s a look ahead at the tournament. Since the Lady Tigers play first, we’ll start with them. Aside: If you can’t make it to Brunswick, you can listen to the game online at Lowcountryradio.com. The girls play at 3:30 p.m., the boys follow at 5 p.m. Charlie Moon, Simon Steel and John Wood will be calling the game. Enjoy.
This is a team that is growing up together, Baker said, and is ready to take the next step after breaking BI’s long state playoff drought last season.
Jasmine Blevins, a 5-foot-5 inch junior guard, is the Lady Tigers’ leading scorer, averaging 19.8 points a game while recording nearly 5 steals an outing. Junior point guard Esperanza Castro adds 7 points to go with 2.7 assists and 3.5 steals per contest, according to MaxPreps. Sophomore guard Jada Brooks chips more than 9 points a game to the mix while junior guard Rayona Shuman is the team’s top rebounder, averaging more than 6 a contest.
Senior forward Tamia Clark rounds out the starting five and helps provide leadership to a group that Baker said wants to improve on last year’s one-and-done at the state tournament and earn a 2-AAAAAA title along the way.
But first the Wildcats.
"It’s a team we were victorious over twice," Baker said. "But we’re not going into that game complacent. We’ve got to make sure we’re not overconfident and go out and play a good game."
For the coach, that "good game" starts with defense.
"We’ve got to stick to the game plan," Baker said. "We want to make sure we establish our defense first, play with intensity and have our energy level there. If we do that, and do the little things like hitting free throws, I think we’ll have the opportunity to win."
The Lady Wildcats will have ideas of their own, of course.
"They’re well coached and they play good defense," Baker said, adding that the Lady Tigers will have to stay patient offensively against a team that can shoot, play defense and has just as much on the line.
Bradwell is a year older now, Baker said. That trip to state as a No. 4 seed, meaning the Lady Tigers hit the road, was an opportunity to get an idea of what the Class AAAAAA basketball tourney is all about.
Now, the idea is to put last season’s lesson to good use.
‘We were happy to get the experience of going to state last year, so hopefully that experience we have returning pays off this year and we advance a little further. We want to be able to get past that first round this year, but we have to play one game at a time."
So, no complacency. Don’t take anybody lightly.
"Our goal is to win the region championship, but we’re taking it one game at time and we’re not looking past Richmond Hill. It’s a big game and there’s a lot riding on it."
Since the girls play first today, the Lady Tigers know they’re the opening act in a double feature that could see both teams host a state playoff game since the first time since nobody apparently knows when.
"Hopefully, since we play first we’ll set the stage for the boys and we’ll both be hosting home playoff games."
Douberly wasn’t even coaching the last time Baker won a state playoff game and had only three years under his belt as an assistant before he came to BI two seasons ago.
"Honestly, I was really nervous when I came here. I hoped I didn’t mess it up," he said.
So far, so good. That’s for both the coach and his team, a collection of players he speaks highly of time and again.
"Overall, our character of kids is very high," Douberly said. "That’s the biggest thing for me. We’ve got good kids. I feel very blessed to be able to coach them."
Leading the way are senior point guard Khalyn Weekly, who is averaging about 16 points a game; senior forward Ronald Canty, who chips in about 12 points and 10 rebounds a contest; junior guard Isaiah Scott, who scores about 12 a game and junior JaVonte LeCounte, who adds roughly 13 points a game to the mix.
Those don’t include team captain Da’shaun Coleman, a senior and ball distributer who is "one of those glue type players," said Douberly. "We’ve got other kids like that too."
With four players in double figures, the Tigers also have balanced scoring.
"It definitely helps to have balance like we do," their coach said. "But the biggest thing, the No. 1 thing, is our players are talented, and that always helps. They also play unselfish basketball, and they’ve grown closer together as the season has gone on and the chemistry is continuing to get better."
The Tigers aren’t big — Weekly, LeCounte, Coleman, Canty are all listed at 6-foot-3, and Scott is 6-foot-2 — but they aren’t small, either, and Douberly said he could see there was a chance they could turn into something special.
"Lot’s of stuff you can’t control, but we could see early on we could have talent," Douberly said. "You could kind of see the raw material there."
Now the plan is to focus and play hard.
"The biggest thing we’re looking for is intensity," Douberly said. "We want every possession to be the hardest working team on the court, we need to be locked in and focused for the entire game."
By the way, there’s not one particular style that defines the way the Tigers’ play.
"We adjust from game to game. We can play a faster pace (Douberly pointed out the team’s 92-85 overtime win over Glynn) and some games we’re grinding it out and scoring in the 50s. It depends on who we’re playing, and it’s something I’m glad we have."
Like Baker, Douberly knows it’s hard to win three straight against anybody, much less a usually well-coached team like the Wildcats.
"I think we need to keep in mind both games have been very close and in the last one, one of their best players didn’t play and they also had a big man not playing," he said. "We’re not comfortable by any means. I’ve been saying this all year. Any team in the region can win the region title, it’s so loaded with talent and good coaching. We’ve got to play our best game every game if we want a chance to win this thing."