Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Butler and Grovetown pass big tests... More ahead

Don Coleman has led Butler into an
important week of class 3A action
The fundamentals are always important.  Building a strong basketball program takes mastery of the fundamentals, and one crucial factor is scheduling.  Teams will not grow without difficult tests that expose flaws so improvement opportunities can be identified and addressed.  These tests also inevitably lead to failures, which players and coaches absolutely have to learn from if true growth is to occur.  I have written extensively about Laney's exposure to such opportunities.  Lately Butler, and just recently Grovetown, both teams with designs on deep postseason pushes in their respective classifications, placed themselves into situations ripe for this kind of learning.

In back to back games at the MLK Day Invitational at Evans High School, Butler and Grovetown lined up against the state's #2 and #4 ranked class 3A teams, respectively.  Butler's most recent test came ten days after facing #1 ranked Laney and dropping its first region game of the season.  And although Grovetown's opponent may be a member of a smaller classification, my guess is they posed a uniquely difficult challenge compared to the Warriors' local 5A competitors.

The Jenkins-Butler, #2 versus #3 matchup was of special interest because not only have the teams proven themselves to be among the state's elite, but the final four teams that emerge from Butler's region 3 tournament will be matched with those who emerge from Jenkins' region 1 tourney.  Additionally, Jenkins proved in a January 3rd battle at Laney that the Savannah based team is a force.

But most important was the experience the Bulldogs and Warriors gained in stepping outside of region play to face two of the state's best.  Butler, stinging after being stripped of two region wins for seemingly nonsensical reasons, needed to be in top form going into Tuesday's home game versus region foe Josey.  In any scenario, this rematch of Butler's come-from-behind road victory over the Eagles in December, which included an old fashioned shootout between the area's top scorers, Butler's Don Coleman and Josey's Darius Williams, always would have been must see action for this hoops fan.  But the game took on an even greater meaning as Butler suddenly found itself, by the stroke of a pen, with a 3-3 region record, at the time tied with Glenn Hills behind Laney (6-0), Washington County (4-2), Josey (4-2).  What does that mean?  Certainly nothing yet, as we are still only one game past the 12 game (3A) region race.  But it is difficult not to spend at least a moment on the impact of the GHSA's ruling to reverse Butler's wins at Josey and Washington County.

*Records are stated here as they stood before Tuesday's round of region games.  I will update them later in the post when reporting on Tuesday's action.  The point here is to show what Butler faced leading into the week.

*Before Ruling                             *After Ruling
Laney (6-0)                                     Laney (6-0)
Butler (5-1)                                     Washington County (4-2)
Washington County (3-3)               Josey (4-2)
Josey (3-3)                                      Butler (3-3)
Glenn Hills (3-3)                            Glenn Hills (3-3)
Hephzibah (1-5)                             Hephzibah (1-5)  
Westside (0-6)                                Westside (0-6)

I read Wayne Staats' (whose work I enjoy greatly) report of the GHSA ruling and understand that nearly forty days ago, Butler's Don Coleman fouled an opponent, the foul was ruled a "common foul," and after the opponent was discovered to be injured, the officials changed the fouled to a "flagrant" status.  Evidently, flagrant fouls result in two game suspensions in GHSA play.  Coleman didn't sit against Josey and Washinton County, so the GHSA stripped Butler of those wins.

What do I think about this situation?  Unless there is more to the story, I think the adults have botched this one big time.  In what common sense based basketball league are fouls "upgraded" to punishable-by-two-game-suspension offenses, after the initial call, because the player being fouled is discovered to have been injured?  And in what common sense based basketball league is a coach expected to know, I suppose by diligent study of the encyclopedia-like GHSA rulebook, that flagrant fouls are to lead to two game suspensions?  It's not like this is common in mainstream basketball associations or leagues.  But the adults made a rule.  So let's all hide behind it and pretend it makes sense...  Nonsense!

But the good news is the young men are smart enough to know things are ultimately decided on the court, the place where they are safe from the well-meaning, yet at times bumbling adults.  Except the officials, that is.  But the players long ago learned to deal with them.

Now that I have have described why I was so interested in Butler and Grovetown's weeks, and vented about what I believe to be Butler's misfortune, I'll share my thoughts from Monday and Tuesday's games.

Butler vs Jenkins:  Monday, January 19th

Monday's MLK Day Invitational non region matchup between Butler, the state's third ranked class 3A team, and Jenkins of Savannah, who is 8-0 in region 1 play and pegged as the state's second ranked 3A team, was every bit the heavyweight battle all the other high profile games between class 3A titans we've been fortunate enough to see this month (#1 Laney vs #2 Jenkins; #1 Laney vs #3 Butler, and #1 Laney vs #5 Morgan County).  Butler controlled the action in the first half, benefitting from stellar play by Don Coleman, Ben Rhodes, and Ricquail Smoot.  All three are playing better than I've ever seen them play.  They are playing efficiently and finding and making high percentage shots.  Coleman did a great job not only of scoring, but of setting up his teammates for good opportunities.  A product of my seeing him play so much this season has been a growing appreciation for his range of skills and intangible qualities.  I've talked about his competitiveness and, of course, his ability to score in bunches.  And although he has created opportunities for teammates all season, the "point guard" portion of his "combo guard" skill set that Florida Atlantic coach Mike Curry must be so excited about is what struck me most while watching Monday's game.  See Coleman's facilitating and scoring, Rhodes' play making, and Smoot's somewhat newly found interior dominance during this action from Monday's first half:

But Jenkins is undefeated in region play and sporting a resume second only to Laney (18-1, 7-0) for good reasons.  And the Savannah based team fully displayed its capabilities in Monday's second half, scoring 56 points to earn a 78-65 victory before both teams got back to region action Tuesday.

As noted after its game at Laney, Jenkins plays extremely hard.  And its weapons are varied and plenty.  6'7" "point forward" Nicholas Severado has been fun to watch breaking the full court traps Laney and Butler have used to rattle so many opponents.  He uses his ball handling skills and mobility to beat bigger defenders playing in unfamiliar territory on the perimeter.  Monday he drew help defenders, gave teammates free looks, and finished a sweet floater on the move.  And his contributions are made on both ends.  He uses his length and athleticism to change and block shots.  Severado is probably the most skilled player of his size I've watched this season.

Butler vs Josey:  Tuesday, January 20th

Darius Williams and Josey stood in the way of Butler's
quest to regain its footing in the region 3A standings
Before going into detail, I'll say Tuesday's game between region 3A contenders Butler and Josey was no work of art.  Possessions were lost, quick and off-balance shots were heaved without many passes or much patience, and bodies constantly flew to the ground in pursuit of a loose basketball.  This is to be expected from two teams who know each other well, who during this point in the season likely aren't very fond of each other, and who are certainly each in pursuit of a second place finish in the 3A regular season region race.  The reason this spot, or even the third spot, is so important is because the team in the fourth spot, which before Tuesday belonged to Butler after two of its region wins had recently been stripped away by the GHSA, will likely be destined to meet Laney (currently 7-0) in the semifinals of the region tournament.  I concede that neither team is afraid of Laney.  But no sane mind would want to face that buzz saw earlier than necessary.  And the prize for finishing first or second in the region tournament is one or more home games during the state playoffs.

I apologize for looking so far ahead.  But after the GHSA's ruling has so significantly changed Butler's mid season positioning, and after Tuesday's passing of the halfway point in regular season region play, Butler's matchup with Josey took on a new meaning.  Above I mentioned Butler's MLK Day test versus class 3A's second best team, Jenkins, and how crisp the Bulldogs looked, even in defeat.  The flashes of brilliance were fewer and further in between during Tuesday's come-from-behind 65-64 home win over Josey.  But if I were to poll Butler's players about which day was better, we all know the uglier win is much more satisfying than the aesthetically pleasing loss.

The same players who played with such great rhythm Monday made the most impact Tuesday.  Ricquail Smoot continued his development by dominating the paint on both ends.  This makes three consecutive games (versus Laney, Jenkins, and Tuesday versus Josey) where he has consistently done something I hadn't seen him do prior to this January:  use his size to get easy baskets in the paint.  He has always been a skilled player.  Mixing his touch and his knack for scoring with some ferociousness inside has yielded good results for the Bulldogs this month, and most recently last night.

The most effective combination of wing players I've seen this season has been Butler's Don Coleman and Ben Rhodes.  Rhodes made important baskets in Tuesday's second half that seemed to instantly erase Josey's 42-27 halftime advantage.  And Coleman's nifty baseline drive-and-finish (after Butler patiently ran 30+ seconds off the clock) to give the Bulldogs a 65-62 advantage with less than a minute remaining was the type of tough basket only he can consistently deliver.

Will things get easier for coach Cervantes Boddy's Bulldogs?  Of course not.  This is region 3A basketball.  Butler will host Washington County Friday.  As noted, the region wins stripped from Butler were earned against Josey and Washington County.  So a win Friday would no doubt give coach Boddy's group some emotional satisfaction.  But more importantly, and quite impressively, the Bulldogs could find themselves right back in second place in what is likely class 3A's best region, which is no small feat given the obstacles recently placed in Butler's path.

Grovetown vs Cedar Grove:  Monday, January 19th

Logan Morris and Grovetown have now won 5
consecutive region 5A games

Grovetown was able to stay with its highly ranked 3A opponent for one half Monday.  Despite losing, the experience likely helped the Warriors prepare to win its fifth consecutive region game Tuesday at Cross Creek, repaying the Razorbacks for Grovetown's only loss in this season in 5A play.  With four games remaining, Grovetown is in the driver's seat to earn a high seed in its region tournament.  Solomon Gause, Logan Morris, and Shamar Barrett form a formidable trio of perimeter shooters/scorers.  See them in action versus Cedar Grove here:


  1. Completely agree with your comments on the foul and suspension. The fact that a player is injured should have nothing to do with the severity of the foul (punishment). Crazy.

  2. And Chris, how about how a flagrant foul results in a two game suspension? So I swing at a block and club a guy in the head and I have to sit out the rest of that game plus two more? What genius thought of that? It's not like that is the deal anywhere else on basketball earth.

  3. It's crazy for them to do Butler like that.. So glad u posted this!! These boys worked so hard to get to this point.. thank God they are playing like it never happened, and the sad thing is last year the same thing happened to another player he sat out 2 games and then continued to play and nothing was said.. This year Don Coleman did the same thing and they take back 4 region games a bunch of nonsense