Saturday, January 24, 2015

Shame on me: Harlem is in better position than I realized.

There is no substitute for putting in the the work.  Consistently.  After trumpeting throughout November and December my belief that Harlem will win its region and advance deep into the class 2A state playoffs, I probably made a mistake in concluding, without doing any real homework, that Harlem's early January losses at Swainsboro and Dublin were evidence that the Bulldogs' chances aren't as good as I had hoped.

Providing good insight would have required me to see Harlem play between my last visit to a game (the December 19th thriller versus Grovetown) and now.  And if that were impossible, a phone call or a text exchange with coach Kim Chambers would have done the trick.  But Friday's chance exchange with Chambers made apparent some factors that suggest the Bulldogs are in a much better position to win its region, either in the regular season, the tournament, or both, than I had realized by simply checking the scores of January's games.

In Harlem's 73-49 loss at Swainsboro, the Bulldogs' first game since the holiday break, Chambers sat all but the six players who attended all of his holiday practices.  Playing short handed, Harlem remained within striking distance of the now 7-1 region leaders until the third quarter when the Bulldogs finally "ran out of gas."  And during its 83-80 loss at Dublin, Harlem was on the short end of a 49-25 disparity in free throw attempts.

In my early November post declaring my intention to closely follow Harlem, I predicted a deep playoff run.  Watching the Bulldogs beat Greenbrier, Lakeside, and Grovetown before the holidays reinforced my confidence.  The way the regions are aligned caused me to choose to watch games other than Harlem's during most of January.  But not seeing the Bulldogs play in a month is not a good excuse for not being prepared.  A simple call or text to coach Chambers would have done wonders.  Lesson learned.

But no harm no foul because while I watched Augusta Christian and Hammond play Friday, a buddy filmed Harlem's "payback" opportunity versus then 7-0 Swainsboro.  On its home court, Harlem will have had the chance by Tuesday to even the series with the two region opponents who have beaten the Bulldogs, Swainsboro and Dublin (Tuesday).  More importantly, two wins would move Harlem into second place, or even a tie for first if the Bulldogs get some help.  At stake is the bye into the semifinal round of region tournament play that goes to the region's top team.

And so far so good as coach Chambers' group disposed of Swainsboro (64-49) with relative ease at home Friday.  Florida Gulf Coast signee Reggie Reid led the way with 18 points.  Rayshaun Morris and Steven St. Claire added 14 and 12 points, respectively.

Harlem's athleticism is a major advantage over its 2A peers.  And nowhere is this advantage more pronounced than at the point, where Reid plays.  As I saw him do against Lakeside in December, Reggie had stretches Friday where he cleared the defensive glass and went coast to coast and either finished the initial shot or rebounded his own miss until he converted.  He rebounded his own misses after jump shots and free throws, leaving the impression that he can almost score at will with a lack of taller players protecting the rim.

Besides his exceptional athleticism, Reid also distinguishes himself with his selflessness.  Because of his gifts, I have often found myself wishing he were more selfish.  And he certainly has the ability to dominate a game by attacking repeatedly, as he did in Harlem's comeback win over Grovetown one month ago.  But he is more comfortable helping teammates be successful.  And his generosity looked contagious Friday.  Specifically, Torrien Beard, who has impressed me all season, repeatedly set up teammates for easy scores in Friday's win.  The combination of these two guards' athleticism, scoring ability, and unselfishness will be difficult for 2A teams to handle this post season.

I mentioned being impressed with Beard.  And everyone who has watched Reid has been impressed with him for years.  But coach Chambers has more weapons, as was evident Friday.  Rayshaun Morris began his senior season with a 10 point first quarter against Greenbrier that set the Bulldogs off and running months ago.  Friday's first quarter reminded me of that November evening as the slashing wing finished with his off hand (his left) with soft floaters in transition.  And Steven St. Claire shoots the ball well every time I watch him play.

Whether or not my faith in the Bulldogs wavered recently, I am happy to see Harlem is on track to have a post season to remember.  I will be sure not to watch the end of January from afar!

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