ALBANY -- The stars aligned just right for Radium Springs Middle School boys basketball coach Chico Brown this season.
Fortunate to have an experienced-laden team, the Panthers (9-0) now sit one game away from a perfect regular season -- provided they can beat Albany Middle School today at 5:30 p.m. at the Indians' gym.
"The last time Radium Springs won the (area) middle school championship was 2000, right when I started working for the school," said Brown, who has been the head coach for the last five years. "We were about .500 last year, but we were top-heavy with eighth-graders this year and these kids have been with me, most of them, since they were in the sixth grade. This is, by far, the best team I've ever coached."
Led by Markenon Vangure (point guard), Shannon Saunders (forward) and Jaylen Bell (guard), Radium Springs has beaten all its opponents by an average of 20 points this season -- including Albany Middle, which Brown says he expects to see in a rematch in the middle school title game next Thursday. Radium will have a bye for finishing with the best record, then advance directly to the title game.
"Albany has the second-best record in the city, but we've just been tough to stop this year," Brown said. "We just play really aggressive. Run the floor. Play hard defense. Just really fast-paced."
Brown says Vangure is "one of the main reasons we're having so much success," adding that his floor general is averaging 14 points a game behind Saunders' team-high 15. Bell, meanwhile, is the team's defensive specialist.
"Jaylen's a tempo-changer," Brown said.
But with so much on the line today for the program -- and the hopes this season will end with the Panthers' first area championship in 10 years -- Brown said the focus this week has been on one thing: Don't count your chickens before they hatch.
"Well, being that these kids are 13 and 14, it's hard to keep them from getting a big head," the coach said. "I've just been tossing out scenarios all week where the big dog on top got beat: New England in the Super Bowl a few years ago, coming in 18-0 and losing; and Florida going undefeated this year and losing in the SEC Championship.
"They should be confident. Just not too confident."