State championship or bust --- Part 1

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

DAWSON -- Charles Brown said he knew what the word meant, but he wanted an exact definition, so he grabbed a dictionary.

"Coach kept talking about wanting to have a team with passion so I looked the word up,'' Brown said.

No one in Dawson needs a definition any more. All they have to do is watch the Terrell County High boys basketball team play.

"I got a team with passion. This team has it,'' said Terrell County coach John Davis, who has seen his kids defy the odds and pull upset after upset to reach the GHSA Class A Final Four in Macon, where the Greenwave face defending state champ Whitefield Academy at 5:30 p.m. today. "There's a difference between loving something and having passion for it. You can put the love down and pick it up, but when you have passion it goes a little deeper.''

Dawson has fallen in love with this team, which can't turn around without being invited to a cookout or dinner of some kind. Adults are wearing shirts that read "Let's Do This Thing,'' which became the team's motto during the stretch run, and you can spot children and adults wearing Greenwave jerseys with the names and numbers of the players.

"We're like celebrities,'' said Markez Dotson, whose shot at the buzzer beat Greenville last week. "It's been real exciting. People said we wouldn't win this year, and now we're in the Final Four, and now everybody is with us.''

It has been a near impossible journey, but Terrell County, which was a huge underdog in the Region 1-A title game against Lanier, and even a bigger underdog against Greenville and Kantavious Pope, the top-ranked Class A player in Georgia, managed to survive. Then they played unbeaten Wilkinson, the top-ranked team in the state in a game no one gave them a chance to win -- and won again.

"We love being the underdog,'' point guard Terel Hall said. "But I always felt we would make it to the Final Four. I knew that from the get-go because we have heart. Coach talked a lot about having a team with passion at the beginning of the year, and I think we do. We all have passion. We all have heart.''

Hall will get his wish. The Greenwave (24-5) will once again be a huge underdog today. Whitefield (27-3) has lost only one game in Georgia, losing twice to state powers in Alabama, and has shredded opponents on its run to Macon, outscoring the three tournament teams, 229-131.

If that's not enough to intimidate Terrell County, the Wolfpack beat Greenville 78-57 this season, and has another reason to haunt the Greenwave. The last time the Greenwave made it to the Final Four was 2007, and that team -- coincidentally -- lost to Whitefield 88-48.

"We've got to find a way to conquer another giant,'' Davis said. "It has been a rough, rough road. But the road has prepared us. Playing those teams has prepared us. You look back at that road and say, 'Did I go through Greenville? Did I go through Wilkinson?' You look at that and all that builds confidence. This team doesn't have fear, because of that confidence.''

So go ahead and knock Terrell County. Davis believes all the talk about how his team can't win, just motivates his kids.

"It's another mountain,'' Hall said. "The pressure is on them, because they don't want to lose to an underdog.''

Mountain? Goliath? Pick your metaphor. The Greenwave's players have heard it so many times on this courageous run.

"We know what they're saying,'' said guard Brian Browner, who hit three 3s against Wilkinson, including back-to-back bombs to open the game. "They're saying 'We can't lose to those country boys.' I heard them saying that at Wilkinson County. We have to show them how we play basketball in Southwest Georgia.''

They play as one, that's how.

The Greenwave couldn't be much closer, and everyone from Browner to Brown, who always ends up taking the toughest defensive assignment, to DeKoven Ware, who came off the bench to hit a 3 in the final seconds against Greenville to Hall, and Dotson to Alre'k Brown, who has towered over bigger big men through the stretch run.

"We're like brothers,'' Alre'k Brown said. "We are closer. It has been a great road, but we're not finished yet. It doesn't matter who we play, we're not going to lay down for anybody.''

Terrell County hasn't won a state title since 1984, but now the Greenwave is just two victories away.

"People said we wouldn't win 10 games this year,'' said Alre'k Brown, who had eight blocks against Wilkinson. "A lot of people here believe in us now, but we're still going to be the underdogs. We have always been the underdogs. I don't think we will prove our point until we are the state champions.''