ALBANY -- They're coming, a caravan covered in green and gold, soaked in pride and rooted in affection for a basketball program that all but defines Terrell County High School.
They will come in wave after wave tonight, a convoy that will turn Highway 82 into a parade route, a personal conga-line that will dance its way from Dawson right into the heart of the Good Life City, right onto the court at the Albany Civic Center, where the Greenwave's boys and girls teams will take center stage tonight against Westover as part of a quadrupleheader with Albany vs. Dougherty.
"Dawson will be coming,'' said Terrell County guard Charles Brown, whose team will play Westover in the 8:30 p.m. finale. "Dawson's coming, Terrell County's coming. I know they will be there.''
They always are.
Terrell County's faithful took over in Macon last year during the Final Four, where the Greenwave lost a heartbreaker in overtime to Whitefield Academy. The Greenwave fans are passionate. They believe in their kids and support them as well -- or better -- than any team in Southwest Georgia.
That's one reason Terrell County has been invited to join the party at the Civic Center, where high school basketball returned this year after a seven-year absence with the impact of a thundering dunk.
The first two sets of games drew crowds in the neighborhood of 3,000 and tonight's foursome of games could set a new standard.
"We think this could be the biggest crowd of the year,'' said Dougherty County Assistant Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Goseer, who along with Superintendent Joshua Murfree, spearheaded the return of high school hoops to the Civic Center. "I think Terrell County will bring 1,500 fans or more.''
They're talking about the game all over Dawson.
"At school and everywhere you go, people are talking about us playing in the Civic Center,'' said Herald Super 6er Terel Hall, who runs the floor for the Greenwave. "I know that at our parents' jobs people are talking about it.''
The fans should see a classic.
Terrell County, ranked No. 3 in The Herald's Top 5 and No. 4 in the Class A state poll, beat Westover, 52-43, on Jan. 15 in front of a standing-room-only crowd in Dawson. The loss knocked Westover (13-9) from No. 2 in The Herald's Top 5 Poll down to No. 4.
Westover isn't just looking for revenge, but the Patriots dropped a tough game to Dougherty (66-61) on Tuesday and are trying to get on track for the stretch run leading up to the postseason. Westover won its first game in the Civic Center, beating Class AA state power Thomasville on Jan. 7.
Dougherty (8-4) lost Jan. 7 in the Civic Center to Herald No. 1 Monroe, which also beat Westover in the Civic Center on Jan. 14. The Trojans are one of the most entertaining teams in this part of the state with a full-throttle offense that is led by Super 6er McArthur Gaines,
The Trojans beat Albany 55-52 back on Nov. 20, but that was a lifetime ago for the Indians, who are one of the most improved teams in the area. Larry Sanford and Tim Pierce have emerged as stars at Albany, where the Indians have aspirations of making a run in the postseason.
That's one reason Albany coach Archie Chatmon, who coached many games in the Civic Center back in the 1990s, likes the idea of playing there.
"It's a good opportunity for us to play in that building,'' he said. "You're going to have to play in facilities like that if you advance in the playoffs.''
Gaines, who helped Dougherty reach the Elite 8 in Columbus last year, echoed that thought.
"This helps us because we know we're going to have to play at places like Columbus State and Macon if we want to win a state title,'' Gaines said. "We played at Columbus last year and got that experience.''
Dougherty's boys will play Albany at 7 p.m. and a huge crowd is expected for that game between two city rivals. The brand of basketball in Albany and the intense rivalries and fan interest is what made Goseer want to bring games back to the Civic Center -- and it was only natural to want Terrell County to be a part of it.
"(Goseer) called us earlier in the year to talk about playing there,'' Terrell County coach John Davis said. "But we couldn't work out the scheduling to play Monroe there. But when he called this time to play Westover, it worked out. We're excited about playing there. It's a good experience for us. Hopefully, it will help get us ready for the future (in the playoffs at Columbus State and Macon). We're looking to get to Macon. That's every team's goal. That's what you play for, to make it to the end.''
Terrell County (15-2) brings back four starters from last year's Final Four team and the newest starter, junior Dekoven Ware, has blossomed into a force inside. He scored 18 and grabbed 12 rebounds in the first meeting against Westover, and had a monster game last week, hitting 17 of 18 shots and scoring 36 points and grabbing 16 rebounds against Calhoun County -- a game that helped him win the Herald's Player of the Week award.
The Greenwave love the idea of playing on the big court.
"I'm excited. I've never played on a big stage like that,'' said senior center Elliot Harvey.
The bigger court should fit right in to what Terrell County loves to do -- run, run and run some more.
"That's always been our philosophy,'' Davis said. "We like full court pressure and to try to speed the other team up.''
Westover isn't shy about running either, so the nightcap could be a classic. The two early girls games feature Herald No. 2 Westover (16-3) and Terrell County at 4 p.m., followed by Herald No. 4 Dougherty (12-5) against Albany High at 5:30 p.m. in city rival game. Dougherty beat Albany, 55-43, on Nov. 20, but the game was much closer than the score.
The seating is first-come, first-serve, and many of the best seats might fill up early tonight because this is also the first time high school games are being played at the Civic Center on a Saturday night.
And then, of course, there is the Dawson factor.
"Oh, they're coming,'' said Terrell County guard Brian Browner. "Our fans bring everybody to the game.''