Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Did you hear the one about the guy from Atlanta who came to the Albany in search of big-time high school basketball? He headed over the Flint River, looking for Dougherty's fast and sleek and hard-driving Trojans.

They weren't there.

He turned around and made his way to Monroe, the home of the twin towers, tough-as-tar defense and Albany's rising power, the Tornadoes, who just kept finding ways to win.

They weren't there.

So finally, he headed north and west for the dynasty, the Yankees of Albany basketball, for the Patriots of Westover fame and lore.

They weren't there, either.

Deerfield-Windsor's GISA powerhouse was done, too, as well as Sherwood's revamped and rising GISA program.

There's one boys basketball team in the Good Life City today, and life couldn't be much better at Albany High.

"I was shocked when I heard Monroe, Dougherty and Westover all lost in the first round of the playoffs,'' said Albany High coach Archie Chatmon, whose Indians are the last boys team standing in the GHSA state playoffs.

The Indians (15-11) travel tonight to face Lamar (27-3) at 6 p.m. in Barnseville for the second round of the GHSA Class AA playoffs, just two wins away from a trip to the Final Four.

They're not just alive in the playoffs, they're alive and kicking. While the three city powers were falling like the George W. Bush stock market, Albany was rolling in the first round, romping past East Laurens, 55-39.

They didn't sneak up anyone -- at least no one who was paying attention. Chatmon's kids gave the other three city powers fits, playing everyone twice and everyone close. They beat Westover in overtime for one of their signature wins this season, but they came away from every city rivalry game feeling good about themselves.

"(Our) coaches talked about it,'' Chatmon said. "We were in every one of those games with an opportunity to win it at the end and that helped us playing those three rivals. I don't know how the kids felt, but the coaches felt real good about the way we played.''

And Albany played Thomasville, possibly the best Class AA team in Georgia, three times in Region 1-AA before finishing second to the state-ranked Bulldogs. Albany was in every game, and lost a heartbreaker at home to Thomasville in the final seconds.

"Those three games against Thomasville and the games we played against the local schools really set the tone for this team,'' Chatmon said. "Most of what we accomplished comes from those three Thomasville games and playing against the (local) juggernauts.''

What makes this road to the playoffs even sweeter is the fact that there are former Albany High kids starting at every school in town -- private and public. If those kids had stayed, the Indians might have been a preseason favorite to reach the Final Four.

"Two years ago, I looked at that top group of seven kids who left here and thought that we might really be the top team in the state this year,'' Chatmon said.

But they left.

"That's one of the reasons I love this season so much,'' Chatmon said. "These kids on this team had no one but themselves. This group had no choice. They were thrust together because of adversity, and to accomplish what they have accomplished ...."

Chatmon then stopped, before starting again. "God is good. I love this group.''

He means it.

The Indians aren't castaways. They're arguably the most loyal players in this town, lifting a program on their backs and making a name for themselves in spite of everything that was against them.

And they're young. There's only one senior on the 15-man roster, and that's sixth man Jibri Jimmerson, who has come off the bench to give Chatmon some big minutes. But that's redundant. Every player on this team has stepped up big this season.

Five juniors start on a team that includes six freshmen and a sophomore -- a team that is anchored by a pair of linemen from the football team who have stepped in and made immeasurable strides this season, and a pair of guards who suddenly discovered the sky was the limit for them and immediately starting flying toward it.

Tim Pierce and Larry Sanford, Albany's soaring guards, have grown up this year, just in time to make the Indians one of the toughest Class AA teams to beat in the state. Just look at their results: They played 26 times and had a chance to win 24 of them.

Both Pierce and Sanford are averaging 16 points a game, and carry the offensive load.

Chatmon has a policy of not allowing his players to talk to the media, but he loves to talk about his kids.

"They are scoring now the way I always envisioned them to score,'' he said of Pierce and Sanford. "It seems like a light went on for those two this year, and they are both scoring in high double figures every game. I felt it had to be that way for us to win. That was the turning point."

His two inside big men are literally big -- not just tall, but big bodies -- but Jontavious Morris and Roscoe Byrd, who start on both lines and are the co-captains of the football team, also are the captains for Chatmon. He calls them his "roly-polys,'' and he loves them.

"We win because of our defense,'' Chatmon said. "And those two are the anchor of our defense. You look at their numbers and you don't see much, three of four points a game and four or five rebounds a game, but they stand in there and take charge after charge, and they make our defense work. They hit the floor five, six times a game.

"They do all the things you don't see (in the stats), all the important things to help us win. They bring a toughness you don't see in the stats. There are things not measured by stats. It's the other stuff that makes a difference.''

Then there's Kenny Anderson, whose role is almost indefinable, because even as the third guard on this team, Anderson pulls down six or seven rebounds a night and scores close to 10 points.

Collectively, this group has made its own name -- a name based on its tough, gritty in-your-face defense and no-quit attitude. But Chatmon sees even more than that.

"This is my 3-plus team,'' he said proudly. "Because everyone on this team has a GPA of 3-plus. That's my biggest joy about this group. And if there is a big difference (in us winning close games) it might be their brains. They are good kids, smart kids.''

And here they are, the last team standing in Albany -- and looking for more.

"I've had teams with better win-loss records,'' Chatmon said. "But it's hard to have a better year than I've had with this team.''