Led by coach Archie Chatmon, center, the AHS boys basketball program, which is coming off its best regular season in school history with just two losses, heads into the first round of Saturday’s GHSA Class AA State Tournament with 13 wins in a row — and tons of momentum. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — Archie Chatmon wants to give his kids two things for their opening-round game in the GHSA Class AA State Tournament against Appling County at home at 6 p.m. on Saturday night — a sound game plan, and amnesia.
“Right now the thing we are telling them is what we have done in the past is over. It means absolutely nothing,’’ Chatmon, who has been the head coach since 1985, said Wednesday. “We’re starting a new season. It’s an old cliché, but nobody cares who won the region. Everybody is 0-0.’’
Albany High may have to forget everything that has happened up to this point, but it’s been a memorable season for many reasons.
WHO: Region 2-AA, No. 4 seed Appling County boys (15-11) at Region 1, No. 1 Albany (23-2).
WHAT: First round of GHSA Class AA State Tournament.
WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday
AT STAKE: Winner will face winner of Region 3, No. 2 Bleckley County-Region 4, No. 3 Northeast, Macon on Wednesday.
The Indians (23-2) not only finished the regular season with a 13-game winning streak and a Region 1-AA title, they were the No. 1 team in The Herald’s Fab 5 Poll for most of the year and finished ranked No. 3 in the Class AA state poll.
There’s one more thing.
“It was our best record ever,’’ Chatmon said. “We never finished a season with two losses. We’ve had some great teams, but we have never had a team with two losses.’’
Both losses came in the final seconds. Westover beat Albany High, 54-51, on Dequan Green’s 3-pointer at the buzzer, and Thomasville beat Albany, 37-36, on Greg Wimberly’s drive with 5.2 seconds left on Jan. 13. The Indians, who have won 17 of their last 18, haven’t lost since.
Chatmon said he is especially proud of the way his team weathered an impossible schedule.
“When I look at the schedule we played, I still can’t believe it. The guy who made that schedule should be fired,’’ joked Chatmon, who is the boys basketball coach, the athletic director and handles everything AHS-related, including talking to the media, which he’s barred his players from doing for nearly two decades. “When you’re talking about that schedule, you’re talking about something that’s never been done. We played all of our nemesis, and we beat them all.’’
The Indians were clearly the best team in Southwest Georgia. They beat Monroe and Westover twice, beat Dougherty three times, beat Region 1-A champ Mitchell County twice and beat powerhouse Terrell County. Plus they beat the best teams in their region on the road, downing Thomasville two-out-of-three, including in Thomasville. They swept Herald No. 2 Early County home and away, and beat Cook three times.
“It’s been our best year up to this point,’’ Chatmon said. “When I look back at this year and the teams we played against, it just makes the accomplishment more fantastic.’’
And somewhere along the way, a team that was expected to have a big season, became better than anyone expected.
Herald Super 6er Tim Pierce has been better than advertised and has had some monster games this season, dropping in 30 points on occasion and leading the team in scoring with an 18-point average. Pierce, a fluid guard who can take over any game, also averaged four steals, three assists and five rebounds.
Larry Sanford was right there with Pierce all season, averaging 15 points, three assists and four rebounds, and the two guards were more than the straws who stirred the drink at Albany High.
They whipped it into a frenzy.
“Those two make the coach look smart,’’ Chatmon said.
Pierce and Sanford simply came up with one clutch game after another, but the Indians reached the first round of the state tournament with a team that all but reshaped itself with the emergence of Tyrone Culbreth and Emmanul Byrd on the inside and the late-season surge from guard Kenny Anderson, who has saved his best for the stretch run.
And that doesn’t even include the immeasurable wealth of talent and leadership co-captains Roscoe Byrd and Jantavious Morris bring to this team. The two football lineman bang inside with anyone and lead in multiple ways, even though they are now coming off the bench.
Culbreth, a junior who returned to Albany High after spending a year at Deerfield-Windsor, has improved all season and is averaging a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds a game). He has had some monster games against big opponents, scoring 15 with 15 rebounds against Thomasville one night and then dropping in 18 points and grabbing 22 rebounds a few days later against Early County in a tough stretch of region games.
Emmanul Byrd, a junior, has soared this season, rising from the bench to become a force inside. Since becoming a midseason starter, he is averaging 10 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots a game, and he brings a physical presence that hammers opponents inside.
“Emmanul has improved more than anyone on the team,’’ Chatmon said. “The impact he has had has been undeniable. He’s been the biggest surprise of the season. I can’t remember what the situation was when we put him in as a starter, but we can’t get him out of the lineup. He has been phenomenal.’’
Culbreth started as a freshman before leaving for DWS, and Chatmon said he had to reacquaint the 6-foot-4 junior to Albany High basketball.
“When he came back I talked to him and told him he had to go back to work,’’ Chatmon said. “We knew it would be an adjustment, but we watched him grow up right before our eyes. He really started to take charge on defense, and he started to come around even sooner than I expected.
“The emergence of those two guys (Culbreth and Byrd) gives us a different team at the 4 and 5 spots, because we can start them and then bring in (football players Roscoe Byrd and Morris) and have a whole different front. We have the two jumpers, and we have the two guys who can (bang) down low. It’s a great luxury to have.’’
Then there’s Anderson, who is averaging eight points and four rebounds for the season. He showed up with back-to-back dramatic performances in the region tournament, grabbing 17 rebounds in two games, flying all over the court, making big-time clutch shots, blocking a huge shot against Thomasville in the final minutes of the title game, and asserting himself every where on the court.
Chatmon praised him more than anyone last Friday night when Albany won the title, and joked about how if New York had Linsanity in the form of emerging point guard Jeremy Lin, then they had Ken-sanity at Albany High.
“He’s our X factor,’’ Chatmon said. “If he can play the way he played over the weekend, I like our chances.’’
That and the fact that Chatmon loves being at home.
Last year, his kids opened the playoffs at home and won their first playoff game in six years before losing in the second round to Lamar on the road. By capturing the region title and No. 1 seed from 1-AA, the Indians could be at home for the first two rounds if they win Saturday.
“I thought that was the difference last year,’’ Chatmon said. “I thought if we would have played Lamar at home we would have won the game. Everyone knows role players don’t play as well on the road. Lamar’s role players hit some big shots, and our role players didn’t have a good game. Everybody knows role players tend to play better at home.’’
Chatmon knows what it’s going to take to make a run at a state title.
“I’m old school,’’ Chatmon said. “It’s defense and defense.’’
He won’t let his kids forget that — even if he does want them to put the regular season behind them.
But what a season it has been. A season of growth that has landed the Indians right where they wanted to be — in the state playoffs and playing at home.