Worth County seniors, from left, Ottis Jackson, Nick Burley and Dontate Cooper have helped the Rams to an 8-1 start. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)
SYLVESTER — It’s Thursday afternoon and the students have gone home for Christmas break, but the Worth County boys basketball team is in the middle of a practice.
The Rams are working on rebounding drills. Senior Nick Burley buries a three-point basket from the top of the key.
“That’s a good shot,” coach Arthur Davis says.
The rest of the players agree, then they move on to the next drill.
There’s no grumbling from Davis. In fact, Thursday’s practice is as laid-back as it gets.
“It’s like this all the time,” junior Ken’Darrius Collier said. “Coach Davis is getting us ready for our next game, but he’s also getting us ready for things (we’ll face) later on in life. We’re always relaxed and laid-back.”
These are the fruits of Davis’ labor. Entering his fifth season, the veteran coach has his Rams off to an 8-1 start, including an impressive 5-0 record in Region 1-AAAA.
The Rams, who are ranked No. 1 in the latest Herald Fab 5 Poll, have sacrificed winning records the past few years to build a program. They hope their quick start leads to bigger and better things.
“The kids see their hard work is paying off,” Davis said. “This isn’t a one-year thing. It has taken us four years to get where we want to be.”
Davis had his work cut out for him when he took over the boys program in 2009. He’s a basketball coach at a football school, trying to make Worth County relevant on the court. The Rams haven’t posted a winning season under his tutelage. However, the players believe that is coming soon.
“I know football is always going to be No. 1 here, but I want us to be respected,” Davis said. “I want people to know Worth County can play a little basketball and we can put a quality product on the floor.”
Last season, Worth narrowly missed making the state tournament by a game.
Davis has tried to build the basketball program from the bottom, starting at the middle school. When he arrived, he said the middle school and high school teams weren’t on the same page.
Now, the same offenses and defenses the varsity employs are used among the middle school teams, the ninth-grade teams and the junior varsity. The entire program practices together during the summer, and every player goes to team camps.
“By the time players get to high school, they’re not having to start from scratch,” Davis said. “I like to hope it is paying some dividends.”
The Rams returned four starters from last season’s 13-14 campaign. However, it’s four seniors that Davis said has become the backbone. Burley is the team’s vocal leader, while the other three — guard Dontate Cooper and forwards Ottis Jackson and David Tolbert — have led by example.
Sophomore guard and Herald Super 6er Anfernee McLemore has received most of the highlights. But Davis said the senior class has been very instrumental.
“We’re where we’re at because of those seniors,” he said. “I’m proud of what we’ve done so far, but it’s a long season and lot of work has to be done. Nobody gives out awards halfway through the season.”
Davis may be “laid-back” in his coaching style according to his players. However, he does have a way to get his team’s attention. After the Rams lost their season-opening game against Houston County, he made the team wear 25-pound weight vests in practice the next day.
Since the Rams are on an eight-game winning streak, they haven’t had to deal with the vests in a few weeks.
“Those were rough,” Collier said. “That’s why we had to go ahead and start winning some games.”
Davis is pleased with his team’s start. However, he knows Westover and Monroe lurk on the Rams’ schedule after the holiday break, then it’s back through the Region 1-AAAA schedule a second time.
“It’s good the way we’ve been playing,” junior Jamon Moore said. “I think we can go far. But we have to keep working because the season is nowhere near finished.”