Gainesville head coach Chuck Graham is no stranger to sharing a sideline with Cherokee Bluff coach Benjie Wood at Lanierland tournaments. After all, Graham spent six years coaching under Wood as an assistant with the Red Elephants.
But with Wood’s Bears slated to play against Gainesville in an 8 p.m. tilt Thursday in the first round of Lanierland, the two coaches will take the court as foes for the first time.
Graham said the matchup is a “great opportunity” for his team, but he maintained that no matter the opponent, the focus going into any game remains on his own players — not whoever they’re going up against.
“Not to say that it’s not special going up against coach Wood, but we’re really in tune and focusing on Gainesville right now — what we have to do to get better,” Graham said. “We embrace the opportunity and the challenge, and we’re looking forward to it. But our biggest emphasis is on making sure we do what we’re supposed to do.”
Graham added that the two have talked recently, but have not discussed the prospect of coaching against each other at any great lengths. He said the game will not “change anything about the friendship.”
Following his play-in game last week against Chestatee, Wood was of much the same mindset, adding that “Coach Graham is like a brother to me.” No matter the outcome, Wood said his relationship with Gainesville coaches and players will not be soured by a contest between his old and new teams.
“I love those kids to death, and I know how good they are,” Wood said. “We’re just hoping to come out and compete and have a good time. I’ll hug them before the game and hug them after the game.”