At the beginning of the season coaches voiced their opinions on the aspects necessary for a basketball team to make it to Macon: vision, wanting to uphold tradition, having a go-to player, balance offensively and defensively, team unity and community support.
Ever the deflectors of attention, there’s one necessary aspect the coaches forgot to mention: themselves.
Talent is for naught without a coach properly cultivating it.
Team balance can’t be achieved without a coach instilling confidence in everyone, from the last player off the bench to the leading scorer.
And vision would just be another word for sight without a coach saying, "I think you can."
Aside from both being in the state semifinals, the Gainesville boys and Buford girls have a common denominator: the ability of their coaches.
I have no doubt that if needed, both Todd Cottrell of Gainesville and Gene Durden of Buford could come draw up a last-second play that would ensure victory, but that isn’t what I mean by ability.
In the first Gainesville game I watched this season, two things struck me: the sheer athleticism of the Red Elephants and something that occurred during a break in action.
Cottrell called a 30-second, his players on the bench walked out with him to the court to meet the five coming off, they huddled and not an eye strayed from him while he talked.
Not one glance into the stands, not one glance at a teammate, not one glance at the person handing out water; all eyes were intently focused on Cottrell — that’s ability.
When his players come off the court, whether they are being taken out for making a mistake or because they need a breather; Cottrell reacts the same way, with a high-five, a pat on the backside and an encouraging word — that’s coaching ability.
When one of his players steps to the free throw line to shoot two, Buford’s Durden holds up two fingers. Simultaneously, each of the other four players on the court run to him and focus on whatever message he’s giving. They then sprint back to get in position to rebound should their teammate miss the second shot.
The Lady Wolves don’t stroll, their eyes don’t glaze over by the fourth time they’ve had to come to the sideline and they don’t ever forget to come running.
It’s because their coach has ability.
Sitting on a shelf in Durden’s office are framed pictures of family and former players, one of which stands out.
Inscribed on a picture of two girls playing basketball is a note that simply says, "You made ball fun for me again. Thank you, Jessi Gowan."
Coaching ability at its finest.
Cottrell and Durden are coaches in two different classifications, of two different genders and with two different styles.
Cottrell isn’t a sideline pacer, Durden never sits down.
Cottrell laughs during a game, Durden doesn’t.
What they share, however, are the abilities to inspire, motivate and lead.
Evidenced by a huddle, a note and a trip to Macon.
Katie B. Davis is a sports writer for The Times. Her column appears Monday’s during basketball season.