North Hall boys basketball coach Benjie Wood wasn’t too interested in hearing excuses from those inside the locker room on why they wouldn’t succeed this season. Wood, who has succeeded coaching both girls and boys during his career in Hall County, knew that hard work would more than make up for lack of returning talent on the Trojans roster this season.
It looks like his theory has been proven correct.
The North Hall boys (15-6, 8-0 Region 7A-AAA) have the inside track on the No. 1 spot in Region 7A-AAA for the region tournament, heading into tonight’s home game against Creekview (16-6, 5-4). “Everything we’ve done this season has been such a team effort,” Wood said.
The Trojans’ third-year coach has found a way to turn every stumbling block into an opportunity this season.
When the season started, North Hall was a walking infirmary with lingering football injuries and others sidelined with everything ranging from a bulging disc, hamstring pulls to sprained MCLs. North Hall’s coach overcame that hurdle by plugging in younger players like freshmen Lance White and Kanler Coker, who’ve proven to be a pleasant surprise through the subregion stretch.
“Our strength is that we can all contribute to the team,” Coker said. “We just enjoy getting after it on the court.”
Still, trying to find the right balance of players to put on the court with such a young and inexperienced team isn’t always easy — especially early in the year.
“We struggled making a layup the first couple of weeks,” Wood recalled.
Wood has found the right combination of players to stay in the region title hunt all season, despite having only two returning players — senior Ethan Satterfield and junior Chase Syfan — with significant varsity playing experience. North Hall’s coach has found a way around that hurdle, as well, using team depth to his advantage.
This season, the Trojans have 16 different players that have started games and 19 that have played varsity minutes. In fact, Wood recalls running out a starting five this season comprised of all freshmen and sophomores. “We’ve probably had 10-12 different starting five combinations this season,” Wood said. “But we’re really more concerned with who finishes the game than who starts.”
With so many game-ready players, Wood’s only challenge may be deciding who to dress and who to sit for the region tournament.
“I won’t be able to let everyone dress out for the region tournament,” he said.
North Hall’s coach finds his starting five based off of competition in practice. Wood makes it easy for players to understand: work hard in practice, then you play.
Wood uses one word to describe North Hall’s approach on the court: relentless. Mistakes are acceptable if you make them going full speed. But if a player starts walking around and sulking over a slip up, that’s when there’s a problem.
“We all have a good attitude playing together,” Satterfield said. “Playing hard seems to take care of everything.”
“Coach Wood tells us just to play relentless,” Syfan said. “He says if you make a mistake, forget about it and just keep playing hard.”
Still, there has to be a catalyst behind North Hall’s comfortable standing in the subregion. Coach and players alike point to defense. The Trojans try to focus on playing an aggressive defense, which their offense will be able to feed off.
“Our defense is the best part of the team,” Syfan added. “We just all try to fly to the ball on the court.”
North Hall’s players feel like a strong summer playing together was finally reinforced with a 54-44 win against Creekview in the two school’s first meeting. “We came out really focused and ready to play that night,” Coker added.
And North Hall’s ability to knock off East Hall twice in the same season also says a lot for where the program stands.