When the Johnson High boys and girls basketball teams take to the floor tonight a lot of things will be the same. The uniforms will be blue and white, the opponent will be another high school team and the game plan will be to win.
But what will be extremely different for both teams will be the location. Tonight, the Knights (4-3) and Lady Knights (0-6) won’t be playing in a high school gymnasium. Instead, they’ll be playing on the home court of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena.
“Both the boys and girls have been excited since the first day we told them about the game,” said Lady Knights coach Ron Smith, whose team will start things off with a 1:15 p.m. game against Harris County (1-6). What adds to the excitement is the NBA game that follows both high school contests, as the Hawks play host to the defending champion Boston Celtics.
“The boys are pumped about seeing the Hawks/Celtics, but the girls are more pumped about playing on an NBA floor,” Smith said.
As a part of an annual promotion put on by the Hawks, the teams from Johnson are some of the high schools that will be afforded the opportunity to play at Philips Arena this year. Two of those schools are Dawson County, which played Pacelli on Saturday at Philips Arena, and North Hall, which plays East Jackson on Tuesday on the NBA court.
“It was a good experience,” said Tigers coach Thad Burgess, whose team lost 54-52 to Pacelli on Saturday at Philips Arena. “Everything was great, except we got beat at the buzzer.
“It’s something the kids will always remember,” he added.
“It may be something that we try and do every year.”
The Knights hope to fare better at Philips Arena than Dawson County did when they play the Tigers of Harris County (4-2) at 3:45 p.m.
“They sound a lot like us,” Knights coach Jeff Steele said of the Tigers. “Hopefully, it’ll be a game that suits our playing style.”
Regardless of how the game plays out, Steele knows that having the opportunity to play at Philips Arena is something his players won’t forget.
“These are the things that you do for the kids where you hope they get a chance to bond,” Steele said.
“It’s all positive. The kids need to hang out together and have a family atmosphere.”
Building team chemistry is an added bonus of the journey to Atlanta, but both teams’ main focus is the game. And despite the differences in shooting in an NBA arena, both coaches have a positive outlook on the contest.
“We can’t shoot any worse than what we’re shooting right now,” Smith said. “Maybe it’ll be a blessing.
“We’re just going to go down and play hard, and hopefully we get our first win.”
Having played in an NBA arena before — at the Omni when he was at North Georgia College & State University — Steele thinks that the shooting differences are “more of a myth than a reality,” but playing in as large a building as his players will play in tonight could effect the game.
“I told them it’s going to be a place that you’re excited to be,” Steele said. “But what it boils down to is just playing basketball.”