Jefferson vs. Thomasville
When: 5:30 tonight
Records: Jefferson (25-6); Thomasville (23-4)
Seeds: Jefferson No. 1 Region 8-AA; Thomasville No. 1 Region 1-AA
Coaches: Jefferson, Bolling DuBose. Thomasville, Benjamin Tillman.
Key players: Jefferson, PG Darius Minor (6-1, Sr.); PF J.J. Damons (6-2, Sr.); SF Tate Chesser (6-0, Jr.). Thomasville, PG Trey Gosier (5-7, So.); SG Fred Holton (6-1, Sr.); PF Robert Carter (6-8, So.); PF Willie Clayton (6-7, So.).
Whenever he gets nervous, Jefferson senior Darius Minor always turns to the same person: his mother.
And on the eve of the biggest basketball game in his high school career, Minor fully expected to have a little conversation with mom.
“She knows that I’m a big Kobe Bryant fan, so she tells me that she’s sure Kobe gets nervous,” said Minor, whose Jefferson team will take on Thomasville at 5:30 tonight in the Class AA state semifinals in Macon. “She tells me to go out there and have fun, and if I do that, then I’ll have a good game.”
Minor has been listening to his mother’s advice all year, and will need to heed those words if he hopes to live up to his coach’s expectations and help the Dragons (25-6) topple the champions from Region 1-AA.
“For us to win, Darius has to keep it in his hands,” said coach Bolling DuBose, who’s making his second semifinals appearance in his 34 years at the helm of the Dragons. “He’s a really good point guard, and if you have a good point guard you can stay in a lot of games that you have no business playing in.”
While he never said that his team doesn’t belong in the semifinals, DuBose did joke about how his team will look next to the Bulldogs (23-4), who have only lost twice to instate teams this season.
“We should be able to jump on them in the first quarter because they’re going to be laughing when we take warm-ups,” he said. “They’re going to be wondering how we got there.”
The answer to that is simple: Jefferson is playing in the semifinals because this team knows how to finish games, which is something it wasn’t capable of doing last year when the Dragons were upset in the region tournament and failed to reach the playoffs.
“To win these last four games like we have, it’s given the kids a lot of confidence,” DuBose said. “If we can keep it close with two or three minutes left, then we like our chances.”
Keeping it close won’t be easy.
The sixth-ranked Bulldogs have won their first three tournament games by an average margin of 20 points and have two players 6-foot-7 or taller, including sophomore Willie Clayton, who has won back-to-back region Player of the Year honors and is a member of the 17-and-under U.S. National Team that is competing in a tournament in Argentina in April.
“That kid’s a player,” DuBose said. “We haven’t figured out how to stop him.”
Clayton, whose leading the team in scoring at 17 points per game, is one half of the Bulldogs’ twin towers that also features 6-8 sophomore Robert Carter.
“Thomasville is the best team we’ve played all year,” DuBose said.
And that says a lot, seeing that the Dragons have played 10 playoff teams, including Class AAA semifinalist North Hall and Class A quarterfinalist Commerce, which was the last team to beat Jefferson.
“We made a deal after losing to Commerce that we weren’t going to lose again,” Minor said.
They haven’t, and the Dragons enter tonight’s contest riding an 18-game win streak.
“These kids have played hard every time they hit the floor,” DuBose said, “and that’s all I can ask for.”