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Prep basketball: Falcons prepare for first-round playoff game on Friday
The Flowery Branch High basketball team runs drills during practice Wednesday afternoon. The Falcons will play host to Southside in the first round of the state playoffs Friday. - photo by ROBIN MICHENER NATHAN | The Times

Flowery Branch boys basketball coach Todd Cottrell purposely retreated off to the side as the Falcons (24-3) went to work on Wednesday practicing for Friday’s Class AAA state playoff game against Southside (18-9).

The Falcons’ coach took a knee as his players began going through some high-intensity warm-up drills. Cottrell didn’t have to scream in any assignments to the players. His whistle was his way to communicate a change in drills.

“These guys know what to do at this point,” Cottrell said.

And Flowery Branch’s coach doesn’t have to give any big pep talks or have to yell to get his team’s attention. The Falcons are all well aware that one slip up in the playoffs can quickly bring about the end to a successful season.

“I think if you have to motivate the team at this point in the season, you’re probably not where you want to be,” Cottrell added.

The energy of Flowery Branch’s midweek practice paints the picture vividly of a program eager to play only the second home playoff game in school history. Players wasted little time chattering on the Falcons’ gym floor with the clock winding down to such an important game in school history.

One after another, players drove to the rim for a slam dunk or lay-up to the roaring applause of a team that just days ago pulled off a 16-point come-from-behind victory against No. 2 playoff seed East Hall (22-6) for the school’s first Region 7-AAA championship.

“The school, the student body and our team is just so excited right now,” junior power forward Izaan Cross said. “I know when the season started everyone thought it was just going to be another season of Flowery Branch basketball.”

But its clear now that this season is anything but ordinary. The Falcons have already accomplished several firsts this season with the first subregion title, first region title and now are locked in on winning the program’s first playoff game against the No. 4 seed Lasers out of Region 5-AAA.

Players are excited to have the luxury of playing in front of the same friends, family and fan base that cheered the Falcons to a school record 24 wins this season.

“It just puts a smile on my face thinking about it,” senior small forward Chad Kenton said. “It means a lot to see all of our hard work paying off.”

“Playing at home gives our team a little more umph.”

Cottrell says the reason for Flowery Branch’s success is team unity—on and off the court—in its quest for a trip deep into the state playoffs.

Cottrell says the unity on the court shows through with a program void of any superstars.

Instead, the Falcons have a group of able-bodied athletes that goes 15 deep and can be shuffled on and off the court for fresh legs. The best example of the Falcons’ depth is the fact they had five players in double-figues scoring and another player with nine points in the Region 7-AAA title game victory.

“We rarely have a guy go out there and score 20 points,” Cottrell said. “But the trade off is we have three or four guys out there that will be able to score in double digits.”

Flowery Branch’s depth helps in the assimilation of a relatively young roster that typically starts a senior, three juniors and a sophomore. According to Cottrell, the Falcons only have two players with postseason experience with Tracy Sykes playing for the 2006 Falcons that hosted Oconee County in a first round playoff game, and Izaan Cross who got playing time in the playoffs last season at Buford.

“We know that the playoffs are more physical,” Cross said. “The main thing is to be mentally prepared.
“I think if we play under control and play smart we’ll be fine.”

But Flowery Branch’s bonded more with off the court happenings this season. Players rallied around junior Josh Barrett who lost his family’s house in a fire, as well as two players that had grandparents pass away during the course of the season.

“We just have very good team chemistry,” Cottrell said. “That makes it enjoyable that the kids know what they need to do.”

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