Right around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, North Hall senior Robert Humphrey was sitting in his coach’s office with half his attention on the person in the room, and the other half on a TV showing the Trojans’ 67-43 win over Flowery Branch.
Shortly after Humphrey leaves, three of his teammates show up and act the same way: slightly interested in the questions being asked, but more interested in film from a game played 10 days ago.
Even on their day off, the Trojans (17-3, 7-1 Region 7A-AAA) are focused on basketball.
And they should be, especially with the way they have played so far this season.
North Hall is off to its best start under coach Benjie Wood and are also ranked for the first time in the coach’s four years at the helm. The Trojans are balanced on offense, stout on defense and have won 12 of their last 13, including 11 in a row from Dec. 18 to Jan. 22.
“It’s the little things,” Humphrey said of the reasons behind the team’s success. “Defense, rebounding, boxing out...When we do it, we’re great; when we don’t, it could be a long night.”
There haven’t been too many long nights this season, as the Trojans’ three losses have come by eight points or less, including a three-point defeat to East Hall that ended the 11-game win streak.
“We started to get a big head, and that’s when we lost,” said junior Chris Barnes, whose averaging 12 points per game. “We have to keep that same drive and intensity.”
That message was preached constantly during the win streak, and although he didn’t come out and tell his team they weren’t the best yet, Wood made sure his players were focused.
“I found a way to let them know what I thought about the streak,” said Wood, who won the 200th game of his career during the streak. “We’re gonna stay grounded and we’re gonna take care of the process and do things the right way. If we do that, the results will come.”
That was evident during a 31-day span that saw North Hall score nearly 75 points per game, hold its opponents to 48 points per game, and win by an average of 26.5 points.
“We felt like we could beat anybody,” senior Hurst Heinen said. “But we also knew that we couldn’t just show up and win.”
In order to win, they had to get solid performances from every player, especially sophomore point guard Lance White, who is averaging nine assists per game and just three turnovers since Christmas.
“Lance has really taken on the true point guard role,” Wood said. “His first thought is getting his teammates involved.”
That couldn’t have been said at the start of the year.
“Earlier this season I tried to force stuff, do things on my own and not get my teammates involved,” White said. “Now, I’ve tried to play slower and let the game come to me.”
It’s worked, but the young point guard still has trouble distributing the ball evenly on a team Wood says has “more depth than I can play.”
“I just try to keep everybody happy,” White said. “I try and find the hot shooter.”
Who that is changes almost every night. One night it will be Barnes, who scored 17 points Tuesday in a win over Lumpkin County. Another night it might be senior Chase Syfan, who White called one of the team’s best shooters. Or it could be Trevor Ross, Kanler Coker or Robby Hill, who Wood called the “heart and soul” of the team.
“Everybody on our team can play,” said Wood, who will be without the services of Hill for at least another week as the senior is sidelined with an ankle injury. “We have a lot of shooters. Lance could average 10 points per game but he doesn’t because he’s playing his role.”
And that’s why the Trojans have played so well this season; everyone on the team knows his role and knows what the coach wants.
“We’re not imposing, so we have to play with a great deal of energy, focus and intensity,” Wood said. “If we do that, we’ll be in every game.”
According to Heinen, the team’s chemistry also plays a part in the success on the court.
“It’s played a big role because we don’t have any outstanding players like other teams,” he said. “We don’t have people that are gonna scare the other team.
“If we played selfish, we wouldn’t be able to win like we do.”
After seeing their 11-game win streak come to an end just three days prior, the Trojans got back to their winning ways Tuesday with a 56-55 win over Lumpkin County.
“We started off rough,” Syfan said of that game. “But I was proud that we picked up our intensity and looked like we used to look and start another winning streak.”
With their next game not until Saturday — a rare three-day layoff in high school basketball — Wood decided to give his players Wednesday off. They were free to do whatever they wanted; go home and watch TV, go to a friends house and play video games, or just rest up after completing a stretch where they played six games in eight days. But that’s not what the players had in mind.
“I’ll probably shoot about 100 shots or so,” Barnes said.
In the gym on their day off, what else would you expect from a group so focused on basketball?