All season long, Benjie Wood preached discipline, focus and hard work to the members of the North Hall High boys basketball team; after all, they would need those things in order to have a successful season.
Deemed a non-intimidating team by both Wood and his players, the Trojans knew that whatever they lacked in athleticism they could make up for by battling for every rebound, scrapping for every loose ball, and playing with a high basketball IQ.
“We’re not imposing, so we have to play with a great deal of energy, focus and intensity,” Wood said midway through the season. “If we do that, we’ll be in every game.”
That philosophy led to several program high-points that included winning the Lanierland tournament, the Region 7-AAA championship, and advancing to the semifinals of the Class AAA state semifinals.
That’s not too bad for a program that was coming off a 6-10 season when Wood took over four years ago. For his efforts, Wood is The Times’ 2010 Boys Basketball Coach of the Year.
“He changed the culture there,” East Hall boys coach Joe Dix said of his coaching counterpart. “They expect to win now, and that’s half the battle.”
That expectation started when Wood arrived at North Hall following the 2006 season. In his first year at the helm, he guided the team to a 15-10 record and state tournament berth. The Trojans increased their win total every year since and won a program-best 21 games in 2009.
And then they shattered that record this season by winning 27 games and finishing with a No. 5 ranking.
After playing a grueling summer schedule that featured some of the state’s best teams, the Trojans opened the season 5-1 before losing in overtime to Pickens on Dec. 15.
From there, North Hall reeled off 11 consecutive wins and won 22 of its final 23 games before losing 60-49 to LaGrange in the semifinals.
“I can’t put into words how proud I am of these kids,” Wood said after the loss to the Grangers. “I don’t know if there’s a word I can throw out there that describes how I feel and how much I love them. I’m just really proud.”
As he should be.
Coaches from around the state grew to appreciate the style of play that North Hall incorporated, and although LaGrange was a heavy favorite, Grangers coach Michael Pauley said his team “respected” North Hall, and that Wood’s team displayed great chemistry and played unselfishly.
The Trojans played that way because that’s the only way Wood knows how to play.
While basketball is a sport that relies on a large amount of athleticism and skill, it’s not the lone determining factor for success.
“What makes me proud is everybody that knows me, says I coach like I played,” Wood said. “It doesn’t take any talent to give effort.”