The Gainesville boys basketball team has come a long way from an 0-10 start to the year.
Starting with a dominant run to a Lanierland championship, the Red Elephants turned things around with the coming of the new year, rolling through Region 8-6A before coming up just short in the region title game Monday against Lanier.
Even with the loss, Gainesville has still earned itself a home game to start off Class 6A state playoffs, a testament to the transformational journey the team has gone through over the last several months.
“We’ve improved tremendously,” Red Elephants coach Chuck Graham said. “That’s one thing I’ve been really proud of. Their effort and their attitude never wavered, even in the tough times starting out the year. The guys just continued to play and just controlled the things that we can control.”
The next step for Gainesville is a home matchup against Sequoyah this Friday at 7 p.m. to open the playoffs.
The Chiefs are a senior-driven team, boasting a class of seven fourth-year players led by shooting guard Jacksen Greco — a Mercer commit who Graham referred to as a “big-time shooter.”
But in the lead up to Friday’s game, Graham’s focus will be more on Gainesville than Sequoyah.
“I think we haven’t played a complete game yet,” he said. “Sometimes it’s been our offense. Sometimes it’s been our defense. It’s just been the ebbs and flows of a season, but we still haven’t put that complete game together, even with our effort.”
The Red Elephants will need to be at their best at all phases Friday if they want to beat a Chiefs squad that won 17 of its last 18 games to close out the season.
Enthusiasm won’t be a problem for Gainesville.
“The guys are super excited,” Graham said. “We played basically all year trying to get to this point. The guys are excited, ready to go. We’re looking forward to it.”
Experience also won’t be an issue.
Though Gainesville lost several key contributors from last year’s group that made it all the way to the Class 6A quarterfinals, many core members of that team are still around. That experience will surely come in handy now that every game is win or go home.
Beyond that, this squad’s ability to bounce back from adversity to start the year off has brought with it lessons that Graham believes will be useful should the team find itself in a hole at any point in the postseason.
“The lessons that we learned in those 10 games have been valuable in terms of mindset, keeping the guys even keel,” Graham said. “That has helped us.”
With the season on the line this Friday, he and the rest of the Red Elephants are simply hoping all the factors that have powered the team to this point come together when it matters most.
The season has brought plenty of ups and downs for Gainesville, but Graham thinks this group still has one or two surprises left to unveil as crunch time approaches.
“Have we played our best basketball?” he said. “Not yet.”
First-round playoff schedule
Class A private schools
Lakeview Academy girls vs. Mt. Pisgah, Friday
North Hall girls vs. Pace Academy, 6 p.m., Friday
Cherokee Bluff boys at Westminster, 7:30 p.m., Friday
North Hall boys at Pace Academy, 3 p.m., Saturday
Chestatee girls at Troup County, 5 p.m., Friday
Flowery Branch girls at Sandy Creek, 6 p.m., Friday
Chestatee boys at Sandy Creek, 8 p.m., Friday
Gainesville boys vs. Sequoyah, 7 p.m., Friday