It all comes down to this.
After more than two months spanning both sides of winter break, the high school basketball regular season is coming to a close. And while region and state tournaments are still a couple weeks away, Gainesville coach Chuck Graham said his team has already started approaching every game as if it’s win or go home.
“We’re already in playoff mode,” he said. “The second stretch of our region, we try to treat that as being in the playoffs. You want to just be 1-0 at the end of every game. So when the region tournament gets here, we’re already in that same mindset.”
For the Red Elephants — and programs throughout Hall County and the state of Georgia — this next week of basketball is all about building momentum and jockeying for region seeding. The final games of the regular season don’t technically have any added significance in the big picture, but finishing the year on a high note is invaluable to teams hoping to make deep playoff runs.
February’s region tournaments will decide qualification for the state playoffs, but games in late January are crucial to setting team’s up to win their region.
“I don’t think you can wait and turn the light switch on in the region tournament,” West Hall coach Bobby Pless said. “Kids have to do that now.”
It’s a process that every high school coach around the country is currently going through — boys and girls.
North Hall girls coach Kristi House said she’s been trying to get her team to build up in confidence gradually from the very beginning of the year. The Lady Trojans’ relatively young roster has had to do quite a bit of growing over the course of the season to get to its current position of second place in Region 7-3A heading into the final week of the regular season, and all that growth is coming to a head now.
“We’ve prepared all year,” House said. “We have the season before the region. Then we have region. Then we have Lanierland. Then we finish the region. Every phase is like a stepping stone. You hope you’re just moving upward throughout that time and be at the top at the end.”
Pless is taking a similar approach with his Spartans, emphasizing the importance of learning from games, regardless of result.
West Hall finishes the year off with contests against the top three teams in Region 7-4A over the next week, and while he would hope for wins in each game, picking up on opponents’ tendencies and play styles could be just as important coming into the region tournament.
“The kids have to just compete in the games you have right now,” Pless said. “So when we come into that region tournament, OK, you know what you’ve got to do.”
Winning games and improving are always important goals for high school basketball teams, but with the season drawing to a close, they are more crucial than ever for programs all around the county.
It’s now or never for groups looking to make a playoff push. While the majority of the season is in the past, every team still has plenty of opportunity in its future.
“This is a fun time of year,” Graham said. “You’ve just got to convey to the guys to embrace it and enjoy it, but also to understand that everything matters. You can’t leave nothing to chance.”