Varsity boys basketball looks to ride momentum to the playoffs

By Richard Hays

Just days after Christmas, the varsity boys basketball team provided the school with their own present: a first-place victory in the annual Westminster Holiday Classic.  Turner gym was alive as the team successfully defended their home court for the first time in four years in this eight-team tournament.  Consistent performances by senior captains Joe Bridges, Harrison Butker, Sam Holmes, Robert Howell, and lone junior captain Marquavious Strozier fueled the cats throughout the tournament.  In addition, freshman Will Benson showed his potential star-level talent in his ability, as head varsity basketball coach Tray Malloy said, “to get to the rim at ease whenever he wants.”  The team has been riding on the momentum from this win ever since.

Coach Malloy is very encouraged about what he has seen so far this season.

“I’m very impressed with the unselfish play by the squad,” said Malloy. “Unlike other teams who are carried by one or two players, our Wildcats are making a true collected effort with a commitment to the team being bigger than any individual player.”

That approach is paying off big, as the team currently sits second in the region at 3-1 in regional play, with their only loss to Greater Atlanta Christian.  This can especially be seen in the defense of the Wildcats.  Currently, they are tied for first in the region, allowing a stifling 47 points per game.

This team-first mentality was instilled in these players during their annual summer team camps.  At the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the group was able to find their identity as a team.

“Summer workouts and team camps play a critical role in gaining both strength and team chemistry,” said junior forward Austin Chapman.  “Given that we had four starters from last year’s team graduate, and that much of our team plays a fall sport, the weeks that we are able to spend training together over the summer are invaluable.”

Malloy tries to help the players ease into the transition from fall sports to basketball.  “At a small school like Westminster, it is important for us coaches to embrace sharing athletes, and to acknowledge the difficulty of playing back-to-back sports.  As a basketball staff, we have been proactive in trying to limit the stress that is put on our players at the beginning of the season by letting our players ease into the system, and by starting our season off with a scrimmage as opposed to a game.”

Strozier, a former back-to-back sport athlete, had a very strong summer, which was important for the junior who missed most of his freshman and all of his sophomore seasons due to  injuries from football in the fall. This year, he made the very tough decision of walking away from football to focus on basketball.

“It took me months to make my final decision,” said Strozier.  “I talked with coaches from both sports and my parents for forever, but ultimately, the best thing for me to do was to focus solely on basketball.”

Currently in second place in the region, behind only GAC, the Wildcats are looking to finish the second half of the season as strong as they ended their first half.  A second- or third-place finish would give the Wildcats an automatic bid to the state playoffs.  There are two home games left in regional play against Lovett and Hapeville, on Jan. 29 and Feb. 5 respectively, that are key to the team’s quest.  The team and coaching staff hope to see the stands full during these two games.

“The enthusiasm and support from our fans creates an atmosphere that can fuel the team for the runs needed to win these competitive games,” said Malloy.  “When a crowd is there and into it, it can shift the entire complexion of the game.”