Yandell Harris sees the potential.
Now the Heritage Academy boys basketball coach wants to see the effort.
If both of those things are present at the same time, the veteran coach believes the Patriots can come together and have a chance to make a postseason run.
After receiving a pick-me-up halftime speech from Harris, Heritage Academy took its coach’s encouragement to the court and pulled away for a 52-22 victory against Pickens Academy.
In the girls game, Elisabeth Hankins had 17 points and Corey Dawkins added 16 to lead Pickens Academy to a 45-37 win.
Harris, who also coaches the Heritage Academy girls team, wanted to see more from his boys after they started slowly and led 19-7 at halftime. Harris juggled lineups in the first half and experimented with a half-court trap that forced the Pirates into turnovers.
That defense returned at a higher tempo in the third quarter. The added intensity helped spark a 14-2 run to open the period that sent the Patriots on their way.
Brad Dickey led Heritage Academy with 12 points, while Bobby McGrath, Parker Turner, and Taylor Fields each had six points for the Patriots, who had 10 players score.
“It was our first game back and we have been off a while, but we came out in the fist half with no intensity and no purpose, just lackluster effort,” Harris said. “This team has great potential, and I challenged them at halftime and asked them how good do they want to be.”
Harris said the Patriots can answer that question the way he would like by coming in every day for the next six weeks and giving their best effort. He feels this season’s team has the depth and athleticism to give opponents trouble, but that it needs to play with high energy and effort all of the time to maximize its abilities.
“If you practice like champions you will play like champions, and we haven’t been doing that,” Harris said. “That is something we’re really going to work hard on in the next two weeks. We want to practice harder and play harder. I thought in the second half after having to come in here and get on them a little bit that they saw that with the success we had and getting after them that maybe we weren’t putting out the effort.”
Harris said the next two weeks will help him determine how players grade out so he can whittle the lineup to an eight- or nine-player rotation. He said McGrath, Fields, and Hunter Ferguson give the Patriots depth at the post. He said Dickey, Cade Lott, and David Hardy provide depth at forward to go with an athletic backcourt. The next step, he said, is to put all of the pieces together and for the Patriots to build chemistry.
“We have very athletic, quick perimeter players,” Harris said. “We need to shoot it better. We really need to become not a team of athletes but a basketball team. That’s what we’re going to try to do in the next six weeks.”
Daniel Cameron (eight points) and Marv Johnson (six) led Pickens Academy.
Pickens Academy coach Wade Goodman hopes the same holds true for the Lady Pirates, who improved to 9-3 and avenged a loss to Heritage Academy earlier in the season.
The only other losses Pickens Academy, which plays in the Alabama Independent School Association, has suffered this season have come against Lamar School, of Meridian. Goodman enjoys playing Mississippi teams because he feels the game will prepare his squad for postseason play.
On Tuesday, Goodman said the Lady Pirates overcome turnovers and received balanced play from Dawkins, the team’s only senior, and Hankins, as well as Marion Colvin (six points).
Hankins and Dawkins each hit two free throws and Marianna Pratt hit 1 of 2 in the final 26.3 seconds to help seal the victory after Heritage Academy had closed to within 40-37.
“Defensively, we’re a lot better than we were a couple of years ago when we won the state tournament,” said Goodman, whose team won the title in 2010. “Offensively, we still struggle scoring, and that is usually are downsize.”
Goodman said his team’s lack of size, its post players are only 5-foot-7 or 5-8, typically have trouble against bigger teams. But he said his team’s ability to hit big shots from the perimeter is starting to open things up for everyone. On Monday, his team beat previously undefeated Marengo Academy in overtime.
Goodman hopes Tuesday’s effort is a continuation of bigger and better things to come.
“Defensively, we have five complete players,” Goodman said. “We have a good ballteam. It is going to come down to scoring. You can see it on their faces when we’re struggling to score because it demoralizes us. I can understand that. … But as far as an all-around, complete team, we have a better ballteam than we did when we won state.”
Hankins, who is a junior, was a freshman on the state title team. He said Dawkins and Colvin joined the program last season after transferring from Central Academy in Macon. He said the squad experienced growing pains last season in plenty of close games. The same is true this season, as the Lady Pirates’ ability to score has prevented it from pulling away for big victories.
Goodman hopes those scoring troubles will vanish as the team develops more confidence and learns how to play together better.
“We know we can play good defense,” Goodman said. “We’re starting to come together. Everyone is starting to figure out what they can do.”
Harris said the girls team, which was coached by Yolanda Moore and had 6-5 center Rachel Hollivay at the start of the season, faces a similar problem as the boys team. He said the team has potential and that it needs to play with greater effort and aggressiveness to make up for its inexperience.
Moore, a former professional player and a standout at the University of Mississippi, resigned in December to pursue her Ph.D., while Hollivay, one of the nation’s top recruits, left the team after an incident involving Moore during a game against Madison-Ridgeland Academy.
“They didn’t come out with the effort we need to play with,” Harris said. “We didn’t shoot the ball real well. … We missed a lot of shots, but if we would have played harder, gotten loose balls, and played harder on defense, we still would have won the ballgame.”
Kristen Phillips led Heritage Academy with 12 points, while Ashley Washington added 11.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.