CALEDONIA — Junior Romeo Sanders wasn’t fully convinced when Gary Griffin started talking about a pep rally to kick off the 2017-18 season.
“Coach shared his idea and it was like, yes sure,” Sanders said. “Then as the event got closer, he started promoting it and others did, too. As it got closer, everybody started getting excited. This was going to be something big.”
Caledonia ushered in the new season Monday with a near-capacity crowd in the school’s gymnasium for the school’s first Red Out. Cheerleaders, dance team members, and both basketball squads were introduced. Members of the band performed and members of the school’s choral department sang the national anthem.
After the event, Griffin was quite pleased.
“We started this three years ago at Columbus and then won a state championship,” said Griffin, who is in his first season as coach of the girls and boys basketball programs at Caledonia High. “We wanted to do something similar here. We wanted the kids to know the community loves them and supports them. This wasn’t bad for the first one. We will build it and make it better and better in the future.”
Griffin will try to do similar building on the basketball court. After close to two decades as an assistant and then interim head coach at Columbus, Griffin was hired to get the girls and boys teams going in the right direction.
“He expects us to improve throughout the season,” Caledonia senior guard Riley Huckaby said. “He is the best coach we have ever had here at Caledonia. The biggest thing has been fundamentals and conditioning. He is big on both of those. We are excited about trying something new.”
The newness could be felt throughout the Caledonia High gymnasium.
“Never thought we would have any type of turnout like this,” Huckaby said. “There were a lot of people here I never thought would be here. It just pumped me up. I think the team felt the same way. This was our night, and it was exciting. Hopefully, it carries over and a lot of these people will come back and watch us play.”
Sophomore guard Cooper McCleskey felt like the boys team enjoyed the same boost of energy.
“This just makes us look forward to the season more,” McCleskey said. “This year, more people are going to come out and see us. The first couple of weeks have been different. We have been doing a lot more conditioning and one-on-one stuff. I am really excited about the season.
“We lost several seniors off last year’s team, but we expect to make it far in the playoffs. This team has the right makeup. We have a lot of fast players. If we are unselfish with the ball. We can be successful.”
If Monday proved anything, it showed Caledonia can hit the 3-pointer. In the boys 3-point competition, four competitors hit eight or more within a one-minute time limit.
Sophomore forward Tony Brooks won the 3-point competition with 12 makes, including a string of nine straight. Senior forward Jacob Holtman won the slam dunk competition, while freshman guard Jarvis Leigh won the skills competition.
Sophomore guard Deashanti Kidd won the 3-point competition on the girls side with eight makes.
“We have some talented players, but a lot of young faces on both teams,” Griffin said. “The main thing has been fundamentals and working together as a team. The biggest challenge when you take over a new team is teaching them to work together and to play together.
“The response of the players has been overwhelming. We have some hard workers. They are eager to come to practice every day to get better.”
Sanders echoed his new coach.
“Never been taught the basic fundamentals of the game out here, so that is very exciting,” Sanders said. “A lot of what I have learned was learned playing on AAU teams. To go to the gym every day and to learn something new is exciting. I think it is going to pay off. We are going to surprise some people.”
Griffin already has surprised his two new teams once.
“It was a packed house,” Huckaby said. “I never thought I would see that for basketball at Caledonia. This is different.”
For Sanders, the countdown is on for the Nov. 2 season opener at Nettleton.
“We feel like it is really basketball season,” Sanders said. “A night like tonight makes you want to go right back to the gym right away. It’s a new season, and we want to make it special.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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