Last season, the Jordan High boys basketball team was a free throw away from playing for a state championship. An overtime loss to Bleckley County made it two straight seasons that ended in the Class AA final four for the Red Jackets.
Those missed opportunities loomed larger during a 5-10 start to the 2013-14 campaign. The team, which lost its top eight players from last season, looked like a ship without a captain, slowly sinking during a four-game losing streak in early January.
And then something happened.
The Red Jackets, led by a senior and a handful of underclassmen, suddenly started winning again. The games weren’t perfect by any means and the players had plenty of room to grow, but they were wins.
Four times in the five games, including two of three in region play, and suddenly Jordan looks like a contender again.
“Young players don’t have the same sense of urgency as seniors,” coach Gerald Turner said. “They have two or three more years left in high school. Seniors don’t want to go home, so they play with that sense of urgency.
“I had to change my coaching and realize that we had a bunch of guys who had no experience at the varsity level.”
That meant controlling things he could control.
The team lacks size. Only one player is six feet tall. But that is out of the coach and player’s control. So is the level of polished talent, which will continue to grow with experience. For the moment, though, these are young players going against guys with a lot more playing time at the varsity level.
To compensate for those factors, Turner said, the team makes sure it is more conditioned and more disciplined than its opponents.
“Things I can control, that’s what I try to control,” he said. “I can’t control height or talent, but we can control those other things. We may not do a lot of things, but the things we do, we do well.”
Some of the early-season struggles came against higher-classification teams, as well. The Red Jackets have losses against McIntosh (AAAAA), two to Northside (AAAAA), one to Harris County (AAAAA) and one to Central (AHSAA Class 6A). Those teams feature taller players who are much more difficult to defend for the undersized Red Jackets.
“Young guys can get intimidated when they face that kind of size,” Turner said. “But we don’t have to deal with that now.”
Now, Jordan has gone through the trial by fire and is playing at a high level against teams in Class AA. It is led by a freshman point guard, Onte Harrison, who Turner said handles the ball 90 percent of the time, and sophomore L.D. Jones.
“Between those two guys, they barely come out of the game,” Turner said. “They’re in great condition and can give me an effort the entire game. Normally, young guys can’t do that. But they can.”
Turner wouldn’t commit to any expectations for this season. Those, he said, were up to the players.
“My expectations are that we give the effort I think we should give and learn something every time out,” he said. “If we do that, I don’t worry about the outcome. There are intangibles that you can’t control, but if we play the way we practice, we’re going to have a good game regardless of whether we win or lose.
“I think the kids have taken away a lot from our losing, and they’ve realized they’d much rather win. So the expectations are up to them.”