One of the first things the Pacelli boys basketball players did this week was tell their coach, Alan Griffin, about their upcoming opponent in Friday’s Class A-private quarterfinal.
No, not St. Francis. Griffin, and anyone else who follows high school basketball around Georgia, knows all about St. Francis, which has won back-to-back Class A-private state championships. They were referring to Kobi Simmons, the 6-foot-6 guard who will lace it up with Arizona later this year before, more than likely, taking his talents to the NBA in a year or two.
He is a five-star recruit, according to ESPN, and one of the top 20 players in the country. The Vikings were very familiar with the odds-on favorite to win state player of the year.
“They knew about him before I did,” Griffin said.
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That’s because Griffin knows that winning tournament basketball games is about more than just one player. And even though Simmons is an incredible player, he said, his Vikings have done something right to get as far as they have, too.
Pacelli is playing in the playoffs for the second straight year and the fourth time in school history. After beating Our Lady of Mercy in the first round of the playoffs last week, however, they advanced to their first ever state quarterfinals.
And while those outside the program may see an uphill slog for the Vikings, Griffin said he has seniors who aren’t ready to see their high school careers come to an end just yet.
“They’re fighting for their careers, in a way,” he said. “We’ve got a few of them right now who are fighting for the opportunity to play college basketball. They’re fighting to be put on the same level as the kid from St. Francis. ... When you have a group that is fighting for its basketball life, it’s unreal what could happen. These seniors — they’re going out swinging.”
When you have a group that is fighting for its basketball life, it’s unreal what could happen. These seniors — they’re going out swinging.
And to their credit, they don’t see St. Francis like the rest of the state sees them. While many look at the defending state champs and see an unbeatable giant, the Vikings see something else entirely.
“We just see the next team,” said senior Triston Wells, the team’s second leading scorer and a marksman from long range. “We don’t think of it like it’s an upset. It’s just the next game.”
Senior Armon Prophet shared similar sentiments.
“I love the competition to see where I’m at in my game,” he said. “A guy like (Simmons), he’s just going to make everyone bring their best game. We have to have the mindset that we earned our way here just like they did.”
The mindset is just where Griffin wants it. He tells his team to put on a show, and the Vikings have done that all season. In order to do it on Friday, Griffin said it would take three things.
One, Pacelli needs to be strong at blocking out its opponent.
“They’re big,” Griffin said. “They have several 6-4-plus kids. Our starting lineup through our seventh player kind of stops at 6-2.”
Two, he wants his team to win the majority of the 50-50 loose balls on the ground. And three, perhaps most importantly, he said it will need to shoot the ball well.
“There isn’t going to be much of an inside game for us, so we’re going to have to shoot the ball well,” he said. “The three-point line, if we’re hot, could give us an edge. You can either shoot your way into these games, or out of them.”
That means a lot of reliance on guys like Wells, who shoots well from outside, and leading scorer Tre Sudberry. For his part, Sudberry said he was ready.
“We’re not ready for it to end,” he said. “The No. 1 goal for us was to win a championship. That’s still on the table.”
Pacelli vs. St. Francis
What: Class A-private quarterfinals
When: 8:15 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26
Where: Convocation Center, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA