The Eagles have been Class A state title contenders for the last two seasons but have come up short. A perfect season two years ago ended with an upset by St. Francis. Last year, North Cobb Christian made it to the state quarterfinals but fell to Athens Christian after allowing a nine-point fourth quarter lead get away.
However, Eagles coach Greg Matta is counting on that adversity paying off in the long run. The Eagles have eight seniors on the roster this season, including four starters, and three of them — Stephon Jelks, Hunter Ware and Keyshawn Butts — have basketball futures at a Division I schools.
The trio experienced both losses, and right now, there are seven seniors who haven’t forgotten about the 78-76 heartbreaker to Athens Christian.
“Over the past few years, especially my sophomore and junior year, we’ve had trouble closing out leads,” said senior forward Stephon Jelks, who signed with Mercer University. “I feel like this year, we’ve have a group of guys that have played together for a while. We have to play together instead of it being a one-man show.”
Matta said those playoff losses are discussed often.
In order to correct past mistakes, he said the Eagles must hold on to the ball longer in the waning minutes instead of going for the basket.
“We play about two-and-a-half quarters of good basketball and then we go through the motions,” Matta said. “We got to learn how to control the ball and control possessions.”
Despite the occasional dry spells, the Eagles are off to a strong start with an 8-2 record.
And the Eagles have already showed they can play four quarters when they prevailed 78-34 over Collins Hill, a Class AAAAAA team, right before Thanksgiving. Against Collins Hill, the Eagles drained 14 3-pointers with Ohio University-bound senior Kendall Crute making half of them.
North Cobb Christian’s success once 2014 begins will come down to Jelks, Ware and Krute. Jelks can get double doubles in points and rebounds on a regular basis.
Ware, the younger brother of former North Cobb Christian and UGA standout Dustin Ware, is arguably the team’s best 3-point shooter. The future Bryant University player can also get his teammates involved.
Matta describes Crute as a smart offensive player who knows when to shoot a 3 or attack the inside.
North Cobb Christian often start games attempting the 3-pointer as a way to draw defenses to the perimeter, which allows the Eagles the option of going inside.
Another strength for the Eagles this season is adjusting to how opposing teams play them. Defensively, they have been sound at defending both half-court and transition teams.
One of North Cobb Christian’s two losses on the year came against Greater Atlanta Christian at the Southeast Basketball Association Festival game Saturday. The Spartans have won three state championships in the last four years in Class AA.
The Eagles fell 71-56 to a GAC team that adjusted to the different defenses they showed. And going 6-for-31 from beyond the arc didn’t help their cause either.
“What I hope comes out of this, we understand that we were in the game,” Matta said. “The boys understand that we were in the game. We just had a poor shooting night.”