“We’re still not with the McEacherns and the Hillgroves but we’re trying to get there,” he had said.
That was after the Falcons started the season winning nine of their first 12 games.
Although he praised Pebblebrook’s quick start, his Falcons were still two years removed from a 4-21 season when this season’s junior-laden Falcons were freshmen and didn’t quite have the big-game experience as did Hillgrove and North Cobb, who both made the state semifinals last year.
Either Washington underestimated his bunch or decided to put Pebbblebrook’s growth into hyperdrive.
The Falcons came back to beat all three teams in the second half of their region schedule. They clinched the region tournament as the No. 1 seed before making a deep run to the semifinals.
Washington had Pebblebrook playing its best basketball despite having a pair of snowstorms force them to cram as many as five games in a single week.
For the rapid turnaround of a once struggling program, Washington was named Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Boys Basketball Coach of the Year.
“We got together and set goals for the team,” Washington said. “We played a tough non-conference schedule. The players became students of the game. They saw their mistakes on film and learned tendencies from other teams and that really helped us going into the second half of the year.”
Pebblebrook’s began after Martin Luther King weekend. The Falcons had just traveled to Memphis and lost a lopsided 57-28 decision to Mitchell (Tenn.).
And that loss prompted Washington and his staff to do some evaluating and to seek advice from other coaches, one being Cabral Huff, who eventually led St. Francis to a Class A state title.
“We don’t like the taste of losing and the consequences after losing either,” Washington said. “No. 1, as a coach, I had to understand that we were coming into a stretch of back-to-back games. I had to manage the guys better, especially Ty Hudson, who goes 100 percent all the time. I had to conserve his minutes and conserve his energy. I even talked to St. Francis coach on how to manage time.”
In the second half of the season, basketball became an extra class for both coaches and players. The players were way more involved in studying film, allowing them to correct their own mistakes and learn tendencies of opponents.
There were also nights where Washington and his staff would game plan until 2 in the morning.
He also mixed up and slowed down Pebblebrook’s style of play, giving opponents different looks, and encouraged players to practice and play as if their upcoming game was going to be their last one.
“He’s a heck of a coach,” said Hudson, who averaged 17.9 points a game. “He has an open mind and surrounds you with a great coaching staff. He gets you in the gym and pushes you hard and I appreciate that.”
Once Pebblebrook returned from Memphis, the Falcons won seven of their next eight games.
The 4AAAAAA tournament was somewhat of a challenge for Pebblebrook, who was missing Thrae Mitchell with a high ankle sprain. With Mitchell out, Washington said everyone had to assume different roles and the Falcons executed in every game, beating South Cobb in the region championship.
But once the postseason began, Washington’s one-and-done approach became a reality.
Of their three playoff victories going prior to their semifinal loss to Wheeler, the Falcons’ 68-50 win over Rockdale County in the opening round was their most important.
“That first win was emotional because it got that monkey off our back,” Washington said. “If we were the No. 1 seed in the region and then lost in the first round, they would think we should have never been there in the first place so that was the most relieving in of all our playoff wins.”
Pebblebrook did its homework in preparing for Wheeler in the semifinals at Georgia Tech but couldn’t get enough shots to fall. The Falcons were outscored 20-4 in the third quarter after leading by seven at halftime and couldn’t bounce back in the fourth.
“We had great looks but couldn’t make shots,” Washington said. “It hurts to lose but the guys understand better now what we need to do in that type of game. And as a young coach, I learned a lot.”