Last Saturday, two non-region rivals faced off in Rockdale County, the Bulldogs and the Patriots. The first half was close as Rockdale led 27-23, but Connor Ferrell and Jalen Jordan changed that.
In the second half Jordan and Ferrell erupted from behind the arc, they combined for 53 points going 10-18 from three in the game to give the Bulldogs am 87-66 victory.
Rockdale County High's boys basketball team, currently second in region standings, has won seven straight games and 10 of its last 11 games for a 13-5 record (4-1 Region 2-AAAAAA) including wins over non-region rivals Newton and Heritage. But how did this team go from 6-5 to, possibly, the best team in their region?
Rockdale head coach, Tyrone King says it's all about the team beginning to gel.
"The biggest key is that they're gelling and everybody is understanding their role and their part on the team. That's the big thing," King said.
"We've got kids like Elijah Williams, he doesn't score much, but he gives us a big defensive presence. Jalen is just a flat-out shooter, so his role is to shoot the ball," King said. "I think once the team bought into owning their role on the team, the team started coming together especially since Christmas."
Since the break, it seems each player has stepped up his game. In the past seven games, Rockdale has scored at least 60 points in six of its seven wins and at least 70 points five times.
"We want to control the game defensively and not let an offense dictate what we do. I think we're doing a good job forcing the ball to the sidelines and keeping the ball out of the middle. The main focus is keeping the ball out of the lane and making sure that we close out on people like we should," King said. "We're getting better at that, that's one aspect that I would like to continue to press upon the kids. Closing out and getting a hand in their face, let's not make it easy for kids to be able to just shoot the ball on us."
Defensively, the Bulldogs are no slouch as they've held opponents to 51 points or less four times in the past seven games.
"I think winning is helping our fan base come out and support us. I think the two victories versus Heritage and Newton this past weekend has really boosted the school spirit and the morale of the fans," King said. "We get more fans to come out and watch the games. I think being at home more this semester, our fans are helping us out a lot too."
"One thing that's helped us is Dwayne Brown has really bought in to rebounding to help this team," King said. "After school ended he started averaging double digit rebounds. I think that's one main thing that's helping us."
Rebounding is a huge plus for this team, because when they rebound the ball well on defense it usually turns into points for the offense. Rockdale has a host of athletes on its team including Brown at 6-foot-6, Williams at 6-foot-6, Ferrell at 6-foot-3 and Jordan hovering above the 6-foot mark. They have size and the speed to match it, lending their play to leaking out in transition and getting easy buckets.
"We get a lot of transition points and I think everybody knows that we can get the ball up to Connor or any of the guards on the team. I think they know what to expect as far as attacking the basket and that opens things up for our shooters," King said. Outside of that, in our halfcourt offense is getting them to buy in that when we run it, we don't have to be a one to two pass offense. We can get a couple passes in and just getting the defense moving helps us with getting into the paint. If we get into the paint, if it's open we take it and if we get into the paint and they collapse we always have a shooter or two on the wing waiting to launch a three."
"The good thing is my offensive philosophy caters to defeating man-to-man defenses but the way Jalen, Connor and everybody else is shooting the ball right now it's hard for teams to play zone against us as of late," King added. "That really helps out because then it helps us get into a man-to-man offense which I think they thrive in."
As Heritage has learned, the Bulldogs can get hot from deep at any given time. Ferrell and Jordan, according to maxpreps.com, are averaging 16.4 points per game and 16.8 points per game respectively. Brown isn't far behind averaging 12.2 points per game and 9.1 rebounds per maxpreps.com.
Rockdale can play in the halfcourt, but they thrive in transition and, as King noted, in one-on-one matchups. Both Ferrell and Jordan have inside-outside games and they can take anybody off the dribble, possibly embarrassing a defender or two on the way. Brown makes his money down low. He can post up and has a solid array of moves for a player his age, but he can hit the occasional jumper too.
Rockdale has an array of shooters spotting up around the perimeter, for one of its drivers, likely Ferrell or Jordan to kick it too if they can. This can cause problems for the opposition when they are loading up the middle against the Bulldogs, especially teams that run a zone defense. It becomes, pick your poison, die by the three or the easy two.
Rockdale looks like a team that can make a playoff run, but there's also a small sense of, "Can they keep this up?" The Bulldogs won't always knock down threes like they've been doing lately and when their shot isn't falling, you have to wonder if they'll falter. If they can keep it together and maintain this sense of balance, their future is bright.
"If we keep putting team in front of ego, I definitely think this team can make it to at least the final four if not the state championship," King said.
"I think we're deep enough and talented enough to make it to the state championship and that's our goal, region championship and state championship, nothing less."