LON sports editor Justin Hubbard discusses Morgan basketball's latest state championship
It was a postgame scene I’ll never forget.
Morgan County’s boys basketball team had just lost to Pace Academy in the 2016-17 state championship game. The Bulldogs’ players were overcome with emotion, heartbroken after the defeat.
I took a few pictures and they told the story: Players were hugging each other and, in a couple of instances, literally holding each other up from falling to the floor.
They were devastated. The team had a big group of seniors, too, so they were especially upset.
Before the 2017-18 season began, Morgan’s Alec Woodard, Tyrin Lawrence and Stevin Greene – I like to call them the “big three” – represented the team at the first-ever Region 8-AAA media day. They spoke to me about the emptiness they felt at the end of the prior season and how they wanted to redeem themselves in the upcoming year.
And they nearly did it.
Morgan took an undefeated record all the way into January when it lost to Newton. The Bulldogs did not lose again until they fell to Greater Atlanta Christian by 2 points in the Final Four.
Again, there was devastation. Morgan’s players quickly shuffled to their locker room. It took them a while to come out, and I eventually made my way down the hallway near where they were located.
I sat outside and waited for head coach Jamond Sims to come out so I could interview him.
As I waited, I saw the players file out. They were silent. It was evident they had cried a lot in the minutes after the game.
I distinctly remember locking eyes with Woodard, who gave me a quick head nod as he walked outside to the team’s bus. My heart went out to him and his teammates.
I believed they were destined to win the state championship they so greatly desired. I saw their hard work up close. As I got to know the players, I took note of their business-like approach.
I’m a properly trained journalist, so I don’t outwardly cheer for the teams I cover. I especially don’t let any bias show in my writing, columns notwithstanding.
But I’ll admit I wanted Morgan to win the title last week. Those players, led by the three seniors I mentioned above, more than earned it.
Every player on the team with whom I’ve had direct contact is a good kid. The “big three” are all explosive players but they have quiet, respectful personalities. Lawrence even took to calling me “Mr. Justin” this year, even though I’ve told him numerous times that I’m not yet old enough to have “Mr.” attached to my name.
I could not have been happier for the Bulldogs as the final seconds of last week’s game ticked away. This time, there were no tears of sorrow. There were no sullen looks on their faces.
Thursday, there was nothing but joy, gratification and pure happiness. As they basked in the glory of being state champions, I tried my best to capture it with my camera. It was a much more pleasant experience than the last two years when I had to take photos in the aftermath of their heartbreak.
For me personally, Thursday checked a big item off my bucket list: I had never before covered a championship-winning team, from start to finish in a season, going back to my days covering UGA athletics at The Red & Black student newspaper.
There were a few close calls, but none of my other teams broke through.
I’ve documented many times how I am a major jinx. I’d begun to wonder if it was never destined for me to see a team go from start to finish and get the job done. I thought maybe I was just plain bad luck for every team I covered.
Thankfully, that was not the case Thursday.
I was taught that a good journalist is detached and objective. I still feel that way, but covering high school sports is a unique experience.
You get to know the student-athletes, coaches and parents on a much more personal level. It’s a lot different than covering college or professional sports which, before I got here, was pretty much my only experience.
Working at LON the past two and a half years has changed my perspective on a lot of things. Whenever my time as sports editor here ends, I will enter my next phase of life with peace knowing that my best work experience including a championship team.
With everything they went through the last few seasons, I’m glad it was the Bulldogs I got to see win it all.