From magic to devastation

By Justin Hubbard

 

It didn’t feel real.

That statement is what Morgan County basketball star Alec Woodard tweeted Sunday morning. The tweet came hours after the Bulldogs lost to Greater Atlanta Christian in the Final Four, 73-71, ending their season.

Indeed, Morgan’s loss did not feel real. In fact, part of me didn’t want to believe the game was actually over when the final horn sounded. Surely, the Dogs were going to find a way to win. Right?

Wrong. But that’s how it goes in sports. For all the life lessons that can be learned through watching and/or participating in athletic competitions, perhaps the most important one we can learn is things often don’t go our way. Sometimes, we win. Sometimes, we lose.

It’s never fun being on the losing end. That’s where the Bulldogs found themselves Saturday evening. My heart went out to them as I saw the tears filling their eyes while the reality of the loss settled in.

Many of those guys played their last game with Morgan. The team is set to lose seven seniors, including regular starters Anthony Cooper – the best dunker in the state, in my opinion, and Quin Williams – one of the most underrated big men around. The others – Tre’Mon Moore, Anthony Thomas, Latrabius Stokes, Yusuf Baig and Austin Hoopengardner – all did their part to help the Bulldogs succeed the last few years, too.

The Bulldogs’ magical season ended in devastating fashion. This team was too good to deserve anything less than a state championship. The fact it didn’t even get to play for the title is a shame.

It’s a shame Morgan’s four-year streak of finals appearances ended, too. The fact the Bulldogs played for four consecutive state championships is incredible, even if the streak is over.

I got to know a bunch of Morgan’s players throughout the course of this season. From Region 8-AAA media day back in November to last week’s win over Towers High School, the message those guys always gave me was simple: “We want to get back to the finals and win the championship.”

Even when they won easily, such as their 32-point win over North Hall in the first round of the state tournament, the Bulldogs always pointed out something they could fix. They knew only their best effort could net them the championship they desired so they always worked as hard as they could.

The Morgan players approach basketball like professionals. They know they can all ball out. During games, they carry themselves like it – great athletes always have a little bit of swagger to them – but, based on what I’m told, they get down to business behind the scenes.

Head coach Jamond Sims once described to me the intensity with which the Bulldogs practice. The coaches, apparently, sometimes throw the ball into the bleachers and the players race to see who can retrieve it the fastest. Sims told me that story one night after the players committed a lot of fouls; he joked that they racked up the fouls because they reverted to their physical practice mentality.

The Bulldogs always worked to improve their defense, too. That was the primary thing they always told me they could improve upon. Each game, Morgan’s goal was holding opponents to 40 points or fewer. That didn’t happen too often this season and you could always tell it disappointed the players, regardless of how comfortably they might have won.

The players did not simply rely on their talent to carry them through the season. They worked for everything they accomplished. That’s the mark of a championship team. It’s a shame this team doesn’t have the hardware to match its personality.

The good news for Morgan is it will return most of its key components. Losing those seniors won’t be easy and Jordan Huff, who plans to graduate early in December to go participate in spring football practice next year at Michigan State, won’t be back, either.

Woodard will be back, as will fellow juniors Tyrin Lawrence and Stevin Greene, who went off last Saturday for 34 points. Those guys will undoubtedly be Morgan’s core next season but the others who did not play much this season looked great when they got on the floor, so the Bulldogs could be just as good next season.

All of that is just hypothetical, though. What’s concrete is the fact the Bulldogs’ season ended earlier than they wanted.

This basketball season was loads of fun and featured a ton of great moments. There was something special in the air, as all of our teams had special accomplishments I was fortunate to cover. No matter where I go or what I do for the rest of my career as a sports writer, I won’t ever forget this basketball season.

The MOCO Bulldogs were always the highlight of this ride. I’m sad for them that this season ended in such an abrupt, heartbreaking manner.

They will be back, though, and if they can rebound next year and win it all, it will make Saturday’s heartbreak worthwhile.

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