The Cougars are riding high at 13-0. They’ve held opponents to an average of 47 points per game while recording 11 double-digit victories. They’re ranked fifth in the VISAA and sixth in Central Virginia in the Richmond Times-Dispatch Top 10.
They’ve made things look easy at times, but, well, basketball never really is. Several players had to transition from fall sports, but that’s the case every year. They’ve faced weather-related disruptions. The Cougars simply rolled with them. They’ve become every opponent’s team to beat. Goes with the territory. They’ve felt pressure with heightened expectations. Wait. Stop right there. You might think so, but, no, they don’t. Not at all.
“I think it goes with our motto: #OWNIT,” said second year coach Del Harris.
“The ‘O’ stands for Opportunity. Every day, every game is an opportunity to get better.
“The ‘W’ stands for We Expect To Win. Win the day on and off the court, despite the obstacles ahead of us.
“The ‘N’ is always Next Play. We enjoyed the St. Christopher’s win (59-53 on Tuesday), but right away we were on to Trinity (No. 1 in the T-D Top 10, No. 2 in the VISAA, and tonight’s opponent on the road). Same thing on the court. If we make a mistake, next play.”
The “IT” part is a bit more esoteric.
“We’re in search of It,” Harris continued. “We’ve shown some signs that we have It. It’s something we strive for. It’s a feeling, a goal. I’m seeing signs of It. It’s the way we carry ourselves.
“A lot of times, the best team doesn’t win, but they have It. It’s not so much a championship or trophy but people saying, ‘Collegiate has It’ when they leave the gym. It’s people saying, ‘Those guys play hard. They play together. Their players are up on the bench. They’re diving after loose balls. They’re making free throws. They’re making the right adjustments.’”
The Cougars have a strong mix of height, experience, maturity, and camaraderie.
Hampden-Sydney commit Jack Wyatt, a 6-7 senior, averages 18.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Robbie Beran, a 6-8 junior, adds 13.6 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 6.0 assists. They and junior Jackson Watkins (9.0 ppg), junior Ayinde Budd (9.5 ppg), and senior T Brewer (7.0 ppg, 8.0 assists) complete the starting five. Senior Colson Williams and junior Cody Patterson comprise what Harris refers to as the “starting seven.”
“This is a very unselfish defense-oriented team,” he said. “It’s all been about team. Basketball is our sport, obviously, but a lot of times we use the terminology of baseball. We always say that we are a base-hitting team. We’re not swinging for the fences. Rarely do we hit a triple. We just want to get on base.”
Selling “team first” was never an issue for Harris, who succeeded Alex Peavey as head coach/program leader in 2016.
“There was no culture change,” Harris said. “The kids were already fundamentally sound. They already played unselfishly. Coach Peavey built the foundation.
“Character comes first. The seniors – T, Jack, Colson, and Tyler (Tunstall) – embody the character, community, and selflessness of our school. It’s how you represent yourself on and off the court. It’s bigger than basketball for us.”
At 6 o’clock tonight, though, it will be big - very big - basketball-wise.
Trinity Episcopal is the defending state champ. The Titans feature three legitimate Division I players: Old Dominion University commit Jason Wade (6-5), Armando Bacot (6-9 and a national Top 10 recruit), and Henry Coleman (6-8). They’re well coached and defensively sound, and they’ve averaged 76 points per game in amassing a 13-2 mark.
“We have nothing to lose,” Harris said. “We’re going over there with 110 percent confidence. We’ll be fundamental and just do what we do. This is a game you tell your kids about. Hey, I played against Armando Bacot. There’s no pressure with that. We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves. We have some big goals in mind. We know ultimately what direction we’re going in. We’re just staying the course.”
“I told them,” Harris said, “that it’s like an orange. I want them to squeeze everything they can out of that orange, meaning the bus rides home, the team meals, preparing for the next game. These things are irreplaceable. Don’t rush it. Enjoy it all.”