Thursday, February 12, 2009

Getting Ready for Region Tourney

Whole new attitude
Behind Dougherty transfer Cameron Williams, the Sherwood Christian Academy boys basketball program shed its losing image this year as it enters as the No. 1 seed in the Region 3-AA Tournament, seeking a rare shot at a region title.
ALBANY — Cameron Williams didn’t know much about the Sherwood Christian Academy basketball program before transferring there this offseason.
Partially because there isn’t much to know.
In a city steeped in basketball tradition at public school programs, SCA barely serves as a footnote. The program has lived near the cellar of GISA with only one region
championship (2004) in more than a decade.
Final Fours? There was that one time. State championships? Never.
Yet, phrases like state championship and region championship slip off Williams’ tongue with confidence, just like it did Wednesday during a break from practice at Darton College.
His Eagles are in the midst of an 18-4 season and preparing to open the GISA Region 3-AA tournament today as the No.1 seed. The buzz around SCA — which faces Southwest Georgia Academy in the semifinals today — revolves around a likely rubber match with No. 2 seed Tiftarea on Friday at ABAC. It’s the type of intense basketball atmosphere rarely felt off Old Pretoria Road.
“I thought we would win more than we lose,” first-year coach Matt Ruta began, “but I didn’t think it would be like this.”
And Williams is the main reason why. The senior is averaging 24 points and 14 rebounds a game. He set the single-season school rebounding record halfway through the year and grabbed the school career mark after just one season.
Twice this season Williams broke the school single-game scoring record, the first time with 34 points and the second dropping 41 in the first of two heated games against Tiftarea.
All the pieces seemed to have fallen perfectly into place for Sherwood Christian, but this was hardly the plan Williams imagined two years ago.
For two varsity seasons, Williams sat on the end of the bench at Dougherty High. His sophomore year, inexperience locked him on the sidelines and during the first half of his junior year, a knee injury kept him out of the action. Even when healthy, his minutes were minimal as the team added a second consecutive GHSA Region 1-AAA championship last spring.
And Williams’ frustration mounted.
“I was one of the hardest working guys in practice,” he began, “but I never was able to get into the flow of the game.”
Ultimately, all he ever wanted was an opportunity.
So, Williams sought one out. When he walked into the hallways of Sherwood this summer, he found he wasn’t alone.
He first came across coach Ruta, who was a former assistant coach at a high school in Orlando ready to run his own program. He bolted Florida two weeks after getting married, shunned job offers closer to home and settled in Albany.
All Ruta wanted was an opportunity to coach.
Williams then reacquainted himself with a gritty point guard named Wesley Pittman he knew from playing with the Albany Hawks a summer earlier. Pittman stewed in the demoralizing nightmare of falling behind, 52-4, at halftime against rival Deerfield-Windsor last year.
All Pittman wanted was to be excited for game night.
This school appeared to be the perfect fit. So, along with freshman Dequan Green, son of former Westover High legend and NBA player Dontonio Wingfield, Williams enrolled and began changing the face of SCA basketball.
“Cameron brought a toughness and competitiveness,” Ruta said. “It was something we weren’t necessarily lacking, but he kind of drew it out of them.”
When Ruta first met Williams, he ushered him down the hall to meet football coach Rock Knapp. As Williams tipped the scales well above 200 pounds, he looked more like a center on the offensive line than a center on the baseline.
“I told Rock, ‘I got a football player for you,’ ” Ruta said. “Then when I first saw him play basketball, I saw he has some skill; I knew he could be special at our level.”
This entire season has been special for SCA. Crowds now flock to games and Ruta expects the same as the region tournament begins tonight at 8:30 p.m. in Tiftarea against No. 4 seed SGA (4-19).
The season hasn’t been as special at the school Williams left behind as Dougherty struggles through a disappointing two-win year. Williams wouldn’t mind a game against his former team to see what would happen, though he admits the competition level is much different back in GHSA.
But as he prepares to try and lead the Eagles into the postseason with realistic hopes of competing for the school’s first state championship in boys basketball, it’s clear to him he made the right choice.
“Sometimes I think about it,” Williams said of how he’d feel if he’d stayed at Dougherty. “Some of my friends, the season at Dougherty didn’t go how they planned for it to go, so I am kind of happy that I transferred.”

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