On Wednesday night, the most successful person to ever coach the Childersburg girl’s basketball team, Gavin King, will walk into the gym as he’s done hundreds if not thousands of times before, but that’s where the experience will change for the first-year Homewood basketball coach.
“It is definitely going to be strange being in the visitor locker room and being on the other bench coaching,” King said. “So yeah, I am not exactly sure what that is going to feel like. It is definitely going to be strange. It is going to feel like opposite sort of, but I am excited.”
It was King who led the Tigers to a 102-29 record the previous four seasons, a run that included the program’s only Final Four appearances in both 2019 and 2020. Past and present will collide for King on Wednesday night when Homewood (12-7) travels to Childersburg (10-4) for a 6 p.m. showdown.
“It is definitely weird trying to watch game film on ‘em, some of their more recent games, and then I realize I just know them, so I don’t really need to watch too much game film,” King said.
King hasn’t been gone long, but that doesn’t mean the former Childersburg coach hasn’t noticed a few key differences on tape this season, starting with the Tiger’s primary scoring option for the last two seasons, Jada Swain.
“She is more confident, year older, got a ton of playing time last year,” King said. “So she is certainly, she is comfortable with the ball in her hand. She does a good job of driving to the lane, drawing fouls. We will have to keep her in front of us, and when she is left open, she’s got a good shot.”
Swain has scored 222 points this season already, and she averaged 5.9 rebounds through the Tigers’ first 12 games this season as she’s greatly increased her production inside the paint.
Of course, Homewood can’t put too much pressure on Swain with Aubry Foy returning after sitting out last season at her parent’s request due to concerns about COVID-19.
Through 12 games this season, Foy is averaging 9.6 points and 10.7 rebounds a game.
King described Foy as one of the best rebounders on Homewood’s schedule this season. He doesn’t plan to double her, but he is prepared to rotate through several girls until one holds her own against Foy.
“Aubry has got a real explosive jump, and if we don’t box her out, she is going to get some rebounds against us too,” King said. We’ve got to make sure we got a body on her.”
From a big-picture standpoint, King said the team he’s watched on tape looks very similar to the group he coached last season.
Perhaps the biggest difference, other than the rebounding numbers, is the improved success behind the arc. Swain leads the team with 18 through her first 12 games, but freshman Rakiya Spell isn’t far behind with 11 over the same span.
King watched those two and the rest of his young team struggle to produce consistently when it came to 3-point shots last season. Some nights they couldn’t miss, and other evenings, well let’s just say the numbers evoked something like an oof sound.
King always said it was a natural struggle for young players. He’s watching a similar story play out at Homewood this season. In fact, in the team’s Dec. 29th victory over Sylacauga, the Patriots won 66-37 despite shooting seven of 42 behind the arc.
While the offense remains something of a work in progress at times, King said he’s surprised with how quickly the girls have adapted to his press-first approach on defense.
Of course, as King admits, it does help when your program has 22 girls between the varsity and junior varsity teams.
“Right now, every couple minutes, we’ve got a new five coming in,” King said. “There have been nights we’ve played 15 girls. … We’ve been able to run multiple presses and send a fresh group in with a different press to run.”
At first, their defensive efforts seemed unstoppable as Homewood started the season off, winning seven of its first eight games. The Patriots have come back down to earth a bit since then, finishing 5-6 in their last 11 games.
Five-and-six was the exact overall record Childersburg had headed into the holiday tournament during King’s first season. Then the Tigers won it all and went 15-4 the rest of the way.
Both Homewood and Childersburg have positioned themselves to finish with the same memorable season that the first group of Tigers did. Wednesday night’s showdown could provide a huge confidence boost for the winning team ahead of the second half of the season.
“Second time around, having a first year, it makes it a little tough,” King said. “Because the first year at Childersburg, like you said, there is really nothing to compare your success to.
“And here having a lot of successful seasons at Childersburg, I definitely want this to happen for these girls very fast, so it kind of puts a little more urgency on every day at practices and in the games because I want to turn this team into a final four team.”