03/19/06 — Boys basketball COY Ñ Kilpatrick directs Gators to comeback season

View Archive

Boys basketball COY Ñ Kilpatrick directs Gators to comeback season

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 19, 2006 2:02 AM

SEVEN SPRINGS -- One single game could have been disastrous for the Spring Creek men's basketball team.

It turned into a blessing in disguise instead.

Despite getting a much-needed win, third-year coach Sonny Kilpatrick directed displeasure toward his team during their post-game talk. One key player, in particular, drew Kilpatrick's ire and undoubtedly raised the veteran coach's blood pressure to astronomical proportions.

Kilpatrick, with the team watching, dismissed the player.

"You could have heard the silence," said Kilpatrick. "It was heavy and it was a major shock. You take someone with his talent and tell him to go home?

"It did wake up the team. That turned us around and got us back to playing team basketball. We had to refocus our attention and get our ball players on the same page. Once we did that, we turned around and starting winning ball games."

Winning, indeed.

The Gators, who fashioned a 4-10 record after Christmas Break, won seven of their next 10 games in Class 1-A Carolina Conference play. They finished third and earned a berth in the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs.

Kilpatrick's squad survived a double-overtime thriller at James Kenan and then shocked state-ranked East Columbus in the sectional semifinals. Their remarkable turnaround ended against Lejeune, leaving them with a 14-15 worksheet.

"My boys came a long way this year, but I'm not sure I was instrumental in it ... maybe I was," said a modest Kilpatrick, who has been selected the 2005-06 News-Argus All-Area Men's Basketball Coach of the Year. "We had a lot of adversity to overcome. The guys had to do a whole lot more work than I did.

"I just had to keep them together and focused."

A brutal non-conference schedule and internal team strife nearly decimated the Gators. Kilpatrick's "heart to heart" talk with that key player proved crucial as well.

Before Kilpatrick could lie down at home and contemplate his decision, the player and parent wanted to discuss what happened earlier in the evening. The player asked what was needed and expected if he wished to keep his uniform.

"I want more assists than points," said Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick saw a changed player the next day in practice and in the next game. As the conference season progressed and the team regained its mental energy zapped from that 10-game skid, the Gators picked up their intensity -- and confidence.

More players got into the scoring act, giving Spring Creek an inside-outside game, which was something they didn't possess during their first 14 games.

"Once he started incorporating everyone into the offense, everybody decided they wanted a piece of the pie," said Kilpatrick, whose three-year career record is 46-31. "When everybody understood their role and did what they were expected to do, we started winning some ball games.

"They worked harder to get open and it made a huge difference in our offensive production. We looked a lot better at the end of the season than we did at the beginning."

Opposing defenses couldn't concentrate on denying shots on the perimeter. With a penetrating guard and two solid inside players, eighth-grader Desmund Raeford and transfer Daniel Chewning, the Gators became a formidable opponent.

Spring Creek enjoyed a brief winning streak and reaped the benefits of its remarkable turnaround with an overtime victory over North Johnston. That contest sealed Spring Creek's playoff bid, the second in Kilpatrick's tenure as head coach.

"I don't judge my season with wins and losses, but judge it by how far we go ... to an extent," said Kilpatrick. "I had a lot of ball players who did a lot of growing up. They matured so fast and so well, and I saw it every day.

"The guys grew up enough to realize they all were an important part of the ball club, not the ball club. They all understood their role and were willing to be satisfied with it.

"That takes a lot of maturity."

And takes a gutsy move to bench a key player by a veteran coach.