04/19/14 — ALL-AREA: Princeton's Davis named boys' hoops coach of the year

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ALL-AREA: Princeton's Davis named boys' hoops coach of the year

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on April 19, 2014 11:30 PM


PRINCETON -- Four returning starters who had played basketball together since middle school appeared poised to lead Princeton to a successful campaign on the hardwood this winter.

It certinaly didn't start out that way.

A double-overtime loss against archrival Rosewood in mid-January dropped the Bulldogs to 8-7 overall, and 3-3 in Carolina 1-A Conference play.

"I remember talking to my wife, Nicole, and saying that we might have to forget about the conference championship and just worry about making the playoffs," 11th-year PHS head coach Jeff Davis said. "We were sitting at 3-3 in the conference with Neuse and James Kenan coming up on the schedule. We had gone through a stretch of where we weren't getting the little things done.

"The boys could have rolled over and quit, but they didn't."

Something clicked for the Bulldogs, instead.

They pulled out a two-point home win over Kenan and defeated eventual regular-season champion Neuse by 10 points on the road three days later. The two victories ignited a nine-game win streak and Princeton climbed its way back up the conference ladder.

Davis attributed the turnaround to his four experienced starters -- Colby Norris, Michael Wooten, Alex Whitley and Tanner Woodard. The quartet had seized a middle school conference title as eighth-graders and won 17 games the following season on the JV team.

"Then they decided to play and it's just a testament to the kids because they started to pay attention to details," Davis said. "They do that in their personal lives and it showed up on the basketball court. Every night was competitive in our league and I felt like we were underachieving when we were 8-7.

"But kids aren't like grown folks. They shrug things off more than we do. But you could tell they were upset, too, and knew they were underachieiving."

The win streak started when Princeton limited its turnovers, took high-percentage shots, converted its free throws and accomplished the little things within the framework of its gameplan each time it stepped onto the court.

Davis said assistant coach Jeremy Joyner offered tidbits of information during different games that proved valuable during the late-season run.

The Bulldogs emerged as the Carolina 1-A runners-up to Neuse in regular-season play and carried an eight-game win streak into the postseason. They squeezed out a four-point win over East Columbus in the opening round, but endured a season-ending loss against athletic Wallace-Rose Hill.

Princeton concluded the year 17-8 overall.

"A rewarding year? Lord, yes," Davis exclaimed. "We won eight conference games in a row, which I don't think we've ever been able to do since I've been here. They were a good group of kids. There were no issues about playing time and it was a great group to coach.

"It was obviously very rewarding. I feel like I have been a little spoiled in some ways."