When Dublin boys basketball players began this season 5-0, fans undoubtedly harkened back to 2006 and ‘09, when the team won Class AA championships with dominating seasons.
This time, though, to even their own surprise, the Fighting Irish are ranked No. 7 and winners of Region 3-AA Division A, despite being undersized, an unprolific 18-6, and having graduated eight players, including all five starters.
“This whole season has been amazing to me,” Irish coach Paul Williams said. “It’s been our hard-work, no-quit attitude.”
After an initial loss to Bleckley County, Dublin hasn’t exactly run the table. The Irish have won only three consecutive games three times, and they began this week with the third-most losses of any ranked team.
Williams’ players have developed a workman attitude characteristic of undersized guys. Saquawn Floyd and Terrell Hines are the tallest starters at 6-foot-3 and 6-1, respectively, and reserve Jalen Wells is 6-4. Otherwise, everybody’s 5-10 and under. In fact, Williams said basketball players likely aren’t recognized around campus by their height, rather their green blazers and gold ties that distinguish them on game day.
On the court, the Irish are distinguished by tenaciousness — their hawking, pressing defense and front-court offense.
“We’re probably the smallest team out there. We’ve had a refuse-to-lose attitude,” Williams said. “When you play Dublin, you know you’ve got to play a complete game.”
Junior point guard Jacori Payne has led Dublin with 27 points on average, while Hines, a senior forward, usually contributes 12. Floyd averages nine. Paine is coming off a 30-point performance in Dublin’s 60-46 win against Josey on Saturday, his same total against the Eagles a month ago, when he made seven three-pointers.
Though the Irish have secured the top seed from their subregion in next week’s region tournament, Friday night’s final game of the regular season, against visiting Laney, is huge. The Wildcats are defending state champions, and potentially, the Irish’s first opponent of the region tournament. A win against them will be the Irish’s second consecutive.
Williams said he believed this success possible back at Christmas, once his team beat Washington County and Salem to win Jones County’s State Bank & Trust Classic. Once his players overcame Washington’s in-your-face, man defense and Salem’s staunch zone, the coach began expecting a return to the playoffs for the first time since Dublin’s first-round loss there in 2010.
“Those two games were when I knew we had something going,” Williams said. “That was the week I knew we could be a factor in the playoffs.”