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Perfect Knights open postseason
William James Middle School ended regular season 14-0
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Coastal Empire Region Tournament
Round 1
Who: William James Middle School vs.
Langston Chapel Middle School
When: Wednesday, 4:15 p.m. at WJMS

    Bulloch County turned into a basketball hotbed last season as three varsity squads made runs to the Final Four of their respective state tournaments.
    This season, that success has trickled down to the younger players as the Knights of William James Middle School have compiled a perfect 14-0 record heading into postseason play.
    The Knights have had plenty of talented teams in the past, but this season’s undefeated squad took many by surprise. All of this year’s starters are new and just one saw regular playing time last year.
    “I don’t think a lot of people gave us a great chance,” WJMS coach Brian Hall said. “We really had to grow up fast. We had a good summer and won a tournament at Langston Chapel early in the season. I think that really let us know that we could be a good team.”
    Hall credits his team’s commitment to playing solid defense as a big factor in their unbeaten run. Hall notes that the Coastal Empire Region that his Knights compete in is as strong as he’s ever seen and that strong defensive efforts have made the difference in a handful of close games.
    Eighth grade forward Dra Harrison is a shining example of how the Knights have turned the corner.
    Harrison saw several minutes per game last season and has been a scoring threat throughout his career at WJMS, but Hall states that Harrison’s efforts to play better defense this season has turned him into a complete weapon.
    Fellow eighth graders Zeddrick Stodham and Ahmad Edwards provide length and athleticism to give the Knights a formidable press and Trayvion Burns’ aggression and high basketball IQ has been a big asset to the offense.
    “Having a good group of eighth graders really helps,” Hall said. “Seeing these kids grow is a challenge of middle school. You look at seventh graders and then look at the eighth graders. Sometimes it seems like they should be in different schools.”
    For all the success of the regular season, the Knights must now contend in a tournament setting.
    William James will take on Langston Chapel today in the first round of the Coastal Empire Region tournament. As the top seed, William James Middle School will also be the setting for the semifinal and championship rounds of the tournament on Friday and Saturday.
    With previous levels and leagues that Knights players have competed on in the past, a regular season was usually the only thing on the schedule.
    Playing in a postseason tournament that can dish out sudden death to even the most talented and highest seeded teams is a new mental hurdle for WJMS to overcome.
    “We sat them down and talked about it,” Hall said. “It’s not like preseason tournaments where you’re going to play a certain number of games, win or lose. There’s definitely more pressure that the kids are going to have to deal with.
    “The best part about this season has been seeing this team work together and improve, but it would be great to finish things off well in the region tournament.”
    Today’s tipoff with Langston Chapel is scheduled for 4:15 p.m. The winner will take on either Richmond Hill or Burke County on Friday.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.