SWAINSBORO — They have the best shooter in the conference, Jordan Johnson, who hits better than half of his 3-point attempts and scores 20 points a game.
They’re ranked No. 13 in the nation, and are in first place in their league.
They recruit almost exclusively within a stone’s throw of campus, and they’ve only had a program for three years.
They offer on average roughly three scholarships to their opponents’ nine.
But when it comes to college basketball, the East Georgia State Bobcats may be the best-kept secret in Georgia.
The Bobcats (21-2, 13-1 Georgia Collegiate Athletics Association) are certainly no secret to the other two-year schools in the NJCAA.
And to think, four years ago when Neil Bailey came to Swainsboro as the program’s athletic director and men’s basketball coach, there were no sports on campus.
“People underestimate what it takes to bring athletics onto a campus that’s never had it, and what it takes to win,” said Bailey, who came from Virginia as a high school coach. “But the people here are determined to be the best at what we do. We feel like we are the best two-year college in the state. People here are serious about doing things right.”
The roster is almost exclusively Georgia players. Guys like Southeast Bulloch’s Marcus Mikell and Johnson, who came to EGSC by way of Hinesville, are already getting looks from four-year schools after being largely ignored in high school.
For Johnson, a 50.4-percent 3-point shooter, the sky may be the limit.
“He’s the best shooter in the country,” Bailey said. “He had zero offers coming out of high school. Zero. Now he’s getting three or four Division-I offers, and if he keeps playing like he’s playing, and we make it to Kansas, to the national tournament, he may turn into a high-major kid.”
The Bobcats, who currently have a one-game lead on the GCAA over Chattahoochee Tech, are the frontrunner for an automatic bid to the NJCAA tournament.
The biggest win in program history came on Jan. 24, at home against Chattahoochee.
That didn’t get Bailey as excited as the next game, when EGSC beat Atlanta Metropolitan College, a sub .500 team.
“I told them (after beating Chattahoochee), ‘Now we’re going to find out who you really are. Whether you think you're great, or whether you can come out and concentrate against a team like this.’ We were up by 30 at halftime,” Bailey said.
With all the winning, Bailey’s focus is always on giving his players the opportunity to get an education.
“They’ve got to be serious about bettering themselves,” he said. “What we have here is an opportunity to open doors. They get bigger, they get stronger, they get better and they get a legitimate college education. The kids go on to four-year schools and they say, ‘It was harder at East Georgia.’”
Bailey took the program, which features four sports — men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and softball — directly to NJCAA Division I. His coaching philosophy from his high-school days remains the same.
“Talent is overrated. Talent doesn’t always win,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m coaching at a high school or East Georgia State College. I’m going to find players and I’m going to teach them how to play and we’re going to beat you. We run a relatively complicated system here, but it’s built on hard-nosed, man-to-man defense and competing for 40 minutes.”
As AD and head coach, Bailey wears a lot of hats, and the other head coaches do, too.
You might see Bailey painting the lines onto the baseball field for the season opener. You’ll see women’s basketball coach Brad Childers giving a baseball player a lift to a doctor’s checkup, and you’ll see all the coaches taking tickets at each other’s games.
“We have an impossible job — almost — but we have a new president here, Dr. Bob Boehmer, and he’s been tremendous,” Bailey said. “He understands some of the obstacles I’ve been facing and he’s been a big help. We have four head coaches who band together to help each other.”
The Bobcats have six regular-season games left. The top seed at the end of the regular season hosts the regional championship tournament, which has an automatic bid to the NJCAA tournament on the line.
Next up for EGSC is a game against Atlanta Metro on the road at 4 p.m.
The Bobcats return home Saturday to face Central Georgia Tech at 7:30 p.m.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.