After engineering a successful push to the Region 17 crown for a second consecutive season, the West Georgia Technical College men’s basketball coach has his squad back on the playoff path to the NJCAA Division III District 7 Men’s Basketball Tournament at Rockingham Community College in Wentworth, N.C.
The fourth-seeded Golden Knights (17-15) open play today at 7:30 p.m. against top-seeded and defending national champion Sandhills Community College, with the winner advancing to the district championship on Saturday for the right to move on to the NJCAA National Championship Tournament.
Okolovitch returns three players that experienced last year’s trip to the district tournament and the Golden Knight coach said that should prove very beneficial this time around.
“Last year, nobody knew anything. So anytime you bring guys back with that kind of experience, it’s good for them to carry it on down to the younger guys so they’re ready and come in with the right focus,” Okolovitch said. “That’s the key when you go on a trip like this. Sometimes when you take kids out of town and you’re going to a hotel for a long trip, they lose focus. But I think this team, they want to win. They’re hungry. They don’t want their season to end.”
Okolovitch said the opportunity to face the defending national champion and a squad that entered the season ranked No. 1 in the nation is one his ball club is fully embracing.
“If there was a team they could pick to play, it would probably be them. They want to prove themselves against the best. They don’t want an easy road and nothing to be given to them. I think it’s set in stone for us to play this team,” Okolovitch said.
Even though the Knights were in this same position last season, they’re still a relatively new commodity on the big stage and are still gunning for respect. Okolovitch wasn’t certain if that’s why they were placed as the No. 4 seed or the formula to it, but he’s using it as bulletin-board material for his players, nonetheless.
“We could have been 30-0 and we still would have been the four seed when we went up there. I don’t know how that was determined or whatever, but we use anything as motivation. That motivates me to tell my kids that, ‘Hey, they think you’re the worst. Your region isn’t as good as those regions,’” Okolovitch said.
“I’m not sure that’s why they did it. I don’t know why they did it. But I’m going to use anything I can use to get my kids to understand that our region doesn’t have any respect. And it is only our second year, so I understand that. But everybody knows who the defending national champion is. So we want to go in and play our best and maybe sneak out with a win and people are going to know who we are.”
The Flyers (25-6) feature the No. 1 offense in the country at 100.7 points per game, having hit the century mark or better in 16 of their 31 games and scoring 120 or more points on four occasions. But the Knights welcome an up-tempo style of play, averaging 79.1 points a game, which ranks No. 15 in the country.
“They get the ball and they’re road-runners. They go 100 miles an hour up and down the floor,” Okolovitch said of the Flyers. “We’ve played a lot of teams in the past who have played the same style with us. Honestly, a lot of times, we get the better of it. They pretty much look like us on paper. They score 100 points, we score 80-some points ... that style of play, a lot of times teams don’t want to get into that with us. I’m happy because I know they’re going to play the way we want to play.”
WGTC is led by a pair of sophomores in guards Randazerro Chaney (LaGrange HS) and Victor Wynn (Paulding County HS) and also feature a pair of local products in Carrollton’s LaDamion Walker and Willis Moten of Central.
And for a squad that has endured its fair share of adversity through the season, the Golden Knights are now playing their best ball at the right time.
“These kids really came together when it mattered the most. They’re feeling really confident. It’s pretty much the same teams that were up here last year. You know, maybe last year we didn’t know what we were walking into, but they’re confident and we have some experience. They’re walking into something they feel they can win,” Okolovitch said.