CALHOUN, Ga. — When told that a newspaper article highlighting the GHSA state tournament had given his team a 5 percent chance of winning, Calhoun coach Vince Layson had a quick retort.
"Well, at least they're giving us a chance," said Layson, well aware that his Yellow Jackets are decided underdogs in today's Class AA final against nationally ranked Greater Atlanta Christian. "If I'm not mistaken, no one gave us a chance against Vidalia, either."
Calhoun (24-2) shocked the experts in last Saturday's semifinal round with a 13-point win over the previously unbeaten Indians, but in today's 4:45 tipoff at the Macon Centreplex, the Jackets are facing arguably the top prep team in the state, regardless of classification.
Coach Eddie Martin's 31-0 Spartans are both talented and tested, led by Virginia signee Isaiah Wilkins, a 6-foot-7 forward who is Dominique Wilkins' stepson and whose game is eerily similar to that of the NBA Hall of Famer. He's one of three starters 6-6 or taller on a team that has done well at several elite national tournaments this season.
"They've played some high-profile games and it's easy to see why everyone is talking about them," Layson said. "They're very good with a lot of key pieces. We'll have our hands full, no doubt."
Most teams this season have tried to avoid the Spartans' length inside and have strayed from their usual game plan. Layson said the Jackets won't deviate from what they normally do.
"Our goal is to take it to them, just like we did Vidalia," he said. "There is nothing about our team that says finesse, so we're not going to start playing that way now. We're actually counting on having the edge in the physicality department."
That starts with 6-7 center Keyth Fightmaster and 6-3 power forward Austin Byrd, who pulled down 24 rebounds against Vidalia, but also includes 6-2 guard Kaelen Riley, who is the team's second-leading rebounder. The physical style also encompasses conditioning, a factor that has come into play in each of Calhoun's four playoff wins.
"We feel we have the edge late because we are in great shape and we're used to playing four quarters," sophomore guard Riley said. "If a team shows us they're tired, we take it right to them."
If there's one certain edge the Jackets have it's in expectations, a factor Layson hopes shows up early today.
"The pressure is all on them," he said. "If we go out and lose, then it's what everybody expects."
Added junior guard Jireh Wilson: "We just have to do what we do best with even more intensity than usual, but we know going in that we have nothing to lose."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...