PLANT CITY — Attitude adjustments were in order, and the Durant Cougars knew it. The night before, nearby rival Newsome had entered their gym and smoked them by 20.
After three quarters, the Wolves led by 27, though mentally the Cougars had checked out long before then. Durant’s performance had been lowlighted by a technical foul and tons of negative body language. What originated as bickering segued into a blowout.
So the next day before practice, the Cougars and their coaches sequestered themselves in the driver’s-education room adjacent to the gym, and engaged in a 20-minute heart-to-heart.
“It was just too much crying (on the court),” senior two-guard Andre Nation said.
“Like, the whole team, just crying, crying, crying, constantly crying. … We had a real heart-to-heart conversation, the whole team that next day before practice. So I think that’s when everybody settled down. I think that’s when we came together as a team.”
That was Jan. 5. The Cougars (19-4) haven’t lost since.
“I have six seniors and they all had their say,” said second-year coach Trent Tice, whose team hosts Ocala Forest (19-6) in tonight’s Class 5A region quarterfinals. “It was a pretty good meeting. … That was our turning point.”
With promise realized and pouting minimized, the Cougars, a team of length (six players are 6-foot-3 or taller) and leadership, enter the playoffs on a 10-game win streak.
The offensive catalyst is Nation, a small-college prospect who led the team in scoring (22.8 ppg), rebounding (6.7 rpg), steals (1.9) and blocks (3.0) during the regular season, and could be poised to explode tonight.
In Friday’s 39-38 win against East Bay in the District 8 finals, he was held to a season-low six points. With the Indians defenders asserting themselves in the lane, Nation found himself settling for hasty jumpers and fadeaways instead of penetrating and perhaps drawing fouls.
But instead of crying the next day, Nation came clean.
“That’s one of the things he’s going to have to learn; people are going to be physical, they’re going to hit you and whack you,” Tice said. “He came to me the next day and said, ‘I was taking too many shots.’ ”
Tonight, watch for Nation to expose his body more.
Even as his team exposes its body language less.