Rams boys coach proud of team
Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 1:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 1:51 p.m.
The Eastside boys basketball team will enter the off season following a losing season for the first time in recent memory, but although the Rams finished the season 13-16, head coach Pop Williams is proud of the team.
Despite a losing record, the Rams made it to the Class 5A playoffs and won a first-round playoff game Feb. 14 on the road against District 5-5A champion Bartram Trail of St. John's County.
That win put the Rams in a regional semifinal game on Feb. 19, also on the road, against its District 6-5A nemesis Palatka, a game the Rams lost by a 66-58 score.
"Making the playoffs this year was the highlight of the season to me, and I am very proud of the kids for doing that," Williams said. "I was really pleased with the way they played down the stretch."
Williams said he is optimistic about next year because he will be returning a lot of players who gained valuable experience this year. However, the team will lose senior guards Sir Jackson and Tim Norman.
Williams said the low points of the season were not being able to beat Palatka at least one of the four times the teams played each other and also losing both games to crosstown rival Gainesville High School. He said he thought his team was going to beat GHS the second time they played.
"I can really say not winning that last GHS game was the lowest point of the season," said Williams, who completed his 17th year as coach of the Rams.
He said the team will be led in the off season by juniors Barry Johnson and Seth Brown, two outstanding football and basketball players who did not play basketball this season. They were both starters on the Rams' team that made it last year to the regional finals. He also said Thomas Lundy, Jaquan Strawder, Mike Harris and other players from this year's team also will lead the team in the off season.
Williams, who coached the Rams to the Class 5A state title in 2006, believes the team could have made a strong run for its second state championship in school history if Brown and Johnson had played. He said they would have given the team good, quality depth, something he said the team sorely missed in its losses to the more experienced Palatka team.
Williams, who had surgery several weeks ago, said assistant coach Willie Jackson coached the team in the state playoffs, where he said the lack of depth was the Rams' most glaring weakness.
"Willie didn't have a bench to go to and that really hurt us when Palatka went on a run and a couple of our guys fouled out," said Williams, referring to the loss to the Panthers in the regional semifinal game.
Williams, who is looking forward to running the varsity boys basketball summer league program for area teams this year, said his JV team will play in a summer league with GHS and Buchholz High School. He said the varsity team also will play in the Goodwill Games in Lake City this summer.
"We're going to give them a month off then start back getting ready for team camp at the University of Florida, summer league and everything else," Williams said.