Wolverines ready to chase a title
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
They’re ready to take on the best.
The LaGrange Wolverines, a team composed almost entirely of players who’ll be in the ninth grade this fall, will be in Orlando next week for the YBOA national championship.
Dozens of teams from across the country will participate in the tournament that begins on Monday and goes through Thursday.
“It’s a good experience for them to play against some of the best in the world,” said Dustin Ward, the Wolverines’ head coach for the past two years.
Only the elite teams qualify for nationals, and the Wolverines are eager to test themselves against the best.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said team member Deo’vion Tucker. “I’m happy we’re getting the opportunity to go down there and play at nationals.”
Garrett Jacobsen said the team has been “practicing hard” in preparation for nationals.
“We’ve played some tough competition over the years,” said Jacobsen, a future LaGrange Granger. “It’ll have us prepared for next week.”
The Wolverines have earned their spot in nationals by taking care of business at numerous tournaments across the state.
The Wolverines have a 28-6 record in the past 34 games, and they finished second in the state tournament after losing on a last-second shot.
Steve Jacobsen, who has helped coached the team for four years, said “it’s awesome” to see the players make it this far.
“Last year at state we got to the quarterfinals, and we were one win away from being invited to nationals,” Jacobsen said. “So they kind of knew what needed to be done, and they took care of business this year. So it’s been rewarding.”
Ward, who was a basketball and football standout at Troup, appreciates the hard-nosed way the team goes about its business.
“We’re mostly known for our physicality on defense,” Ward said. “A lot of times in travel ball, AAU ball, teams don’t really emphasize defense. These kids have taken it upon themselves that they’re going to play defense to create our offense.”
Another key to the Wolverines’ success is the team work the players display on the court, and that’s a by-product of the time they have spent together.
Most of the members of the team have been playing alongside each other since they were in the third grade.
They’ve formed a close bond, a kinship, and Tucker said “it’s like a family with us. We’ve just come together.”
Jaquavious Whitfield, a rising freshman at Troup High, said “all of them are my family, even the new guys we’ve got.”
There are four teams in the Wolverines’ organization, including the eighth-grade team that has enjoyed such a high level of success.
Dominique Tucker, the head of the Wolverines’ organization, said the members of the eighth-grade team are “together all the time. They’re like brothers. I normally have like five at my house on any given day for some reason. They’re all sweet kids, they’re all good kids.”
The man leading the Wolverines for the past two years is Ward, and he said “it’s more than a basketball team.”
“They’re a great bunch of kids,” Ward added. “They’re more than just basketball players. We see them as our sons. I don’t want to just teach them how to be better basketball players. We want to teach them how to be better men.”
Dominique Tucker said doing thing the right way on and off the court is something that is consistently stressed.
“I talk to them all the time about when you’re doing positive things, people support you,” Tucker said. “They want to be positive, and they try to be. Dustin’s always on them. It’s more than basketball. When they cut up in school, their teachers know to email me or Dustin.”
In Orlando, the players will stay together in a rented house, and while it’ll no doubt an enjoyable time, there is work to do.
“We’re going to have fun, but we’ve got to do a job,” Ward said.
Dominique Tucker seconded that sentiment.
“You’ll have your time for fun, but when it’s time to go to bed, we need you ready,” Tucker said. “We’re going to win. We’re not going to lose or play around. We’re going to win. That’s our goal.”
TEAM MEMBERS: Jaylon Jordan, Christian Sands, Adrian Tucker, Mydarius Scott, Deo’Vion Tucker, Isaiah Green, Micheal Yarbrough, Jeffery Sims, Jaquavious Whitfield, Jaylen Young, Toidorein Boone, Mydarrian Laye, Garrett Jacobsen, Jahiem Davidson