I have been a basketball aficionado since age four. I have played, coached, been athletic director and even refed once in a while Last night was the best game that I have ever seen high school, college or pro. Maybe because I do really know many of the players from our work at the Ridgeland Hardeeville High School in Jasper County, South Carolina.
I have seen the young men play for the past three years. The coaching is excellent. Coach Faber has won over five hundred games and is still going strong. He is a master of instilling a winning spirit among his players. He talks about commitment and the guys do understand what he means. Last night was an example of how the team puts forth a super human effort to win.
Each Christmas Season there is a holiday tournament in Beaufort County. That’s right next to Jasper. While Jasper County is the 3rd poorest county in SC. Beaufort is the third wealthiest. This is a round robin tourney with six teams. Two of the teams were from the Charlotte, North Carolina area and the other teams were from the host Beaufort County.
Ridgeland Hardeeville played their first game against Piedmont High School, one of the NC schools. We had been told ahead of time that this team was really good and that they had some exceptionally tall players. When Piedmont came out for warmups, the predictions were all true. You could see that the players were skilled AND tall. One of the guys was about six foot seven, and as we learned later was given an athletic basketball scholarship to Clemson.
Most of the Piedmont starting squad was seniors. The RHHS players were pretty much juniors. However, they had not lost a game since the beginning of the season. Most folks do not realize that RHHS had to play in a school division, based on number of students, where they were up against much larger schools. That was because they were not able to get schools of their size to play them in non-conference games.
When the RHHS team came out to practice, you could see how much smaller they were than their opponents. The first part of the game was what might have been predicted. The Piedmont boys rebounded, scored threes from all over the court. Even with a full court press, Piedmont was overwhelming the guys from RHHS.
In the first half Piedmont had leads of both eleven and thirteen points. You could see both the players and Coach Faber being frustrated with their inability to break through. The RHHS team saw the very tall player on Piedmont throw down some “thunder” dunks that excited the crowd. At no time did the RHHS team have a lead. By the beginning of the second half, the Piedmont players seemed to be bothered more by the full court press. There were more interceptions, more infractions, and more fouls on the Piedmont team.
One could see a diminution in the frustration of the RHHS team as the second half proceeded. There was now somewhat of a formula in stopping the tall player, as he was boxed into corners by the RHHS guys.
Coach Faber exhorted his team to play defense and substituted liberally from an offensive mode to a defensive one. The Piedmont coach did not substitute as freely. As a casual observer, I understood that all of the tongue hanging out practices of Coach Faber were now having a positive result. One can always tell when a player is “gassed,” when you see them with their hands on their hips.
The RHHS starters played most of the second half with help from some of the substitutes. Coach Faber would call individual players over during foul shots and instruct them about the next play, either offensive or defensive.The RHHS players listened intently and then went about their plays as instructed.
As the second half proceeded, RHHS started to crawl down the necks of the Piedmont team. At no time did they lead the game, but the margin slowly crept lower and lower. With about 2 minutes left in the game, it was obvious that Piedmont was frustrated. They threw in some threes and blasted through the RHHS defense. However, RHHS always answered with their own shots and scores.
The last minute had my heart pounding. Either team could have won the game with either a foul shot or a two or three pointer. They did not. The score at the end of regulation was tied. However, there was a feeling, at least on my part, that the end of the overtime would be in the control of the RHHS team. The first few minutes of overtime were fairly even. However, as the defensive noose applied by the RHHS players descended on Piedmont, it was evident that the game had really ended before overtime.
The RHHS team extended its lead during overtime and won, going away 71-65. They were so excited, but retained their gentlemanly ways as they shook hands with the Piedmont players. This is a tradition at Ridgeland Hardeeville. Whether they win or lose, they are gentlemen. They are that way because Coach Faber trains them. He does not tolerate any arguments with refs or trash talk or disconsolate looks. Our kids just turn around and go on with their playing.
I cannot tell you how proud I was that a number of the players belong to the group that I work with, The Jasper Gentlemen. I know them and admire their successes, in academics, as well as on the basketball floor.
My wife Carol has become a basketball fan after all of these years. She enjoys the games because she knows some of the players and after the games; they usually come by our seats and shake hands with both of us, or sometimes hug us dripping with perspiration. At that point, who cares?
As an epilogue, the RHHS team won the tournament. Their next two games started off close, but ended in a rout. It was good to see many of the subs get into the game.
Carol and I have great respect for Coach Faber. Yes, he does all of the things most coaches do, but the players know that he loves them. He is very hard on them in practice and in the game. However, whether a win or a loss, he is always concerned for their welfare. I know this because of our conversations about his players both those he has now and former players. RHHS has been lucky to have him all of these 30+ years.