By Bill Renje
McDONOUGH, Ga. — In 18 years of coaching basketball there’s probably very little that Vincent Rosser hasn’t seen.
But earlier this season, the Henry County High coach was astonished after a tough home loss to regional rival Mount Zion, which dropped the Warhawks to 1-3 at the time.
“After the loss, (senior shooting guard Peyton Brown) ran suicides by himself after the game,” Rosser said. “He was the first kid in my career that had done it. That let me know he had matured and stepped up.”
Brown’s growth and maturation has been a process. Coach Rosser notes that he has matured quite a bit over the last couple of years byshowing a much more positive attitude.
“He used to be one of those guys would always have something to say to a referee after (a foul call),” Rosser said. “This year, he’s toned it way back. You don’t see him arguing with the ref, or making a statement contrary to what we’re trying to do as a team.”
The senior-laden backcourt of Brown and point guard Mark Lamar, who Rosser calls the “constant quiet leader who looks at me and knows what I’m thinking,” have provided the stability that the Warhawks (15-10, 11-5) have needed to navigate through the trials and tribulations of a bumpy season.
As with any team, family or relationships, there’s going to be turmoil and internal conflict. How you respond to those problems, and whether or not you pull together in unity determines whether you persevere through, or ultimately cave under the weight of those problems.
A very tough loss in mid-January to another region rival in Walnut Grove — coupled with some festering locker room dissension — threatened to blow up the Warhawks season.
Off the court, they had a team meeting where everybody was able to express themselves. Rosser and Brown also believe the Fellowship of Christian Athletes FCA character education studies lead by former Mount Zion coach and current FCA representative Rick Moore helped significantly. Moore walked them through a series of devotions centered around the theme ‘Why do you play?’
Brown has grown to recognize the importance of leadership and leaving a legacy to the younger players, as well as his classmates, on and off the court — also crediting school clubs like Men of Distinction in helping him grow as well.
“I’ve learned a lot about how to grow up and actually be a man, and where I stand with God,” Brown said. “Our weekly (FCA) studies have helped bring the team together as one despite some of the differences we’ve had.
“I want to show these guys coming up an example that will make them better. So when they’re seniors they can show the younger kids how they can be better. (In the classroom), I know some of the younger kids don’t really pay attention. I go to help them to do their homework, focus on their teacher, get their work done so they can graduate high school.”
Said Rosser: “The character studies by Coach Moore really helped. The team listened to his message and it impacted them. The senior leadership stepped up, put their egos aside and did what was best for the team. Nobody worried about who was doing the scoring. The young guys may have been scoring. But the older guys stepped up and started doing the dirty work like taking the charges.”
Accountability has factored in as well with Brown being positively impacted by his relationship with small forward and fellow senior Barnett Bailey, who Brown said “pick each other up.”
Bailey has seen the importance in their relationship as well.
“We’ve known each other since we were three-years-old,” Bailey said. “Whenever we get down, we pick each other up.”
The end result in the wake of the fallout after the Walnut Grove loss was a 4-2 finish down the stretch and the No. 1 seed on their side of the Region 4-AAAA bracket. That stretch run included a 71-54 loss against state and national power Jonesboro, which was the Cardinals’ narrowest margin of victory against a Georgia team all season.
To qualify for the state tournament for the seventh year in a row, the Warhawks will need to beat Spalding Tuesday night in a 7 p.m. matchup at Locust Grove HS.
To do that, Rosser will be leaning on his seniors — most of whom he’s known since middle school.
“These guys have been with me a long time and it would be a great opportunity to go back (to state),” he said. “To do that, we have to beat Spalding. If we can do that, we’ll qualify for state and put our focus on winning the region.”