By James Butler
TYRONE Ga. –
In Anthony McKissic’s first season as the head coach of the Sandy Creek boys basketball program the program did something it had not done since 2003.
The Patriots won a region championship.
Sandy Creek’s 70-48 win over Woodward Academy on Friday gave it the Region 5-AAAA crown and a No. 1 seed headed into the Class AAAA State Tournament. The victory also marked a special, full-circle moment personally for McKissic, as the man who guided the Patriots to a region title back in 2003 was his former boss — and current Mount Zion boys basketball head coach — Maurice Triche.
“The last coach to win it [here] was coach Triche who was my mentor,” McKissic said. “It was kind of like a double whammy to be able to follow behind him [and] in the same footsteps he did to lead us to that [championship].”
McKissic started his basketball coaching career as an assistant under Triche at Clayton County’s Pointe South Middle in 2007, and Triche eventually helped him get coaching jobs on the high school level at Morrow.
“He recommended me to coach Jay [Livingston] at Morrow,” McKissic said. “It is kind of like a full circle. Livingston spoke at our kickoff banquet this year so it kind of all worked together.”
Good things are also working for Sandy Creek this season as the Patriots put together a great performance in the region title game to beat a Woodward team they had split with in the regular season.
“The first game we played Woodward we beat them pretty badly,” McKissic said. “The second game was [their] senior night. They came out and they were on fire. It seemed like they couldn’t miss a three-pointer.
“We came in the game really focused, and they came out again [on fire]. In the second quarter our defense stepped up and we never looked back.”
The Patriots have won five of their last six games and sit at 19-7 headed into the state tournament.
“I think we’re peaking,” McKissic said. “We kind of had a peak in the beginning of the year and we went downhill a little bit, got stagnant, but now I think we’re all focused. We had three goals that we set for the team at the beginning of the year. I think now is the time we’re really focused and working hard on those goals. They’re all playing at their potential so we’re pretty good.”
Sandy Creek will host Region 8’s No. 4 seed North Oconee Wednesday. The Titans are only 7-20 on the year, but upset White County to make the state field. If the Patriots can get by North Oconee, potential opponents for the following rounds include Eagle’s Landing (24-4, 12-3 in Region 4-AAAA) and Lithonia (22-5, 17-1 in Region 6-AAAA).
“We’re just trying to take it game-by-game,” McKissic said. “We know North Oconee has a losing record. We know in order to make state you have to be good, so we’re not taking them lightly. We’re coming out as if we were playing Miller Grove or Wheeler. We have to play them as if they were the best team in the state or else we’ll get upset, so we’re not looking past them. We’re spending all of our time focusing on North Oconee and getting better as a team.”
Upperclassmen have produced for the Patriots all season as seniors Christian Turner, A.J. Freeman, Javon Jackson, Keith Heard II, and juniors Elias Harden and Evan Jester have all been keys to their success.
“It’s just a blessing to be with these guys,” McKissic said. “The job came open over the summer; I knew they had a pretty good team. I’m just really happy to be here. The guys are hardworking, they’re great kids, and I think they’re representing Fayette County Public Schools in a first class manner.
“They’re representing the school and the community. The guys don’t get a lot of credit for the good things they do at Sandy Creek, but I think if they keep pushing they’ll change the image that’s out there.”