Year two has been no sophomore slump for head coach Don Hudson but rather a sophomore sensation, turning around Houston County High School’s boy’s basketball program by an 11-game difference.
On Feb. 8, 2018, Houston County lost to rival Northside High School to finish the season 5-20.
Fast forward about 365 days, and Houston County emerged as the winner against one of the top-ranked teams in the state to be crowned region champs at 16-9 overall.
The recipe: a culture change.
“(The team) became a family,” Hudson said. “That’s what’s making a difference now.”
Hudson said the goal in his first season was changing the culture of Houston County. Austin Sloan, a senior committed to play at Georgia College, said the team did a lot of ball watching.
“Before he came in, it was pretty much whoever has the ball, he’s going to try to attack and the other guys hopefully get a rebound. If not, they’re going back to play defense,” Sloan said. “Now we have fun with it.”
Sloan said the new culture of the team is playing together. Instead of one player scoring 20-plus points, everyone is involved. Hudson said he viewed last season as a year to grow, one where he expected the team to experience some bumps and bruises; they were young.
“They didn’t have any chemistry with each other,” Hudson said. “You see (Warner Robins) and (Northside), those kids have been playing together at their middle school, and that made a huge difference.”
Houston County has two middle schools who feed to the program, and many of the players on last year’s team came from different places.
“To me it felt like we were a JV team playing against varsity teams,” Hudson said. “We had to find out who we were as a staff. They had to find out who they were individually.
“I even went through some games where I could have bailed them out by calling different timeouts and stuff like that, but it was just one of those things where I said ‘I need these guys to learn these particular things,’” Hudson said.
Last year was Hudson’s first as a head basketball coach. As a former Georgia Southern football player, Hudson has focused most of his efforts on coaching football over the last 26 years. He also has 26 years of experience coaching basketball, but has never served as a head coach at the varsity level.
After coaching at different schools around the state, Hudson was asked to return home. He played football and baseball at Northside, so when Houston County called him to serve as part of the football staff, he took the opportunity.
“That was easy to do when you have Jake Fromm at quarterback,” Hudson said.
Hudson was asked to fill the role of head coach for basketball, and jumped at the opportunity. He said coaching gives him an opportunity to build young men.
“I feel like God has called me, in some capacity, dealing with young men,” Hudson said. “Getting an opportunity to instill character [and] build relationships with those young men have made a lot of young men a better person because of it. It has made me a better man, and a better teacher and a better coach because of all those different sports I coached.”
Sloan said the biggest difference now is the leadership on the team. Hudson, too, saw this maturation process over time, beginning at the end of last season and into the summer and fall of 2018.
The team even went to camps together over the summer, such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp at Georgia Southern, to build character and leadership.
The concerted effort into building team chemistry has reaped rewards: The Bears now enter the GHSA 6-A state playoffs as region champs, defeating Coffee County. The Trojans were ranked as the top team in the state by the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Todd Holcomb Jan. 27.
Hudson said beating Coffee County made a huge difference in their confidence.
“It has helped us understand that, in any given game, we can play with anybody,” Hudson said.
Houston County will play Mt. Zion Saturday at 5 p.m. in Warner Robins.