The Warner Robins Demons held the trophy high above their heads a season ago, as they claimed their first state title in school history.
Then the team lost 10 seniors to graduation and had to start all over again in rebuilding the program with just three players returning from a season ago.
The team dropped back-to-back games against Baldwin and Jones County in the middle of the season.
“That was a part of the process that we had to go through with this group,” head coach Jamaal Garman said. “They learn very well from a loss, two losses as a matter of fact.”
The team would follow up with a 82-52 rout of the Perry Panthers in the Bear Brawl tournament in December.
“They came back and played as we expect them to play,” he said. “Those losses taught us a lot.”
Garman said the six losses the team suffered during the season helped them grow as a team as they figured out how to win games at the varsity level with a brand new group of players. It has also prepared them for playoff basketball.
“We are at a part of the season now where you can’t take a loss and say ‘hey I’ll come back and work on it tomorrow’ because if you get a loss today, there is no tomorrow,” he said. “They are learning that process and we are trying not to learn that process the hard way with a loss. We are going to try and stay on the good side of things.”
Senior guard Jacobi Coleman said he’s excited that the team still has a chance to repeat as state champions.
“It has been a journey to say the least but it has been pretty good for us to know we are fighting for that championship again being the defending state champions,” he said. “It really makes us lock and realize that we have to play every game like it is our last.”
The Demons are coming off of a 56-34 opening round win over Union Grove, a high point in the team’s season, Coleman said.
“I feel like it has been a building process all season,” he said. “One moment that I feel like everything clicked was actually our last game against Union Grove...the defense was playing really well. It felt like everybody’s chemistry was locked in.”
Garman said he thinks the team can become even better as the season wears on but was impressed with how they performed against Union Grove. The Demons will take on Starr’s Mill at Warner Robins on Thursday at 6 p.m. and for Garman it is a chance to see them continue to grow as a team.
“Those guys are showing that they are actually coming together as a team,” he said. “This team can be very very good. They still haven’t reached their peak.”
As the team continues on in the playoffs, fans are getting a glimpse into a fast and furious style of play that features dunks and the ability to finish in fast break situations.
“That is what people are paying $7 to come see,” he said. “By being fast and being aggressive and trying our best to jump out of the gym when that time permits, it makes it an exciting brand of basketball for us. When those things are going on during a game it only makes our team that much hungrier.”
The Demons may have a bigger target on their back because they are the defending state championships but for Garman it has been business as usual.
“We walk around as though we always have a target on our back,” he said. “ You always have to be at your best no matter the moment or the time.”