James Hartry never has much trouble getting his point across.
Emphatic gestures on the sidelines, a creative turn of a phrase and eye-opening film sessions are just a few ways Tucker’s boys basketball team gets the big picture from their coach.
Like most high school coaches these days, Hartry preaches the team concept to avoid a team divided over egos and statistics.
So how does Hartry get his message across?
“A lot of film,” he said. “We’ve let them see how selfish they really are. We’ve shown them film of games where we should have won by 10 or 15 points but we only won by a couple because we weren’t sharing the basketball. It’s a reality check for them.”
The reality at Tucker is that Hartry’s players are listening. The Tigers roll into the Region 6-AAAA playoffs at 20-4 and as the No. 1 seed from Subregion B. It is the fifth time in the past six seasons that the Tigers have won at least 20 games.
In his 11th season at Tucker, Hartry is 205-110 and led the Tigers to their second state championship in school history in 2007.
The Tigers are not at the top of many offensive categories, but a stifling defense has helped establish the Tigers as a threat. Tucker is allowing 45.2 points per game during its current nine-game winning streak. The Tigers open the region tournament on Feb. 17.
Hartry implements half-court and full-court pressure defenses, as well as a man-to-man defense. He called last week’s 64-39 win over region rival Chamblee the best defensive effort by his team in three years.
“We’re not a good shooting team but we can make layups,” Hartry said. “We can take the ball away from you and make layups. We’ve got a lot of good athletes who can cover a lot of space.”
Through the first 17 games, the only Tucker player averaging more than 12 points per game, at 12.4, was Miles Harris.
This year’s crop of Tigers players, as in years past, has grasped Hartry’s single most important concept—share the basketball.
“We didn’t have any superstars on the championship team either,” Hartry said. “We had some that grew into superstars [in college]. But it was a bunch of kids who bought into what we were talking about. Our focus is to really get teenagers into buying into sharing the basketball.
“With kids, everybody out there wants to be the one to take the winning shot. They all want the ball in their hands,” he continued.
Tucker’s roster is full of athletic players who fit nicely into a role in Hartry’s system. Hartry describes his top players thusly:
Team captain Trevor Berkley: “He’s got a great work ethic on the floor and with the books, and the guys believe in him. He’s a great student and has had good parenting.”
Point guard Joey Coursault: “He protects the ball and gives us a chance; he averages one turnover a game. The most important thing about basketball is possessions. I tell him don’t lose my ball.”
Malcolm Hamilton: “An excellent player who does the right things.”
Tyler Brown: “At 6-foot-8, he’s a beast on offense and defense.”
Miles Harris: “We look to him when we need things. He’s the backbone of the team.”
It took about four years for the Tigers to buy into Hartry’s system, but there have been few bumps in the road since. The Tigers are 152-40 over the past seven years and are one win away from their seventh state tournament berth since Hartry became coach.
Two of this year’s losses have come against ranked teams –Miller Grove and Rockdale County—and the other two have come against a pair of 19-game winners—South Gwinnett and Southwest DeKalb.
Hartry is hopeful a rugged region schedule has prepared the Tigers for a run at another state championship.
“I don’t want to sound cocky, but we expect to win at Tucker,” Hartry said. “We try not to get all excited about the regular season. We talk about winning championships. But to us all the wins are big because somebody is trying to knock us off. Anybody that doesn’t have
T-U-C-K-E-R on their jersey is our rival.”