JASPER — It all starts with effort for the Hamilton County girls basketball team.
The Trojans improved to 2-1 in the district and 3-4 overall after downing Jefferson County 53-24 last week. Guards Pedja Cooks, 15 points, and Key’Asia Cole, 14 points, led the way for HCHS.
Hamilton coach Horace Jefferson said the Trojans played well in the win, but other factors go into producing good highlights and statistics.
“Our baskets were effort baskets or they came off our defense,” Jefferson said. “I’m more concerned with effort; if they play with effort good things will happen.”
Cooks agreed, saying effort was a responsibility of the whole team.
“Scoring is a team effort,” she said. “And as our coach said, ‘We are going to state,’ we play hard and we keep that in mind.”
Jefferson said that sometimes players don’t understand what it takes to produce wins, and only see the scoring plays and highlights as the most important aspect.
“The scoring usually starts with the defense, so we want to concentrate on effort,” Jefferson said. “We’ve had some big variances in the games we have lost, but I told the team that I can deal with lack of execution; I just struggle with the lack of effort.”
Cole said “simple mistakes” cost Hamilton in earlier losses.
“I feel like in other games if we could have worked together as a team, we could have won most of the games we lost,” she said.
Jefferson added: “We have to get them in a mindset where their effort has to be a constant. We’re not the most skilled team, so we have to compensate that with effort. I think once they understand that they will finish the game. Everybody likes the highlights and how many points they scored. One of the players asked me at halftime how many points she had. Instead, I asked her how many turnovers she had. That’s what you need to keep track of.
“Even Michael Jordan took pride in his defense, he’d say, ‘I’m going to score on you, but then on the other end I’m not going to allow you to score.’ And if we can get that mind set of stopping people, I think we can be pretty good. Keep in mind we’re young. Tonight we played a seventh and an eighth grader and several ninth graders. We didn’t play our senior because she is injured. We had two juniors on the court, the rest are sophomores. They’ll come around, and by the end of the season we’ll be alright.”
The senior who didn’t play was Aleeka Williams, who will miss the next two or three weeks with an injury, Jefferson said.
Williams was the Trojans’ scoring leader, but now that title belongs to Cooks and Cole.
“Right now they are, our top scorer went down, and I challenged our girls,” Jefferson said. “When your top scorer goes down, it’s not the end of the world. What it means is two or three other people must step up to compensate for the loss and they both stepped up and gave us 29 points. It’s going to be a team effort. I don’t want anybody to think it’s going to be a one-man show. I’m pleased with their effort, and the execution will come, we can teach execution but no coach in America can teach effort.”
Jefferson said Ashanti Raiford led the team in rebounds against the Tigers.
“She plays inside pretty good for us, and in the next seven games we’re experimenting and trying to find some things out,” he said. “I know what Aleeka can do, what Pedja can do, I want to know how versatile Ashanti is. She probably plays with more energy than anybody, and I need someone with more energy on the top of out defense.”
The Trojans have a heavy holiday schedule, traveling for two tournaments.
“We go to Flagler County the 20th and 21st, and on the 26th, 27th and 28th, we’ll be playing in Palatka,” Jefferson said.
Cole said that time will be crucial for the Trojans headed into the home stretch of the season.
“I want us to work hard over the break, and come back and be stronger,” Cole said. “I want the break to be a stepping stone for us to work hard and come back and win games.”