CALHOUN, Ga. - Jerry Pruett admits his basketball team isn't one that elicits a lot of oohs and aahs. Wins, on the other hand, are plentiful for the Calhoun Lady Yellow Jackets, and that's all that concerns the veteran coach.
After winning 23 and 26 games in the last two seasons, Calhoun is having perhaps its best season this year. The experienced Lady Jackets are 19-1, 11-0 in tough Region 7-AA and own several signature wins. It's ironic, then, that their most important game may have been their loss.
"The game where I knew afterward that we were going to be good, with a chance to be very good, was against North Cobb," Pruett said of the early-season loss to a team that is ranked in Georgia's highest classification. "We could have won that game, but that's not the big thing. We were able to handle their pressure, which was my biggest concern about this team coming in."
Pruett knew he had one of the better inside games in the state with 6-foot sisters Taylor and Molly Palmer and wings Wimberley Roe and Bree Walraven. What he didn't know was who was going to run the team at point guard after graduating his top two from last year.
However, in that North Cobb loss, seniors Carly Curtis and Shante McDaniel, the team's two top athletes, proved they could more than handle the ball-handling duties.
"Carly has really stepped up as our point guard, and Shante, to me, has made the biggest strides of all," said Pruett, whose team has impressive wins over Model, Sonoraville, Northwest Whitfield and Dade County (twice). "I knew she could play defense, but she's handled the ball very well. Of course, Taylor and Molly have been solid and we've gotten good shooting from our wings.
"With me, though, it all starts with defense. I guess I'm just old-fashioned."
Again, it's not flashy, but any team giving up an average of 35 points per game is going to get its share of wins. Calhoun's formula is simple: The guards overplay and trap, and anything that gets through is handled by the twin towers. Taylor Palmer, the team's leading scorer at a modest 13.2 points a game and top rebounder at 7.8, believes the Lady Jackets are built for playoff success.
"The best thing about this team is our belief in one another," she said. "We always stress defense and that's something that can help us make a good [postseason] run. Plus, we have four seniors and we all believe we do it."
Palmer's stats are down from a year ago as opposing teams have made her the defensive priority, but she has adjusted her play to take advantage of the extra attention. She's comfortable passing out of double teams and knows if the Jackets shoot well from the outside they will be difficult to beat.
"It's been frustrating to get double-teamed so much, and I've worked on not letting that bother me," said Palmer, who is considering the University of Georgia and Mercer University. "We have a lot of good outside shooters, and if I can get them an open shot I fee confident they're going to make it."
Even at 19-1 Calhoun is considered a dark horse in a loaded Class AA that features a Wesleyan program that has won nine titles in 11 years, Greater Atlanta Christian and undefeated teams Kendrick and Laney.
"I hope we are considered in that company," Pruett said, "and that's our goal. The bottom line is you have to find a way to beat those teams, and if we do what we're supposed to do and play within ourselves, we can play with most anybody."
Just don't expect it to be flashy.