Knights Battle Injuries, Region in Quest to State Basketball Playoffs
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Placed in a region thought to be as tough as any in the state, St. Francis head coach Cabral Huff knew the Knights’ trek to the postseason would be anything but easy.
Mix in injuries to the heavy-hitters in his starting lineup and St. Francis’ season easily could have gone tail spinning out of control. But Huff said the team’s “next man-up” mentality kept the ship steady through January, and his boys should be running at full-strength come tournament time in February.
“We have played five games all season with everyone healthy and available to play,” said Huff who noted that his Knights were a perfect 5-0 in those contests. “So as a team and staff we had to prepare that ‘next man’ and players had to be ready when their name was called.
“We’ve had a number of young players getting their feet wet [because of injuries], but we haven’t shied away from any tough competition because of that either.”
The injury-bug struck hardest with the loss of 6-foot-7 big-man Kaiser Gates Dec. 15. Gates, who has yet to return to the floor, was averaging 13 points and nine rebounds at the time of his injury.
At other times this year the Knights played without point guard Kobi Simmons, guard Nathan Waller, and battled a rash of other illnesses through the winter.
Despite what became a revolving roster on game night, the Knights held their own in Region 6A — which includes defending state-champion Whitefield Academy, No. 1 ranked North Cobb Christian, and five other teams currently slated to be state playoff teams — managing a 9-2 region record and keeping themselves in the playoff picture with a No. 11 standing in the Class-A Private School power rankings.
“I’ve told anyone who would listen that we have one of the toughest regions in the state, you can look at it anyway you want to see how it measures up. Regardless of classification, it’s a war every night,” said the fifth year coach.
“Each team should feel very prepared about the level of competition they have faced throughout the season. We certainly do.”
The Knights navigated through the grueling region behind stellar guard play from Malik Beasley, McKinley Brown and Simmons. Jordan Jones and Josh Coleman helped man the post in Gates’ absence.
“We, as a staff, are still optimistic we can make a run in February,” said Huff, who expects Gates to return sometime this week, giving him a full roster for the first time in nearly two months. “We just need to execute, give maximum effort and [stay] healthy.”