‘Like it’s gameday’: How Kingston prepared for the Class AA Final Four

KINGSTON — The Kingston Tigers broke the huddle at the end of practice on Tuesday the same way they have been all season. Well, almost the same way.

A few weeks ago, in a game against Washingtonville, or maybe it was Monroe-Woodbury, depending on who you ask, team captain Brian Moore led Kingston in the “1-2-3, KINGSTON! 4-5-6 FAMILY!” chant. Except, instead of family, he said “DOMINATE!” Whatever game Kingston was playing at the time, the Tigers went on to dominate, and the modification has stuck ever since.

“Coach said he likes it a lot, so it just stuck,” Moore said. “I like it too.”

It’s caught on with Kingston even in practice, where the pace is game-like and the players act like their teammates are their opponents. As Kingston prepared for a Final Four matchup in the Class AA semifinals against Brentwood, the emotions were running high. If it was the first week of practice, the players calling each other out might be perceived as dysfunction.

But on the week of the most important game of the season, it’s simply indicative of a team that really, really wants to win.

“Today, yeah, we had a lot of emotions going today,” Moore said, “but you know it’s normal for the week before Final Four. We all have competitive egos, so you bring your head to the game. It actually helps us for the game and gets us mentally and physically helps us.”

“I just think that’s how we are every practice,” said senior Chris Bamba. “We’re all competitive. We all just try to get each other better and try to get ourselves better in the process.”

On the back of each practice jersey is the words “Get Better Today.” Those words have been there since the days of Tay Fisher and Keith Simmons, but head coach Ron Kelder said this year’s players don’t just wear it on their backs. They embody that phrase.

“This team has exemplified it better than any team we’ve ever had,” Kelder said. “I think they’ve grown day in and day out better than most.”

Practice begins with players dispersing to the six hoops around the gym, practicing free throws, jump shots, free throws, 3-pointers and more free throws. “Free throws, free throws, free throws,” Kelder will later say to his players during practice, seemingly determined to make sure that’s the last thing he’ll let beat the Tigers this weekend.

The two sides break into Maroon and White, and compete against each other at game speed. Kelder initially tells his assistant coaches not to call timeout and allow the players to fix their own mistakes, but after Daivel Jackson muscles in for an easy layup, Kelder breaks his own rule.

He reminds his athletes that they’re going to be more physical near the net than they have been in the past. “When we get a rebound,” Kelder said, “they will dig at you.”

“He wants us to make it like it’s gameday,” Shy’quan Royal said.

“We try to make it as much like a game as possible and make it competitive,” Kelder said. “They’ve got to get after each other. It’s definitely something that has to be present. We can’t be doing a walkthrough every day and yesterday was a day that we needed to get very physical and game-situation like.”

“Coach stresses that there’s going to be a lot more contact in the playoffs,” Daivel Jackson said, “so we’re trying to get a lot more contact in, and everybody got a lot better throughout the season, so we’re competing against the best in my opinion.”

At 4:50 p.m., with 10 minutes remaining in practice, a loud thud echoed through the field house when Jackson fell to the floor after dunking the ball. He laid there for a bit, then hopped around halfcourt and shot a couple free throws. He then walked off the court and laid face down on the 1 square on a makeshift sideline four-square court.

He eventually got the OK from the team’s athletic trainer Rachel Meyers, who looked at his right knee and told him, “It’s going to be a bruise. It’ll hurt a little bit, but it’ll be fine.”

“He’s got a bruised knee,” Kelder said. “He’s fine. He’s playing.”

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  • Blog Author

    Justin Fedich

    Justin Fedich is a sports reporter for the Times Herald-Record. An Atlanta native, he has worked for a bevy of news outlets across the Southeast, focusing mainly on high school sports. He graduated from the University of Georgia in 2015 with a ... Read Full
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