After defeating its toughest opponent in the biggest game of the season, Rocky Mount Prep is staring down a much different task.
This one is mental.
Still just a few days removed from knocking off previously unbeaten, No. 1-seeded Plymouth, which defeated the Jaguars a season ago, Rocky Mount Prep has to prepare – and refocus – for he NCHSAA 1-A Eastern Regional semifinal at 7 tonight in Fayetteville at the Crown Arena.
A loss last Friday would have sent the Jaguars home prematurely. A loss tonight to No. 10 Camden, which finished third in the Four Rivers Conference behind Plymouth, would have the same effect.
“We can’t be satisfied,” forward Donte Samuels said. “We have to know that every game could be the end of the season or the journey could continue. We have to play with the same hunger every game.”
On paper, the mismatches are obvious. Camden (21-7) starts a 5-foot-9 point guard, and its tallest player is 6-foot-4. The Jaguars (22-3) start three players 6-3 or taller and have only one player shorter than 5-foot-10 – defensive standout Aaron Oates. But knowing that Rocky Mount Prep still is shy of its goal seems motivation enough.
“Records are made to be broken. Goals are set to be achieved,” Rocky Mount Prep coach Don Reams said. “In the beginning of the year, our goal was to win the state championship. ... Last year’s team made it to the regional finals. Last year’s team was regional runner-up. This year’s team has not accomplished that, as of yet.”
Reams said that Monday’s practice was good. There was limited excess conversation and plenty of focus.
“Everybody was motivated,” guard Gary Smith said. “I could see in everyone’s game that they were focused and ready. We can’t make the little mistakes.”
It’ll be important to focus on the little things because Camden made it this far by outhustling, outrebounding and outexecuting its opponents.
“We’re going to play the game like we played against Plymouth,” said forward Deshawn Freeman, who scored a team-high 16 points against Plymouth. “We have to play hard. Teams like (Camden), sometimes you don’t know what they are going to bring to the table. We have to just go hard from here on.”
There’s an easy way for the Jaguars, who went 0-for-8 from behind the arc Friday, to stay focused.
“It’s simple. None of us have a ring,” Samuels said, adding that Smith won a state title with Rocky Mount High. “... We all just want to play as a team and as a family and help each family member earn what they want.”
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or email@example.com