And to make it more interesting, this will be the first time the teams will play each other as region opponents. Spalding just made it to Class AAAA this year — in the past, the Jags were in Class AAA. Spalding won both games against Griffin in the 2008-09 season, including a wild come-from-behind victory by Spalding at home, highlighted by Willie Hamm’s game-winning layup with less than a second remaining.
At this moment, Griffin is 10-5 overall and 4-3 in Region 4-AAAA Division B while Spalding is 6-6, 3-3. Griffin, winners of two straight, is in fourth place while Spalding — which has lost two straight — is in fifth.
Game time is set for 7:30 p.m. tonight and ticket prices will be $7 for adults and $5 for students, as agreed upon by both schools’ athletic directors. The game will also be broadcast on local radio station WKEU, 88.9 FM The Rock.
“Even though the excitement around town and in the school is huge, this is just a region game and ALL region games are big,” said Griffin Bears second-year head coach Prelvis Paster. “It’s a home game as well so you really don’t want to slip up in home region games.”
Paster said the Bears are finally getting past the adversity they had in the first half of the season and feels the team is getting better. He said the key to beating Spalding — now coached by former Griffin High assistant Kemo Spear — is to focus and execute well in the game. Paster said there’s no new game plan to combat Spear, who’s also a former Griffin High basketball player who won a state title in 2003 for the Bears.
“Kemo knows the guys, but we’re not going to try and fool him. We just have to be better at what we do than the other team,” Paster said. “We’ve just got to play good basketball and stay composed as a team.”
And speaking of composure, Paster said he’s spoken to the team about being calm and not trying to outperform the Jaguars of Spalding. He certainly doesn’t want any outlandish trash talking and fighting.
“I told them I coach basketball, not mixed martial arts. There’s no cage around the gym floor so there’s no need to prove anything by knuckling up,” he said. “If the ball goes through the nets more times than Spalding puts it through, that’s all that matters.”
Griffin seniors Tae Mayes, Terrell Collier, J.R. Ellis and Kelvin “Yao” Waldon said they are looking forward to playing their crosstown rivals and boyhood teammates at Spalding for the first time.
“We have to come out and execute well,” said Collier. “If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
“We have to play as a team and stay focused,” Mayes said. “We have to be ready to play.”
Ellis and Waldon both said defense will be a key to victory.
“I hope they’ll be ready to go, because we will be for sure,” Waldon said.
At Spalding, Spear said seeing Griffin for two years straight does help the Jags this season.
“It’s like playing basketball with friends in the backyard. After awhile, you know their strengths and weaknesses and you pick up on their tendencies,” Spear said. “Despite that, we still have to execute. I can tell my guys everything and if they don’t execute the game plan, what I said won’t matter.”
Spear said the Jags will treat Griffin like any other region game and that’s how they’ve prepared in practice this week.
“We just have to execute to the tee. If we do that and believe in what we do, we’ll be okay,” he said.
Spear also warned his team about bad behavior during the game and just have competitive spirit. As a former Griffin High player, he understands about a little trash talk here and there but he doesn’t want his team to go overboard.
“I told them not to break character,” he said. “Play smart and be cool out there. We want a competitive and good game that will make the community proud.”
Spalding senior Markee Dickerson said after the Jonesboro game Tuesday that his team will be ready for Griffin.
“We are all looking forward to that game. We want to play well,” Dickerson said.
Spear said he doesn’t know how he’ll feel coming into The House as a visiting coach for the first time until he gets there.
“I’ve had a lot of memories in that gym as a player and coach so it will be interesting, for sure,” he said.