Memorial coach looks back on basketball journeys

By Todd O'Neal | March 1, 2021

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It was 33 years ago.

This past weekend I headed up to Macon to take my Memorial Matadors to play three-time defending state champion Furtah Prep in the Elite 8 of the 2021 GISA state tournament. If I had a nickel for every time I have been up and down Interstate 16 as a player or coach for the state tournament, I think I would be a  millionaire.  

At 51 the bus rides feel a bit different. I don’t remember them being quite as rough, and I dont remember having to recuperate the day after because my back was hurting. On the way up, we stopped where everyone else stops to eat in Dublin. I think I've  had a million quarter pounders at that McDonalds.

As I sat down to eat, my phone dinged to let me know I had received a text. It was from my high school basketball coach, Mark Farist. He wrote in the text that 33 years ago on that day, Calvary Day School's varsity basketball team beat the Monroe Mustangs in the finals of the Class AAA GISA State Championship. I was a part of that championship team.

The text brought back so many memories. I remembered the emotional speech Coach Farist gave before the game and how we all knew regardless of the outcome, our journey as a team ended that night.

I remembered seeing my dad in the crowd clapping, stomping, and cheering for us.  It was something I did not see much out of my father, but that weekend was special. 

I remembered how nervous I was about playing well and wanting to leave a legacy for Calvary basketball. I remembered talking to Bill Edwards after the game about what we did to win it, and I remembered seeing one of my best friends, Kieffer Parker, with a big smile up in the stands and already asking me to go play basketball with him at BC the next day (I said yes).

I remembered going off the court hugging Byron Colley, who is now a local dentist and a good friend. I spent the night at Byron’s house that night and we talked about the journey until the wee hours of the morning. We did not want to let it go,  because we knew our team's journey had come to an end.  

Sitting there this weekend at that McDonalds, it was like I was reliving our moment of glory as a team. As I got back on the bus, the retired Coach Farist was still coaching. He said tell your team to “Play hard, play smart and play together.” And that was the last message I told our team before we entered the court.

It was 33 years ago that the journey of one of the best Cavalier basketball teams came to an end in the state championship. And this past weekend, the journey of one of Memorial's best basketball teams came to an end in the Elite 8. 

All the emotions of the end of a journey hit you when its ending. With 20 seconds left, we were down by 12 but I was still coaching hard. We called a timeout and while talking about setting up a press, I saw tears in one of our seniors eyes. He saw the end coming and did not want it to happen. 

What I have figured out as a coach is when the end comes, the emotions are the same. I was thankful to have been on the ride with the Cavaliers 33 years ago, and I found myself so thankful to have been on the ride with this Memorial team.

Right in the center of the journey is love. The love the coach has for the team, the love of each teammate, the love of the game,  the love of the parents watching their sons. The magic of a team and the magic of the journey combines to be the love we have for each other.   

Boys, I love you and I'm proud to be a Matador.

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The "Coach" Karl DeMasi has been teaching and coaching for the past 35 years on all levels of academia and athletics. One of his hobbies has been writing, announcing and talking about sports. DeMasi has been involved in the Savannah Area sports scene since 1995, and he created the high school magazine "The Prep Sports Report" in 2000. In 2010, the "Coach" started broadcasting The Karl DeMasi Sports Report. He's still going strong, broadcasting on Facebook live and Twitter live every Saturday morning. You gotta love it!

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