In basketball, as in life, timing is everything.
On both counts, Marty Griffin is in the right place at the right time.
The new boys basketball coach at Augusta Christian School couldn't ask for a better situation. Griffin has taken over one of the premier programs in the Georgia Independent School Association, and he's got plenty of talent to work with this season.
It's not often a coach can inherit a squad that has won seven straight region championships, but that's exactly what's happened to Griffin, who stepped in to lead the Lions after Andrew Bryan decided to leave AC last spring.
Griffin had previously coached the girls basketball teams at John Milledge Academy and Southland Academy, two schools where Bruce Lane worked before becoming the head football coach and athletic director at Augusta Christian last year.
When Lane needed someone to replace Bryan, Griffin answered the call without hesitation. "I still miss those kids at Southland, but to pass up the opportunity to coach here would have been a mistake," Griffin said.
Griffin wasn't really taking a leap of faith. He was familiar with AC's program, and still remembers his first visit to the Lions Den a few seasons ago.
At that time, Griffin was coaching at John Milledge, while AC's boys were guided by Mike Gold, the coach who started the region run and also earned two GISA state titles with the Lions.
"I was very impressed with their intensity and level of play," Griffin recalled. "We're looking to continue that."
Under Griffin, the Lions were off to a 6-1 start heading into a tournament this weekend at Brentwood School in Sandersville.
Augusta Christian begins its Region 4-AAA schedule after the Christmas break, which is when the quest for an eighth straight title ensues.
Still, Griffin isn't dwelling on No. 8, and he's not worried about seeing the streak end under his watch.
"I don't feel much pressure here, but I know there's tradition," he said. "We know what people expect out of us, but I like that because it's going to help our kids. They know we've won seven consecutive region championships, and we'll expect to win it again. I think that's a positive."
There have been some consequences to the coaching change.
"He's disciplined and he makes all of us hustle," AC guard Warren Chapman said. "Last year when we played, we didn't have much endurance. This year we do because he makes us run a lot at practice."
The running in practice is a prelude to the games. Griffin has the Lions playing man-to-man defense almost exclusively, and he wants his squad to press with ferocity and employ a fast-break offense.
"We want to be able to get out and push it. I think that's the style that best suits us," Griffin said. "We've got decent speed, and kids like that style. If you can get them to do something they like to do, it's much easier to be successful."
Augusta Christian has the players who can readily adjust to a different approach.
Chapman and forward Jamal Womble are both averaging around 18 points per game, while Womble, Mark Herrmann and Adam McKinney all have the size to dominate opponents under the boards. Senior point guard Dan Wiley has helped the team limit its number of turnovers through the early stages of the 2003-04 campaign.
"We've got a good offense, but we've changed our attitudes. Last year we played selfish," Chapman said. "We're not worried about scoring this year. We just want to play defense and keep working hard."
Depth is another plus for the Lions. Israel Machovec and Chris Curl have contributed quality play off the bench, with Kyle Redd and James Hawes helping shore up the guard position.
"We're talented, but I knew that coming in," Griffin said. "The players are learning a new system. We try to keep things simple, and we just do them over and over again until we're good at it. That's my philosophy."
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