Lakeside guard Rosbie Mutcherson has the word "purpose" written across the top of his basketball shoes.
The junior starter hasn't found the meaning of life in his sneakers. Instead, it's a reminder of something his entire team has embraced this year.
"We want respect," he said. "Nobody respects Lakeside basketball."
Until recently, there wasn't much reason to respect the Panthers on the hardwood. Last year they finished fourth in the four-team Columbia County Tip Off Tournament.
This year's opening tournament produced the same result for the Panthers. Just like years past, Lakeside's boys basketball team started out the season 0-4.
"After that fourth game we sat down and had a long, long talk," Mutcherson said. "When we first started the season the expectations we placed on ourselves were high, but we didn't play like we were supposed to. We had to start from the bottom again."
Fortunately for Panthers fans, the do-over has worked. Led by Mutcherson, senior Jared Ackerman and a host of other Lakeside talent, the squad rattled off five straight wins. They'll enter next weekend's Firehouse Subs Christmas Classic at Evans as winners of five of their last six games.
Of those five wins, two of them came against a pair of Columbia County rivals. Lakeside beat Greenbrier on Dec. 7 by 20 points. The Panthers picked up another win against Harlem four days later.
The celebrations after both games were rare sights on the Lakeside court.
"I can think of times when we've said stuff like, 'We're going to win the region this year,' and we'll just get laughed at," Ackerman said. "It's a good feeling now to step off the court after we've won games."
The winning attitude has caught on at Lakeside High School where outside tailgating seems to be a common occurrence before games and a full, boisterous student section is also the norm.
They're not only coming to see Lakeside play. They're coming to see Lakeside win . They cheer when Mutcherson drives from one end of the court to the other and finishes it off with a lay-up and a called foul. They go nuts when Ackerman drills a 3-pointer from well behind the arc.
For the Panthers, it's not enough.
"Around school everybody's pumped up about it, but we can't get content," Mutcherson said. "The region doesn't start until next semester, and that's what counts."
So for now, a 5-5 overall record still doesn't earn much respect from opponents, but Lakeside will get their chance.
It starts with next weekend's Christmas tournament at Evans and runs straight through January and February with region play.
"There's always room to improve, but coming from where we were last year to where we are this year, I think we've earned a lot of respect already," Ackerman said. "We're looking forward to that Christmas tournament, and we're planning to win it."
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