A.C. FLORA BOYS

Falcons’ flight aims higher

Flora looks for first Upper State crown in decades

Special to The StateMarch 1, 2014 

The revival of A.C. Flora boys basketball glory continues.

The turnaround in Forest Acres began in 2012 when the Falcons won 17 games and ended a 15-game postseason losing streak with their first state playoff win in 21 years. Last season, A.C. Flora advanced to the third round for the first time since the playoff field expanded to 32 teams in 1992.

Coach Leon Brunson’s team has sustained the momentum this season. Fresh from a 68-48 road win at Emerald, the Falcons take on Greenville in the Class 3A Upper State championship game Saturday at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville.

It will be Flora’s first state semifinal appearance since 1988. ACF reached its pinnacle of hoops success in the 1980s with three title shots and two championships (1981, 1986) under legendary coach Carl Williams.

“The talent was here when I took the job four years ago,” coach Leon Brunson said. “So, the thing we had to change was the mindset of the players, to install discipline and end the excuses about not winning. It took some time, but eventually the players learned not only what it takes to win but how to win.”

After a 5-16 start in 2010-11, the Falcons have been on a rising flight path.

“There is now a level of trust in the program,” Brunson said. “There is trust between the coaching staff and the players, and there is trust between the players. It’s to the point now where the players have learned how to govern themselves. The thing I’m most proud about is the growth of our young men on and off the basketball court.”

Junior Rion Davis, a three-year regular who reached the 1,000-point career scoring level this season, has been on hand for all of the recent successes.

“I was fortunate to be part of the football team turning things around, too,” said Davis, who is averaging 14 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals per game. “It’s great being part of something special, and we have the chance to do something even bigger. We’re a confident team because we know what we can do when we stay within ourselves and play our game.”

Davis and 6-foot-9 junior Carl Gamble (11 ppg., 6 rpg.) made the Region 4-3A all-star team. Point guard Tyler Gray (3 ppg., 3 apg.), Diquan Day Grant (9 ppg., 2 apg.) and Julian Moreno round out the starting lineup. James Murray Boyles, a 6-foot-6 junior, is averaging 11 points and 6 rebounds as a catalyst off the bench.

The Falcons have been winning on the road – nipping Travelers Rest in the second round and blowing away Emerald in the second half in the quarterfinals earlier this week.

“We proved something to ourselves by winning in hostile environments,” Davis said. “Now we have the chance. It’s up to us to reach the goal.”

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