Early in their season, the Keenan Raiders were going through changes as coach Zach Norris tried to get them on track.
After a 2-5 start, the Raiders seemed to have pulled together when they notched three wins in a row. But a nearly 60-point loss in a tournament over Christmas break led to the change that Norris believes is the key to his team’s return to Colonial Life Arena and the Class 2A state final on Saturday.
After their next game, a loss to Spartanburg, Norris and his staff felt they needed to shake things up.
“We were playing our two sophomores at point guard, and we decided to move Mr. (Kendrick) Gathers to the point and try to solidify our attack, because he’s a senior, he’s been out there before and he could slow everything down. Because we were, basically, running up and down the court and getting nothing out of it,” Norris said.
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With Gathers as a steadying force, the Raiders (20-8) have won 15 in a row heading into the title game against Ridgeland-Hardeeville.
“I just kind of refocused myself to take on more of a leadership role,” Gathers said. “Knowing that my team needed me, it was a big responsibility.”
Gathers, a three-sport star who was an eighth-grader when the Raiders won their last state championship in 2011, said he was willing to do whatever his coaches asked of him to help the team be successful.
Gathers anchored the Raiders’ 400-meter relay team to a gold medal last spring and, as a three-way player in football, spurred the Raiders to the program’s first state championship game.
He said he felt the best thing he could do for his team was to lead by example, by being an unselfish teammate and not losing sight of team goals.
“It means a lot to me to know that my coaches and my teammates believe in me, to have that leadership role. Coach always tells us, you only go as far as your team takes you,” Gathers said.
“Ken has done a wonderful job running the team,” Norris said. “He has sacrificed scoring points, but he does all the little intangibles that you need to keep the team together.”
Gathers is not among the team’s top scorers or rebounders, but he leads the team in assists, averaging 5.9 per game, and provides invaluable knowledge and unshakeable confidence for his younger teammates. Norris said those finer points are why Gathers earned Class 2A all-state honors.
Gathers is concerned only with helping his team finish best in the state.
“Right now, the main thing we’re focusing on is not concentrating on all the hype, and just finishing the year,” he said.
Norris said Gathers, along with fellow seniors Javontae Davis and Antwan Holmes, are giving the Raiders a quiet sense of urgency as they look for the program’s seventh state championship.