A look at A.C. Flora’s state basketball championships:
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The banners hanging in the A.C. Flora gym are a subtle reminder of what basketball used to be at the school. The Falcons were regular contenders for state championships in the 1980s, when the likes of Tyrone Corbin, Xavier McDaniel and Rodney Taylor graced the gym under the tutelage of legendary coach Carl Williams.
A.C. Flora won a state title in 1981 with future NBA stars Corbin and McDaniel on the roster. The Falcons added a runner-up finish in 1985 and another title in 1986 when Taylor, who starred at Villanova, was the central figure. It’s been nearly 30 years since that last title but A.C. Flora will be back on the big stage Saturday night at Colonial Life Arena when the Falcons battle Darlington for the Class 3A state championship at 7 p.m.
“When I took the job four years ago, I always paid homage to Carl Williams because he’s the last guy to really have this type of success at this school,” current coach Leon Brunson said. “I continue to talk about him because he put this program on the map with his two state championships.”
Brunson, who recently won his 100th career game, often speaks of the past when addressing his team. He played at Denmark-Olar in the 1990s and was an assistant coach at Keenan and Lower Richland before becoming the head man at A.C. Flora. He likes the kids to know how things used to be when the Midlands was home to the best basketball in the state.
“Sometimes, you have to know your history to know what it once was and where it has to go to get back to that level,” Brunson said. “Knowing what was here, it helped give me a plan to get back to this point. I’m just a catalyst. I just made sure the kids are accountable and responsible and disciplined. When we do those three things, we have an element of success that will follow.”
That history lesson is not lost on the players. Diquan Day-Grant understands returning the program to prominence has been a rallying cry for this team.
“We have the banners in the school, and we know the history,” Day-Grant said. “Coach always talks about restoring the program back to where it used to be. We know the history, and take pride in restoring it to where it once was.”
There have been stumbling blocks – even this season. The Falcons have a 19-9 record but have played their best basketball down the stretch. They have won six in a row, including three playoff games on the road or at a neutral site.
The Falcons had to replace prolific scorer Matt Howard off last season’s team, and it’s taken time to become a cohesive unit. Day-Grant is the only senior starter, but the Falcons have four players who average between 9.5 points and 13 points per game. Everyone understands his role and, since a midseason win against Keenan, the team has started to gel.
The balanced attack gives other teams match-up problems.
“The win against Keenan gave us confidence we could do this,” Day-Grant said. “We had lost to them the first two times we played, but after beating them we felt like if we played together we could accomplish our goals. Coach always emphasized that we had to play as a team and don’t worry about individual scoring. We share the ball nicely, and I think we’ve really come together.”
Junior Rion Davis is the leading scorer at 13.8 points per game, but Karl Gamble, James Murray-Boyles and Day-Grant are capable of carrying the scoring load.
All of that has A.C. Flora on the brink ofadding to its trophy case. Davis remembers the past and is embracing the challenge ahead of them Saturday night.
“We knew we possibly have only one shot to achieve our goals,” Davis said. “We knew we had to see it through. We make no excuses. Now that we’ve made it to the championship, everybody wants to be a part of it. We’ve embraced that and want to succeed for us and the school.”