What a difference one year and a lot of hard work can make.
It was a transformation their opponents were clearly not ready for, as the Nacogdoches Dragons went from winning one district game last year, to being crowned district champions this year.
The team has become a true testament that an encouraged mindset can go a long way. All it took, was for one coach to believe in them.
“Coach Hall came and he made me a better person,” said Tycolby Caraway.
“He made us believe in ourselves since last year our confidence was gone,” said Blake Upshaw.
Last year took such a toll on the team, that Jordan Upshaw didn’t know if he wanted to play basketball his senior year.
“When he came down here, he wanted to make the basketball program great again,” said Jordan.
“I never had a connection with a coach that could bring out the best in me. So for me, coaching is an opportunity to reach those kids. Nacogdoches needed me and I needed Nacogdoches,” said Nacogdoches head basketball coach Greg Hall.
It's been the same group, but with a completely different attitude. The Nacogdoches basketball program has been reborn in Hall’s first year coaching the team.
“In our first team meeting I told them I'm here to win,” said Hall. “I wanted so badly, more than ever, for these kids to feel what it was like to be a champion.”
That's exactly what he's done. He's taken a team that won just one game last season, to taking the district crown this year.
“It’s kind of embarrassing. Last year we were going through nothing but hard times, after hard times and we didn’t think we'd ever win a game,” said Blake.
“He taught us how to be a part of a team and what it feels like to believe in each other and trust each other,” said Caraway. “The impact he had on us, is if we can believe, we can achieve.”
Now in his 32nd year of coaching, X's and O's aren't on the forefront of his coaching style.
“They don't care about how much basketball I know until they know I care about them,” said Hall.
Hall didn't have to prove to anyone he knew basketball. He walked away from a winning program he built in Herndon, Virginia, that accumulated 393 wins, eight district titles, and three trips to the state tournament in his 23 years there.
What Hall did set out to prove, was that he cared for his new players more as people off the court, than as hoopers on the court.
“Once they know I care about them and that I’m willing to do anything that I can for them, that's when you have the old saying that, 'That kid will run through the wall for you.' I believe that. I believe that my kids will do that for me because they know I’d do the same for them,” said Hall.
Hall's presence has carried to greater lengths for some.
When Caraway's uncle passed away, he said he lost more than just a family member. Caraway said he lost a male figure in his life, which has now been filled by his coach.
“When my uncle passed away, I shut down on everything. I didn't want to pick myself back up because I didn’t really have anybody that was a true man in my life that really pushed me,” said Caraway. “Coach Hall basically tells me things that my uncle told me. We got the bond that me and my uncle had, but it’s me and coach now. We got that bond nobody can take away from us.”
While the new found confidence built in these young men has led to fond memories of winning championships, it's built them into better people capable of more than hoisting a trophy.
“I'm very thankful. I kind of wish I had another year to be with him. I wish I had all four years with him,” said Blake.
The new character of the team has been evident for parents to witness, especially on the night their sons won the district title.
“One of the moms came to me and said, ‘Coach, look at these kids. They're entirely different people than they were two months ago.’ That’s really special. When she said that, that was more impactful than winning a championship,” said Hall.
"We accomplished a lot, especially with the things we've done this year, and we have more to come,” said Jordan.
All because one coach believed in them.
Up next for Nacogdoches is the area-round, a position no one on this year’s team has ever been in. The Dragons will play Leander Rouse on Friday night in Madisonville, starting at 7 p.m.
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