What began as a tragedy may be the incident that sparked the Villa Rica boys to reach an unexpected level of success this season.
Point guard Javonte Hart, the MVP of last year’s region championship team, was shot in the left arm in an incident in April. Hart’s future wasn’t certain, the injury could easily have killed him. It left him unable to raise his arm above his shoulders for much of the summer while he rehabbed.
“I think the bright side is that it brought some of our guys together,” coach Jason Robinson said. “They realized how precious life is and they appreciated what they had.”
Hart is fine now. The 6-foot guard is second on the team in scoring (14.6 points) and assumed the leadership role expected of the lone starter – and one of two returning regulars – from a year ago.
The No. 10-ranked Wildcats have a balanced team that includes Latrell Swanigan, a 5-10 senior who averages 15.4 points, and 6-0 senior J.J. Franklin, who averages 13.7 points. Sophomore Phillip Zachery, a 5-7 sophomore who is one of the team’s best athletes, averages 10 points.
“We’re a guard-oriented team and we’re not real big,” Robinson said. “In the past we’ve used a lot of pressure. Not so much this year. We don’t have the length we’ve had, but this team has come together.”
The Wildcats (20-1) won their first 17 games before losing to Hiram. They have bounced back with three straight wins, including the completion of a suspended game. The Wildcats finish the season on Friday against Rome and on Saturday against Hiram, the only team that’s beaten them.
Villa Rica is made up of players who have grown up in the area and advanced through the middle schools and into the high school. There are no high-profile recruits and Robinson doesn't have a line of kids waiting to transfer in. The Wildcats are who they are.
"We just have home-grown kids," he said.
Sometimes that works out. He points to Jae Crowder, who drew virtually no interest while playing at Villa Rica and is now in his seventh season in the NBA. Robinson said they sent out 50 highlight videos of Crowder and had two responses. He ended up at South Georgia Tech, spent one year at Howard and finished his career with Marquette.