There won’t be any planes, trains or automobiles for the Orange Panthers for their holiday trip on Friday. Just one big school bus traveling hopefully to Altoona High School in Acworth, Ga.
The trip will take about seven-and-a-half hours by bus.
“I’ll be listening to a lot of gospel music on my headphones,” said Orange coach Greg Motley.
Orange’s trip to the Lake City Classic holiday tournament in Georgia will not only serve as an escape from the rigors of the Big Eight Conference, but also from memories of everything the Panthers achieved in 2014: a second-place finish in the Big Eight, followed by a sectional championship in the 3A state playoffs last March.
The only thing last year that stood between Orange and an appearance in the 2014 state championship game was a 66-60 loss to Wilson Hunt in Fayetteville’s Crown Coliseum on March 8.
All of which Motley wants his team to forget as soon as possible.
With the conclusion of football season and the return to the basketball varsity of starters Tay Jones and Eryk Brandon-Dean, Motley found the expectations of last season had carried over into the new season.
It was apparent Orange still had work to do after consecutive losses to Riverside and the conference opener against Cardinal Gibbons on Dec. 12.
The last thing Motley wants is for his team to become prisoners of their own success.
“We’re still trying to get our identity together,” said Motley. “I think we’ve put some pressure our ourselves after last year. We’ve talked about how I don’t want them to worry about last year’s team.
“Every team is different and you can’t live off of last year. I felt like we were living off of last year.”
Orange goes into the holiday tournament 5-2, 1-1 in the Big Eight after a 78-57 victory over Northern Vance on Friday night. The win completed a perfect week, which included victories over Person and East Chapel Hill.
In a sense, everything is new about this Panther team, yet everything is the same.
Last year’s Orange team had an abundance of football players transitioning to the hardwood. So does this year’s – except the parts are different.
Garrett Cloer, an all-conference quarterback who missed the 2013-14 basketball season because of a concussion suffered in last year’s state playoffs, has returned and is already starting. He joins Jones, Brandon-Dean, A.J. Bradsher, Landon Wheeler, Demares Drummond and Jace Jordan-Cornell, all of whom played significant time on the gridiron this fall.
Yet Orange lost all-conference players J.D. Brooks and Keegan Ray from last year. Filling Brooks’ role at center is Logan Vosburg, who scored 19 points in a victory over East Chapel Hill.
“It was Tay, Eryk and Jawan Chambers who return and got the most minutes from last year,” said Motley. “So we have a different team. That’s what I’m trying to get them to understand right now.”
Of course, finding your basketball legs takes time. Going from a structured sport like football to the fluid nature of basketball can wear down even the youngest players.
More than a few Panthers looked ragged after barely two quarters against East’s Wildcats, yet the Panthers still emerged victorious, led by 21 points from Chambers.
“Hopefully, that (adjustment) will end after more practice,” said Motley.
After the Lake City Classic in Georgia, which features 16 teams playing over three days, Orange returns to Big Eight action on Jan. 6 against 2014 conference champion Southern Durham.