A low-key milestone

Growing up in Brown County, Ind. Roger Fleetwood never dreamed of being on national television. Heck, Brown County didn't even have cable TV back in those days.

But Thursday night he saw his South Gwinnett boys basketball team shine on the biggest of high school stages. And the appearance on ESPN2 was about as memorable as it gets for a coach who admits he's living a dream.

With old coaching buddies and former players watching back in Indiana, the guy who never thought he'd be on TV got his 400th win on it.

"It's amazing," Fleetwood said after South's 88-70 win over Arlington Country Day (Fla.). "My buddy called me (Wednesday) night and said: 'You're living the dream.'"

Fleetwood downplayed the milestone after the game, but he hardly needed to. It wasn't mentioned after the victory by anyone other than his wife, but that's the way it is when you have a once-in-a-lifetime player like Louis Williams. Some things get overlooked in the glare of Williams' starring role.

But the flip side is the guard's notoriety brings much more than it overshadows. Thursday's game would not have been on ESPN2 if not for Williams' talents, and that would have been a shame because a lot of other people got their day in the sun on a night when Williams was good for 30.

You can start with Delano Howard, the junior guard who scored 17 points on his 17th birthday. He buried 4 of 7 shots from 3-point range, taking a star turn of his own.

His best birthday present? "Being on ESPN," he said.

Then there's Avery Jukes. Another junior who will receive plenty of attention next year, he had 12 points and six rebounds and played great defense inside. He got his national TV props along with Greg Lockett, a senior whose hustling, all-out style gained a whole new group of admirers.

And of course there's Mike Mercer, a Georgia signee who gets his share of attention but never from an audience this large.

After a tough season that has seen them play everywhere from Ft. Myers, Fla. to Jackson, Miss. to Greensboro, N.C, where they toppled mighty Oak Hill Academy (Va.), Fleetwood knew his team would be up for Thursday's televised challenge. He may be from a town of 400, but when it comes to this team Fleetwood has big-city bravado, a confidence forged over an impressive two-year run.

"The bigger the challenge the more excited we are about it," Fleetwood said. "Before the game they were the loosest guys you've ever seen. We're getting ready to play on ESPN and they're as loose as can be.

"They knew we were good enough to play. We've known since last year. That's why we worked so hard to get this game."

It paid off, South taking full advantage of its time in the national spotlight while rewarding its coach with a victory milestone he'll always have on tape.

"When I'm done I'll look back and pinch myself," Fleetwood said.

For now there's more work to be done, starting with tonight's game at Parkview. But the coach said he would allow a small celebration with his wife.

"We'll probably go to Steak 'n' Shake," he said.

Todd Cline can be reached via e-mail at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His regular column appears on Tuesdays.