Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Head basketball coach at Brookwood, Daniel Bowles leads his team in practice on Wednesday as they run their new fast-paced attack offense.
SNELLVILLE -- Big turnarounds from one season to the next are not all that unusual in high school basketball, not even the one as big as Brookwood's boys are experiencing in 2012-13.
After struggling through a 6-20 overall campaign, which included just a 3-13 mark in Region 8-AAAAA, last season, the Broncos have suddenly transformed into a serious contender in Region 8-AAAAAA as they head into tonight's game at Archer.
And make no mistake, that transformation is a result of no mere makeover.
Instead, coach Daniel Bowles, his staff and players have all completely reinvented themselves -- turning the Broncos from plodding plowhorses to speedy thoroughbreds with a new up-tempo offense and pressing defense that has made them one of the biggest surprises of the season at 15-4 overall and 7-3 in the region, just two games off the lead.
"I think so. I think we've shocked some people, for sure," said senior guard Matt Surls. "Last year was a little different."
Actually, last year was a lot different.
Many of the 14 Broncos that regularly see significant minutes each night this season did not a year ago.
Surls barely saw the floor at all, and the team's scoring and assist leader, junior Deion Dedeaux, was limited to just three games at the end of last season while bringing up his grades.
But after evaluating the players that came out for the summer season of camps, tournaments and conditioning, Bowles decided to implement a fullcourt system he had not tried since coming to Brookwood from South Cobb High School, where he guided the Eagles to a 43-36 record in three seasons using a similar system.
"My first year (at Brookwood), we kind of tried to put it in a little bit," said Bowles, in his fourth season back at Brookwood, where he played his high school ball from 1995-98. "We've run bits and pieces of it these first couple of years, ... but never everything that we've really wanted to do. We're finally at the point now where we've got a lot of kids. Our (junior varsity team) is doing it, our ninth-grade team is doing it. It makes it a lot better."
Some high-profile college programs have run fast-paced, fullcourt philosophies similar to what Brookwood is trying to run this season, with Paul Westhead's at Loyola-Marymount in the early 1990s perhaps being the most famous.
But Bowles prefers not to give his plan nickname like the famed "40 Minutes of Hell" that Nolan Richardson made famous at Arkansas in the late 1980s and early 90s.
"We don't have any (names)," Bowles said. "At (Virginia Commonwealth University), Shaka Smart calls his 'Havoc,' and everybody's got their special name. We just kind of let them play. All the Loyola-Marymount guys called it 'The System.' But we haven't won enough games (yet) to do that.
"We're still not real good at it yet. We still make way too many turnovers. (Wednesday) at practice, we're working on decision making. Right now, we're at the point where we've got to figure out, 'OK, when is the right time to push (the ball up the court) and when's the right time to not go?'"
True, the system haven't always resulted in high scores that usually mean success -- Brookwood is 9-0 in games in which it scores over 65 points, but just 4-4 in games in which it scores 55 points or less.
But the Broncos have run things well enough to give themselves a legitimate chance at the regular lead with games at second-place Archer tonight and region-leader Shiloh on Tuesday coming up.
And they've done so by spreading the production around to more players than they have ever had before.
As has been pointed out, pretty much everyone who dresses out contributes something, with only three players -- Dedeaux (11.8 ppg), Kendall Joseph (11.5 ppg) and Khalil Abudllah (10.0 ppg) -- averaging in double-figure scoring.
Other duties are also well distributed, particularly with regard to the point guard duties.
Dedeaux, who is among the county's leaders in assists at 5.2 per game, and senior Colin Cotter actually start the game together to give the Broncos a two-headed monster at the point, and one of the two are almost always on the court.
"We're lucky in that we get to start both of them at the same time," Bowles said. "So, we really have two point guards. ... We usually have one of them (on the court). We start them together, and then we start getting that rotation going. Nate Gill's played some point guard minutes, too. He's a natural wing, but he's been able to do it.
"It's tough, but the thing that I like about our kids is that (in an age) where everything is statistically driven, our kids have all bought into the team concept. We have a couple guys on our team that could average 18 or 20 (points per game), but they've bought into the way we play. We've got three guys averaging right at 10 or 11 points, another three guys averaging six. I think they all know they could do more, and that's hard."
Indeed, the system has forced the Broncos to check their egos at the door, but the fast pace and the success the team has enjoyed has helped the players believe in the system.
"It's more fun than (a) halfcourt offense -- just sitting around," Dedeaux said. "It's more like showtime. It was totally different last year. When I played in those three games (last season), it was slow pace, take a quick 3 (-pointer). Everything has changed. We have more confidence. Everyone wants to get better."
And while depth is a big key to the new system's success, so is conditioning, as the Broncos have done a lot of laps and windsprints since last summer in order be able to keep up the pace they need to set.
That conditioning often pays off late in games after the opponent has tried to keep up, and Surls said there are often tell-tale signs that a foe is beginning to wear down.
"For sure. They get their hands on their knees and they're tugging their shorts," Surls said." That's when we know we're about to step on them. ... I think we outrun everybody. In the offseason, we all did a bunch of conditioning. We all went out there and worked hard and got better."
Bowles hopes that remains the case as the regular season winds down, especially as opponents try to make adjustments on how they combat the Broncos.
But he also has faith that his team will able to make counter adjustments, something he says his plan allows for.
"A few teams we've played in the last couple of weeks have really slowed us down, and we're seeing a lot of zone (defense) lately. But ours is a lot more organized than it seems. We work a ton on our rotations and a ton on our reads. If you come and just watch, it kind of looks like they're just running up and down and just kind of freelancing. But there are a lot of rules to what we're doing and a lot of organization, especially in our presses."