Macon East captures perfect season, AISA title
By Tim Gayle
The Kyle Edwards’ underhanded flips were special, the Artavious Billups’ pullup jumpers were impressive and the Slate Garmany shots from across the street were crowd pleasing, but none of that was the underlying reason for the 70-42 rout of Autauga Academy that gave Macon East Academy an undefeated season and the AISA Class AA state championship.
It all started on the other end of the court. The Generals were considered the second-best team in the classification this season, but they never had a chance against the Mason East defense. It was suffocating. Autauga committed eight turnovers on its first 13 possessions, triggering a pair of Garmany 3-pointers, another by Edwards and another by Billups.
Suddenly, those championship dreams for Autauga were gone. Thirteen possessions, eight turnovers and six Macon East 3-pointers later, the Generals trailed 21-2. And it was still in the first quarter.
“Defense gets us the 3s that we want to shoot,” Garmany said. “It just excites everybody. It’s just a crazy feeling, indescribable, when everybody is playing together like that.”
This was what Garmany came to Macon East Academy for. When Larry Chapman announced in 2015 he would take over as coach of the Knights, Garmany decided to transfer from Oak Mountain High and bring his talents to east Montgomery County.
The Knights put together a storybook season in 2015-16, advancing to the state finals, only to lose to Edgewood.
There were a handful of players returning, along with some newcomers such as Carver transfer Billups and LAMP transfer Edwards. The agony of defeat would fuel this team through the offseason workouts leading up to the start of the 2016-17 season.
“We had a lot of morning practices, a lot of days where we went twice a day,” Garmany said. “It was just everything we had, every single day.”
Even before the season started, there were predictions of an undefeated season. Chapman dismissed them as idle talk, then went about the business of molding a defensive-minded squad that reduce any opposing offense to a pile of turnovers.
“Dreams are one thing,” Chapman said. “I’ve been in it long enough to think that if you played just two games and you’re lucky enough to win those two, you can go undefeated. After that, it’s a tossup. The fact that we did is really a compliment to their buying in and their willingness to do the things that (assistant coach) Lincoln (Glass) and I asked them to do.”
They hit 30 wins against Autauga in a battle for the region championship in Cecil. Even then, it was no secret the two would meet again on Saturday night at the Multiplex for the state title. Autauga finished 23-5 and three of those losses were to Macon East. The outside shooting of Chance Dicus and Tanner Payton is difficult for any opponent to handle and if you concentrate too much on those two, Jordon Parks can hurt you in the paint.
On Saturday, Dicus and Payton rarely touched the ball in the first half. Dicus attempted four shots before finally connecting on a 3-pointer with 2:34 remaining in the half to cut into the Macon East lead at 29-8. Payton attempted two outside shots and two from the baseline, missing all four. Dicus finished with nine, six in the second half. Payton had 10, all in the second half. Parks had 14, all in the second half.
“It was attention to detail on our part,” Chapman said. “First of all, their point guard can’t shoot it so we just tightened it up and closed it up. Their post players are just big and kind of strong. Their wing players can shoot it and we just didn’t let them have a look. It was about us knowing them better, lending our attention to detail and carrying it out.”
Edwards and Billups each had 19 points for Macon East (33-0), followed by Garmany with 13. And when the rout was complete and the trophy presentation was made, the Macon East players sat in their seats and sprawled on the floor, letting Channy Blackwell walk alone to the center of the floor for the trophy.
Blackwell is one of seven seniors on this year’s squad and the one with the most playing time from last year’s runner-up squad. Blackwell was primed for a special season this year before a torn anterior cruciate ligament during football season threatened to sideline his season. When he returned for a couple of games in December, he reinjured the knee and was forced to watch the entire season from the bench.
“He’s a brother to us all and he’s been there through thick and thin,” Garmany said. “It was devastating to see him go down, twice, once during football and then we finally get him back and he’s falling down again. All of us were crying at the end of the game.”
This year, though, the tears were quickly erased by smiles of joy. One of the most successful teams in AISA history pleased its coach with defense, then its fans with offense.
“He did it every night,” Chapman said of Garmany, referring to a semifinal win over Pickens in which the senior hit six 3-pointers in the third quarter alone. “Last night, in the third quarter, he was remarkable. He and Artavious don’t let you do much. Whatever you try to do, they just stick it.”