But the first-year Heard County High School boy’s basketball coach has been encouraged by what he’s seen in the early goings from his squad, which basically returns everyone from a year ago.
“I really didn’t know what to expect when I saw the team from last year. But I heard we had good kids that played hard, and that’s definitely what I’ve seen so far,” Manning said. “I know last year we just had a really young team and were lacking in depth and maturity. We’ve got pretty much the whole team back from last year. The guys are a year older and a year stronger, and I think that’s going to make a big difference for us.”
Manning comes to Heard County after spending the past few seasons as an assistant coach at Middle Georgia Technical College in Warner Robins. Obviously, there is a transition between coaching at the two levels, but the former Fitzgerald High School standout said the prep level probably suits his style of coaching better.
“It’s definitely a little bit different. With the skills of the players, there’s definitely more teaching and fundamentals involved at the high school level, but that’s what I enjoy doing a little bit more any ways,” noted the University of Georgia graduate. “So some of the things we were doing at the college level, we’re having to tone down at the high school level. But at the same time, I was just an assistant. Now I’ve got to be the one calling the shots. It’s a little bit added pressure, but I’m definitely enjoying the challenge.”
The Braves (0-1) opened the season on Tuesday night with a tight, 54-42 home setback to Central. But having just six practices with all the football players back on the court, Manning thought it was a productive first game where he cited fourth-quarter fatigue as an issue.
“I told the guys after the game that I was really proud of them. From what I saw, I saw a team that maybe exceeded some expectations, even though we didn’t win. I mean, all day I’ve heard compliments about how hard our guys played. I didn’t have for a second all night have to question how hard they played. They gave it all they had,” Manning said.
Manning said senior wing Damon Pearson really stood out on Tuesday, while he also has high expectations for junior forward Jonathan Hunt, who is entering his third season of varsity action as a returning all-region performer. The first-year HC coach is also excited to have junior Deron Swint back on board running the point.
“We didn’t have him last year, and that’s one of the things in talking with my assistant coaches is that he’s been a huge help. Last year we were really missing a true point guard, and Deron gives us that,” Manning said. “[Tuesday] night was really his first varsity game running the show and I’m very proud of him. I think he’s going to get better and better as the season goes.”
And now that Manning has his full squad intact, he’s hopeful that more time in the gym together, coupled with some pre-region games — including competing at the Haralson County Holiday Invitational Tournament — will have his troops ready to go come a tough Region 5-AA slate.
“We’re not going to have a whole lot of days off around Christmas. Right now, we’re going to take off Christmas eve and Christmas day and then we’re going to be practicing or playing in the tournament,” Manning said. “We’re definitely hoping to use that time to get some work in and work on our offense a little bit. By the time region play rolls around, hopefully we’ll be caught up with some of the other teams that got to start practice a little earlier.”
Heard County returns to action on Saturday when it plays host to East Coweta at 7:30 p.m.