partlycloudy
Thursday May 26th, 2016 5:19AM

Steele, Knights finally land big, white whale (VIDEO)

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
OAKWOOD -- For 16 years it has been sitting out on the horizon, just ever-so-slightly out of reach, yet so tantalizingly close. And no matter how close it did got, it always managed somehow to wiggle off the hook.

For Johnson coach Jeff Steele and the Knights, the Lanierland basketball tournament has been their big, white whale. Three times Steele has guided the Knights to the championship game, most recently in 2012, only to see someone else reel in the big prize.

So forgive Steele when the final seconds ticked down Saturday night on the Knights' 76-71 win over East Hall in the Lanierland finals, if he didn't have a few moments of good, old-fashioned stinginess running through his mind.

They had bagged the big one.

(To watch highlights of Saturday's championship victory for the Knights and a postgame interview with coach Jeff Steele and tournament MVP Ty Cockfield, press "play" in the box to the right.)

"Honestly, I was thinking, 'Finally, it's about time,'" he said afterwards as a crowd of Johnson supporters left the Lakeview Academy gym floor after 10 minutes of unbridled jubilation. "We've been close several times but could never finish it. Of course, all the teams we lost too were outstanding. This is a tough tournament to win for a reason."

Normally three times is the charm, they say, but North Hall last year denied Steele and the Knights yet again in their third trip to the finals. Steele said his squad remembered that one as they prepared for Saturday's tilt against East Hall.

"We talked about how if they could win it they would remember it for the rest of their lives," he said. "Their kids may one day play in this tournament and they'll be able to say, 'I was on the 2013 championship team.' Not many people get to say they were."

No one from Johnson had been able to make that claim since 1988 until Saturday. The magnitude of the accomplishment was not lost on Steele.

"It was kind of surreal after I got over that first thought," he said. "This is one of the goals we set every year so to actually see it happen is hard to describe. But it feels as good as I thought it would."

This year's collection of Knights may be poised for a breakout season. Most of the Lanierland champions have gone on to big seasons. North Hall, last year's champion, rode its Lanierland title to the Class AAA Final Four.

The Knights have a solid backcourt tandem in Ty Cockfield and Drew Dunham to go with long-range bomber Carter Cagle, and James Hodges and Justin Jones inside.

Cockfield showed his excitement with a somersault back-flip after their victory over East Hall.

"I was just excited. We wanted to win this for us, coach Steele, and all the Johnson fans," Cockfield said. "We've worked so hard for this. Two weeks ago we made this a goal.

Johnson prepared for the moment by playing a very tough non-region schedule with the likes of Whitefield Academy, South Cobb, North Cobb, and Athens Christian. They will take on Class AAAAAA teams Grayson and Centennial in the Duluth Jingle Jam later this week.

"This is a team sport," Steele said. "I've had better individual players than some of these guys but this is probably the best 'team' I've had here. They play together, they play hard, and they have a great chemistry together.

"We still have some things to work out but when we get those corrected I think this group has a chance to do some special things. We wanted to play a little tougher schedule this year because we knew they could handle it. We're excited about the rest of the season."

Judging by the Johnson crowd Saturday night, so are they.
© Copyright 2016 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Bartus, Icemen shuts out Gwinnett
Garrett Bartus pitched a 42 save shutout, as the Evansville IceMen topped the Gwinnett Gladiators on a New year
10:23PM ( 2 years ago )
Gator Bowl Preview Capsule
A rematch of last year's Capital One Bowl, which Georgia won 45-31 in Orlando.
8:52PM ( 2 years ago )
Millsap's 34 leads Hawks past Celtics
Paul Millsap had season highs with 34 points and 15 rebounds as the Hawks rallied from an 18-point deficit for a 92-91 win over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday afternoon.
7:44PM ( 2 years ago )
Sports
Big Red Shootout: Buford foils Lady Elephants' upset bid in finale
Buford junior Camille Anderson knows to forget about the past during games.
11:09PM ( 2 years ago )
Boys basketball: Knights rebound with win over Centennial
The Johnson boys bounced back after a loss to Grayson on Friday with a 94-72 win Saturday night over Centennial in the Duluth Jingle Jam.
10:43PM ( 2 years ago )
Girls basketball: Dawson falls in Battle of States finals
Dawson County fell behind early and could not complete the comeback in a 70-65 loss to Hayesville, N.C. in the championship game of The Battle of the States Tournament Saturday night.
10:38PM ( 2 years ago )
High School Sports
High school season over, Branch grad Shewbert still eyeing big things in coming weeks
Jake Shewbert was just a few hundred meters from the finish line, a second state championship in as many days hanging in the balance, when the pain ripped through his body.
5:56PM ( 12 hours from now )
VIDEO: Baseball playoffs yielded highlights worth watching -- again
Check out the best highlights from the recently completed state baseball playoffs...
5:51PM ( 12 hours from now )
Lanier Olympic Center set for another big weekend, as collegiate rowers descend on Gainesville
For the second weekend in a row, the Lake Lanier Olympic Center will buzz with activity, as athletes pack into the venue in pursuit of glory.
By AccessWDUN Staff
5:35PM ( 12 hours from now )
Kyle Ray Named to 2016 USTFCCCA All-Region Team for NCAA DIII Outdoor Track & Field
Piedmont College freshman pole vaulter Kyle Ray has been named to the 2016 U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) All-Region team for the 2016 NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field season.
By AccessWDUN Staff
12:10AM ( 5 hours ago )
Dawsonville's Raymond Parks named to NASCAR Hall of Fame for 2017
Georgia’s Raymond Parks played a strong role in formation of NASCAR. On Wednesday, it was announced that he will be recognized for that role.
6:00PM ( 11 hours ago )