MILLEDGEVILLE — Georgia Military Prep School boys’ basketball coach James Lunsford is notorious for working his players year-round to become better athletes and better students.
This summer, the well-recognized coach is implementing new programs to get his Bulldog basketball players involved in structured training, without forcing the young athletes to sacrifice their summer break.
Lunsford and his coaching staff train the middle school and junior varsity teams for an hour and a half on Monday, Wednesday and Friday beginning at 11 a.m. in the school’s gym, with the GMC Prep varsity squad following with a practice session of its own at noon.
Aside from team practices three days a week, Lunsford takes the squads to Macon on Tuesday and Thursday to compete in a summer league featuring schools much larger than GMC Prep.
“If you want to be good at anything, you’ve got to work,” the long-time coach said. “That’s what this is about this summer. This is the first time since I’ve been here at GMC that we’ve been able to have the middle school and junior varsity practice at the same time — that’s part of building a program.
“It’s important to know that they’re off Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and the middle school and junior varsity only practice two weeks,” Lunsford added. “So, we’re not taking up their entire summer.”
With tremendous parent involvement, the coaching staff’s goal is to get as many of the players to camp as possible.
“We’re trying to get that coordination to get as many kids as possible to go to camp this year,” Lunsford said.
GMC Prep will send its middle school and junior varsity teams to the Georgia College Boys’ Team Camp for three days beginning on Monday.
The varsity will attend GC’s second session of camp June 23-25.
“I think it helps us as a team, because it gives us live situations and it kind of makes us move and talk better as a team,” rising sophomore Trevor Yaeger said.
For some of the middle school players, summer practice and camp gives them a chance to gain exposure playing against better competition and learn from the older players.
“I think there might be a couple going into the seventh, but Calder’s the only one going into the sixth,” Alton Scott, father of rising sixth-grader Calder Calhoun, said. “They’re just kind of letting him hang out with these older guys, and try to hopefully learn a little bit. He plans on going out for the middle school team, and I think it’s possible. I just appreciate them giving him this exposure.”
Scott made the decision to get his son involved with Lunsford and GMC Prep basketball after noticing the recent success the program has experienced due to its structured year-round program.
“I’ve seen this team, the boy’s team, and it’s just incredible what he has come in here and done,” Scott said. “He’s just really built a powerhouse. I’m not any kind of sports expert, but it appears that he’s kind of got them into a league where they’re even able to compete against these larger, more highly-rated schools.”
Yaeger has also noticed an increase in the GMC Prep basketball performances in recent seasons, but admits it all starts in the summer when Lunsford stresses conditioning and fundamentals.
“I think all the drills we’re doing have things to do with our strengths, but can help us with our weaknesses too,” he said. “I think it does good to keep people in shape, and if they have something to do at the end of the summer you’re still in pretty good shape.”
While the GMC Prep boys’ basketball program emphasizes the training necessary to become top-level players, Lunsford also stresses the most important focus should be on academics.
According to Scott, Lunsford considers the player’s schoolwork a vital ingredient in a young person’s life.
“He stresses the academics just as much as the athletics,” Scott said.
For a young student-athlete like rising sophomore Chase Sheffield, Lunsford’s summer basketball program gives him an opportunity to get better athletically, while getting ahead in school by taking optional summer classes.
Sheffield, despite juggling homework and basketball, believes the summer workouts will give him the skills needed to compete well for the Bulldogs this season.
“My academics always come first before my sports do, because my academics are going to get me a much higher percentage than my sports will, so that comes first,” Sheffield said. “By getting my good grades in class, the staff allows me to get to my summer workouts for sports while doing school, and I’ve found it very flexible with my schedule.
“Practicing year-round in the summer, fall and winter helps me improve as an athlete,” he added. “I work on my skills in the summer to help for the next season.”