TUCKER, Ga. — Last Sunday Baldwin High School alum James Hartry served as master of ceremonies for the gym dedication in honor of his high school basketball coach, James Lunsford.
Two days later, Hartry, a high school hoops coach himself, celebrated a career milestone of his own when his Tucker Tigers defeated Morrow 69-68 in overtime. The win was Hartry’s 400th as a head coach and came in just his 19th season.
“It was one of the toughest games we played all year,” Hartry told The Union-Recorder in a Thursday phone interview. “That team plays me hard all the time. We went into overtime with them at their place and it was a tough, hostile environment, so it was hard to get out of there with the win.
“Winning 400 is special. All 400 of them have been hard to me. I haven’t ever had a walk in the park except for maybe with my state championship team from 2007. We coasted through the regular season, but it wasn’t easy once we got to the state playoffs.”
That ’07 title at Tucker stands as Hartry’s only one as a head coach, but he’s been close on multiple other occasions. Fourteen of his teams have made it to the postseason and four went all the way to the state championship game including last year’s squad that lost on a heartbreaking buzzer-beater. Hartry and the Tigers were also knocked out the Final Four round in both 2006 and 2015.
So what does Hartry believe has made his teams so successful these last two decades?
“I’ve had some fairly good boys to play for me over the years,” he said. “Kids come here and they work hard. If you come to Tucker to play basketball, you’ve got to already know how to do some things because coaches only have four years to train guys up. I only ask my guys to do two things for me — that’s to play hard and to play good defense. That’s been my motto over the years. We play hard and we defend every night at Tucker. If you do those things, everything else will take care of itself.”
The 2019-20 Tucker Tigers must be playing hard and defending, because they’re having another stellar season under the 1976 Baldwin High graduate. They boasted a 20-3 overall record and 15-0 mark in region entering play Friday and have already locked up the Region 4-6A regular season championship by a wide margin. Hartry welcomed back his point guard from last year’s state runner-up squad and a few others, including national recruit Jermontae Hill, who are helping the team put together another successful season.
“In high school if you can put three players on the floor at one time that can really play, you always got a chance,” the Tucker coach said. “Not many schools have three good basketball players that can put it in the hole. If you’ve got those three guys, you’ve got a chance to go pretty far in the state playoffs.”
Although he mentioned the state tournament, Hartry is careful not to look too far ahead to a possible seventh Final Four trip and maybe even fifth state championship berth in 19 seasons.
“My goal is to win the region tournament and get that No. 1 seed so we can be home for the first three rounds because that’s huge,” he said. “That’s what we’re playing for because it’s rough playing on the road in the state tournament. It’s much better in your own building. Getting to Macon (site of the GHSA state basketball championships) is one of the hardest jobs in the world. You’ve got to have all kinds of good luck charms in your pocket. It’s a tough road to win those four games and play in the finals. It’s not going to be easy, but we’re working for it. First things first though, I've got to get out of the region tournament.”
Hartry’s Tigers are scheduled to close out the regular season on their home floor Tuesday before competing in the Region 4-6A tournament.