A fan yelled, “Welcome back, coach,” as Jason Keeler returned to the bench for the South Effingham Mustangs basketball team Saturday afternoon.
The first-year coach was forced to miss the previous two games after being ejected from the Jan. 5 game against Effingham County. His team greeted him with a 53-43 win over Bryan County in Pembroke.
During his suspension, Keeler was able to run practices but couldn’t accompany the team in their games, losses at home to Burke County and Hephzibah.
“Which actually made it tougher,” he explained. “You’re working hard with them in practice. To not be there with them (during games) hurts. As coaches, you hurt with them. We feel the emotions of the players. We hurt with them, and we get overjoyed with them.
“I’ve been chomping at the bit all week,” Keeler said. “There’s no worse feeling than not being with your players when they’re struggling.”
Mustangs fans applauded Keeler as he assumed his usual spot along the Mustangs bench.
“It did my heart good to hear that,” he said.
Against the Redskins, Zach Anderson led the way with 14 points, Eddie Harris had 11 and Aaron Fisher had nine points. The Mustangs led by 11 points in the third quarter and had a chance to ice the game early.
“We don’t have that killer instinct yet,” Keeler said. “We can’t seem to transfer the work we put in in practice into games. We work really hard in practice and it doesn’t seem to carry over into games.”
The coaches are hoping that once the young Mustangs squad gets a victory over a stronger team that they will realize what they are capable of doing. They get their chance soon as they go on the road to face Liberty County tonight and Richmond Hill on Friday.
“As coaches, we see that potential,” Keeler said. “We’re going to get that win that does flip that light switch that we can do this. A lot of that is borne in the fact that for so long there hasn’t been any expectation that they can be good, that they can compete. They have to get to that point where they expect to win.”