EVERY TIME JAMAAL HAYMON WALKED INTO THE LOCKER ROOM AFTER A WIN THIS SEASON, IT WAS A NEW EXPERIENCE.
The first-year Goose Creek Memorial coach got to relish a lot of those experiences in the 2020-2021 season – to be exact there were 24 of them.
The last three were the biggest.
"Our goal was to make history and to experience new territory," Haymon, who guided GCM to its first-ever playoff win this season, said. "Winning in the first, second, and third round, it's big for our school and our community. It was a surreal experience."
Entering this year, the Patriots had only been to the playoffs twice before (2017- 18; 2014-2015) but failed to win the opening round.
So, how would they get over the proverbial hump?
"I really think it goes back to our offseason," Haymon said. "We had total buy-in. We had a lot of kids showing up every day. We pushed kids to their limits and they kept showing up."
That hard work paid off with huge dividends.
Goose Creek Memorial finished second in District 22-5A, going 21-3 overall (highest win percentage in school history), registering the most district wins (14) in program history, and cracked the Top 25 in the final TABC Hoops poll coming in at No. 24.
"I think every coach would like their first year to be like this," Haymon said with a smile. "It's been very special. It's been a special group of kids. It has been a little bit easier because I have been here for six years. I've known a lot of these kids since they were in junior high."
That was just the regular season, then the playoffs came.
A 79-66 win over Nederland in the bi-district round gave GCM its first-ever playoff win. Then in the area round, the Patriots defeated Northside, 77-72, advancing to the regional quarterfinals to face perennial playoff contender in Crosby.
What made this third-round meeting even bigger was Crosby had just knocked off 2020 State Finalist and No. 3-ranked Fort Bend Hightower the round prior. Being only 10 miles away from GCM, Crosby is also a natural rivalry.
They beat them 79-76 in overtime to advance to the Regional Semifinals.
"I told them after the Crosby win that we're just now establishing our brand as far as a playoff team," Haymon said. "They are going to be the first team to not only get to the playoffs but making a splash, going all the way to the Regional Semis is big.
"I don't think anyone will ever forget that experience. That's a win that could catapult GCM basketball into the future."
What makes this run even better for Haymon is the majority of his big scorers are set to return next season.
Sam Bradford led the team averaging 18.5 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. Bradford was named the District 22-5A Defensive Player of the Year.
Avant Coleman and Dariyus Woodson both were named first-team, all-district picks after averaging 14.5 and 12.6 points per game, respectively. Coleman chipped in 4.4 boards per game, while Woodson averaged 5.1. Other key players were seniors Devin Figueroa (9.9 ppg/4.1 rpg), Malik Mustafaa (7.7 ppg/2 rpg), and Jesiah Haye (5.1 ppg). Figueroa and Mustafaa both earned second-team, all-district honors.
What was equally rewarding about their playoff run – besides watching his players dance and throw water around locker rooms after a win – was watching the crowds grow each round.
From just under 300 playoff tickets sold for the first round to 750 and having to turn people away by round three was surreal for Haymon.
"I think what we did in the postseason rallied the community together," he said. "We have three high schools, so as we got deeper in the playoffs it brought everybody in the community together."
Having established themselves as an eastside contender in 2021, what does 2022 have in store? They are no longer the hunter but the hunted moving forward.
LAST YEAR WAS SUPPOSED TO BE AN EXCITING SPRING FOR GOOSE CREEK CISD BASEBALL AND SOFTBALL TEAMS ALIKE.
Not just because of the prospects of the 2020 season but also because they were about to embark on their first full season of playing on their brand-new, all turf fields at each high school.
Now in 2021, the players and coaches are getting the full luxury of playing on an all-turf field every single day.
"This facility is amazing," Goose Creek Memorial baseball coach Brian Williams said. "The kids are excited about having this since they didn't get to play on it much last year. Don't have to worry about rainouts anymore and it is a beautiful field. I appreciate Athletic Director Lee Martinez and former Athletic Director Bernie Mulvaney for allowing us to do this. This has been a long time coming."
It was an initiative by previous Athletic Director Dr. Bernie Mulvaney that got the ball rolling on this project.
"He definitely had a vision of athletics and that was one of them," GCCISD Athletic Director Lee Martinez, who was the assistant athletic director at the time, said. "He definitely made that happen here. I was very proud to be a part of that."
Utilizing athletic department funds with support from Goose Creek CISD, they were able to fund six fully turfed fields for their three high schools. The turf also was part of an energy conservation project through the district's partnership with ABM.
"It's an advantage to us because we get to cut the number of games that are rained out," Martinez said. "We're anticipating playing deep into the playoffs and it serves as an advantage there as well … Also, our camps don't get canceled, we also have people in the community that love to use them. We've also had some college games there as well. It gives our kids notoriety throughout the Greater Houston area and the state of Texas."
Seeing these upgrades is also special for GCCISD alumni.
That group includes Goose Creek Memorial softball coach Rachel Smith, who grew up in GCCISD and played her high school softball at Ross Sterling High.
"We are very blessed to have turf," she said. "A lot of teams are going to turf because our weather is so unpredictable around here. I grew up in GCCISD and we played on dirt and had to wait out those rainy games. So, it's definitely a blessing to have."
Having all-turf fields also cuts down the amount of time and maintenance that goes into taking care of and preparing a field for a game.
For Martinez, who was a long-time baseball coach in the Houston area before moving into administration, he believes this also could prolong some coaches' careers.
"If I had a turf field it definitely would have made my career a lot longer," Martinez said. "You don't have to worry about putting clay, dragging the field, watering the field, or putting the tarp on there, it definitely takes away the labor that goes into being a baseball coach. I think we're helping these coaches out in a lot of ways besides not getting our games canceled."
At the end of the day, it ends up being about pride, and opposing teams that come play in Baytown take notice.
"We get several compliments from visiting coaches about our fields," Williams said.
Martinez added: "It definitely adds pride for your community. When people come play it shows that [GCCISD] has first-class facilities."
The next major project Martinez said they are looking at tackling in the coming years is a new fieldhouse at Stallworth Stadium.