United Ballers For Christ coach Rodney Chester admitted his team had a bumpy road initially but still managed to obtain its objective.
"We started out kind of rough. I think when we went to the super regionals up in Dalton ... we didn't do too well, but we still came in fourth place," Chester said. "We [did] well enough to place for the nationals, and that was the whole object of the [tournament] -- to just place for the nationals."
The play of UBFC has produced mostly mixed results, thus far.
"Out of those six tournaments [we have played], I think we're a little bit over .500," Chester said. "But the boys, as they go and they learn the game more, they progress more and they become better and better as they become a cohesive group. They [are] learning each other because when you got kids from different schools ... and then you try to put it all together ... you try to wipe all that middle school stuff out of their head to try to convince 'em that this is not middle school ball anymore. This is competition ball and you [are] playing against the best of the best, and everybody's coming to win so you gotta up your game another level.
"Once they grasped the philosophy of that, they started playing together and as the season went on -- we stayed in a lot of close games -- but we [saw] that we could compete with anybody, even the best teams [like] Georgia Stars, the Atlanta Celtics."
The close losses could turn into narrow victories with UBFC ready to trot out its full complement of players for the first time -- a 10-player roster that includes Zeke Chester, Cortney Cooley, Eduante Curtis, Auston Davis, Tyrell James, Sidnee Johnson, Joseph Kennemore, Tiamon Pennymon, Cameron Simpson and Kobie Whitfield.
"Now that we do have 'em all together, the close game[s] that we lost, we'll be able to win those close games because some of the same teams that we lost to -- the close games within the region -- we'll see some of the same teams in the nationals," Rodney Chester said. "You'll see different teams from all across the country, but the Georgia teams are basically the stronger teams in competition ball. Why? I don't know.
"These guys from the South ... I think that's all we do is play ball -- football and basketball. I think we'll fare well. [With] the strength of our team now, I'm looking to really go down there and win it all."
Doing so will take discipline, focus and, most importantly to Chester, an understanding by each player of his role.
"I've always taught this, since I've started coaching, that I'm a restaurant owner," Chester explained. "I got one cashier; I got one dishwasher; I got a waitress; I got a cook. And if you ain't [a] cook, I don't want you cooking; I want you to do your role. If you play your role and you put it all together, it'll all work out. I tell my kids that we will not lose a game by having the wrong personnel on the floor."
The UBFC coach, who has seven years' experience, is making a return to nationals for the first time in about four years. He last took a group of Bartow County youngsters when his Desmond Chester, a former Adairsville High player, suited up alongside fellow class of 2011 graduates Tarris Batiste of Cass and Talique Cochran of Cartersville.
Rodney Chester is happy to back as he coaches his other son, Zeke, this time around.
"I'm excited more than the kids, I believe," he added. "At one [time], I got sick and couldn't coach, but I had another coach, named Kevin Wilkins, he had took on a group under the same name, United Ballers For Christ, and they did pretty good but they never did get to entertain the nationals ... because keeping 'em together was a problem."
Chester did not dispute that dealing with seventh- and eighth-graders can sometimes be a chore, but he is glad to help try and mold them as he often goes above and beyond for his players.
"My wife [Sylvia], she gets on me all the time because she says, 'You pay for their food, you pick 'em up,'" he said. "But, hey, when most of 'em come from single-parent households and you know they don't have the money to participate, what do you do? It's a heart for the game and it's a heart for the kids, to give them something that could propel them to be a better person in society.
"That's what we [are] trying to instill in them, it's a better way and sometimes you may have to go through sports to do that."