Scott Bracco isn’t lying.
The Lambert boys basketball head coach is typically measured to a fault when describing his team’s success, especially after games, but he’ll brag on them on occasion. He’ll volunteer that over the Longhorns are one of just three teams in Class 7A to reach the second round or better of the state playoffs in the last five years, along with Pebblebrook and Norcross.
And then there’s this assessment, which Bracco gave before a Monday practice, four days after the Longhorns dropped 98 points on Alpharetta in a scrimmage.
“We’ll be in the Final Four this year,” Bracco said. “We’ll be in the Final Four next year. We might win a state championship this year. If we don’t this year, we’ll win it next year. I believe that. You can probably see it in my eyes.”
If there’s anyone in the county that best knows the kind of team capable of going that far, it’s likely Bracco, who led Dunwoody to consecutive state championships in 2005 and 2006. Those teams were stacked with high-major talent and even a future NBA player, in Chris Singleton, and while Lambert doesn’t have any players receiving that kind of attention at the moment, they’re not terribly far off.
Bracco estimated that the Longhorns have six players capable of competing in Division I, and he sees this team’s depth rivaling that of his best squads. The Longhorns lost a trio of important wings in Austin Deckard, Jordan McIlwain and Damon Stoudamire from last season’s state championship squad, but point guard Mitch Ganote and forward Colin Granger, two starters from that team, are back. Ganote is the reigning All-County Player of the Year, and Granger, who has played regularly since his freshman year, has already drawn DI interest.
And Lambert isn’t a senior-stacked team. Ganote, skilled wing Thomas Hickey and key defender Cameron Nayebi give the Longhorns just three, and juniors like long, athletic guard Braxton Beaty and wing Luke Champion, one of the county’s most accurate three-point shooters last season, will figure heavily into the rotation. There will also be two freshmen alongside them, in point guard Matthew Whicher and shooting guard Chance Thacker.
“We’re the best we’ve been since I’ve been here, for sure, (in) talent level,” Granger said.
While the Longhorns consecutive runs of second-round berths certainly stands out, that’s also where all those seasons have ended. Lambert has perhaps been unlucky at that stage in recent years, drawing eventual state champion Meadowcreek in 2018 and semifinalist McEachern in 2017, but the barrier remains.
Bracco has been past there many times before, though, a fact of which he regularly reminds the Longhorns. Two key points are team chemistry, which the Longhorns are still working on at this early point in the season, and defense, where the Longhorns are working to find the best balance of full court and half court, fast and slow.
“I’ve got the ingredients, and I know what we have to do to be successful,” Bracco said. “I know how to win a state championship, and I know how to lose one, as well.”
All of his experience in the game means Bracco is older and has more gray hair, and he thinks the years and the overall accumulation of games has made him a better coach. But they haven’t really changed how he coaches that much: His practices are notably tight and regimented, and his current calls are still recognizable to past players.
“My style has not changed at all,” Bracco said. “My former players can come up here and tell you what we’re going to run, offensively and defensively. It still works.”
There’s still a whole season, with all the risks and twists that entails, ahead of the Longhorns. But Lambert believes it has the ingredients for the program’s best showing yet, and the Longhorns think they aren’t too far off from figuring out the recipe.
“We’ve had great success here, and we’re one to three plays away from advancing in the past three years,” Bracco said. “So we need to figure out as a coaching staff what it is that will get us over the hump. And we’ll find out in the first three weeks of the season.”