The circumstances weren't ideal for David Francis.
As head coach of The Unit, an AAU basketball team based in Beaufort, Francis entered the preseason hoping to administer around 10 practices in a two-week span before games got under way.
But that didn't happen. Instead, Francis was forced to practice "off and on" during the better half of a month prior to the team's trip to the Easter Classic in Orlando, Fla., during the spring. Naturally, his expectations for The Unit's matchups with teams from across the Southeast were realistic.
"I was telling the kids to compete hard, mainly because the varsity kids just started playing together," he recalled. " ... I was just looked for the kids to go down there for a good showing."
But after splitting a pair of games in pool play, The Unit reeled off five consecutive victories to earn a spot in the AAU 11th Grade Division II National Championships, which begin today and last through July 30 in the Orlando area.
"When it was all said and done, I was surprised," Francis said.
That's putting it mildly. The Unit -- comprised largely of players from Beaufort High School and Whale Branch Early College High School -- kicked off the classic with an 8-point triumph over the Gainesville (Fla.) Kings. Then came four straight double-digit victories on the way to claiming the title.
And they did it all without the benefit of having set plays, Beaufort Academy's Preston Suber said.
"We just went out there and played," he said. "I honestly didn't think we were going to do that well in the tournament."
Added Francis: "The first thing that came to my head was, 'I wonder what this team could do if it had regular practice and a regular schedule.' "
Francis never got his wish. He said The Unit's practice schedule has remained relatively the same due to a combination of factors, but he and Suber remain optimistic on the team's chances in Florida. The Unit will kick off pool play at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday against the Louisiana Lightning.
"I think now that we've had a lot more time to play with each other and to get more comfortable, I think we'll do well," Suber said.
Suber has led the charge for The Unit thanks to his consistent shooting abilities. The rising senior teamed with 5-foot-11 guard Simeon Middleton to lead the group to the Easter Classic championship, Francis said. Suber said he averaged around 12 points per game during the team's run.
"He's a consistent scorer," Francis said of Suber. "If I had to rely on a guy and I needed a mid-range jump shot or needed a guy on the free-throw line, he's more consistent than anyone."
Francis said The Unit will take part in three pool games, which will then determine which bracket the team falls into. The group is set to leave Beaufort this morning before Wednesday's opener.
What: AAU 11th Grade Division I & II National Championships
Where: Orlando, Fla. area
When: July 24-30
John Jay Abney, Jr., Whale Branch
Madison Bell, Beaufort High
Damian Brown, Whale Branch
Shykeem Gardner, Beaufort High
Rafael Guevara, Beaufort High
Keion Marshall, Beaufort High
Michael Middleton, Whale Branch
Simeon Middleton, Whale Branch
Sire Perry, Whale Branch
Andre Pringle, Beaufort High
Wesley Riley, Wade Hampton
Preston Suber, Beaufort Academy
Anthony White, Beaufort High
Tony Lee Winston, Beaufort High