A.J. Alexander said something contagious is going around. 

And for the first time in a few years, he can say it’s not COVID-19. 

Alexander was hired alongside head coach Cody Drone during the summer. Drone spent last season coaching the freshman boys basketball team before being promoted when Brad Oakley stepped aside after two seasons. 

After going 2-12, the Trojans have defied all expectations by earning their first winning season in nine years and recording their most wins since the 2005-2006 season. 

Sitting right there on the sidelines, Alexander has seen what Drone has brought to this program in year one and believes that the future looks just as good. 

“I think the kids give him the most because he gives his most for the team and program,” said Alexander. “The guys see his drive for bringing this program to new heights, and it’s contagious.”

Junior Caleb Oakley, who is Brad Oakley’s son, could have been an awkward position after Drone took over a position previously held by his father. Instead, Oakley said that the transition wasn’t hard at all. 

“It’s something different,” said Oakley. “I’ve had my dad as my coach my whole life, but he taught me that whoever is the coach to give my best. I have nothing against Coach Drone for what happened. I just want to do my best no matter who is there. Coach Drone and Alexander are both two good coaches that expect the best out of us and allow us to have fun.”

Some could have seen Drone, a 2012 graduate of Altamont High School, as a young and risky hire. Caleb Oakley, though, says Drone has many old-school approaches.

“As for coaching, there’s nothing that stands out,” said Oakley. “They are not two completely different coaches, but Coach Drone is younger than my dad was now. It can make for a better connection sometimes. He is really good about keeping us disciplined and expecting the best out of us. He has a really big focus on us playing good defense. We began the year with so many defensive drills and that has helped us down the stretch. For him to be a young coach and get these results, it’s very impressive.”

The focus was something Alexander pointed out as well. 

“I really think the difference has been the culture that Coach Drone has instilled that hard work and perseverance will lead to success,” said Alexander. “The guys really have bought into that hard work pays off mentally. Coaching with Drone has been an awesome experience. He brings a ton of passion to games with attention to detail in practice. He wants the guys to be successful, on and off the court.”

Charleston next takes on Springfield Southeast on Wednesday in the Decatur MacArthur IHSA Regional. Two wins could get Charleston both its first 20-win season since 2003-2004 and its first regional championship since 2009. 

The Trojans are considered underdogs against a 20-8 team that finished third in the highly competitive Central State 8 Conference, but being the underdog is something the team has grown accustomed. 

“Last year, it was a tough year because we’re dealing with quarantines in the middle of the season,” said Oakley. “It left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. We wanted to be better this year and prove what we can do. All we can do is give our best. We were underdogs going into the season. We were picked to finish last in the Apollo and we came out and finished second. No reason, we can’t prove everyone wrong again.”