IF THERE’S a simple, all-encompassing word to describe both the East Jackson boys’ and girls’ basketball programs, it’s this – young.
The boys return just three players with varsity experience, while the girls lose their entire starting five from a year ago. Both coaches got an extensive look at their tenderfoots in June during summer basketball workouts.
“We’re going to be young,” boys’ coach Brian Turner said. “I’m excited about the group we’ve got. If we mature and learn, I think we could be pretty good. If we don’t, we might be a year away.”
Girls’ coach Katie David offers a similar assessment of her team, which is coming off an 8-19 season. East Jackson had 20-25 players participate in summer workouts, only four of which were upperclassmen. Though the Lady Eagles managed to play 20 summer games (including a 7-2 stint at a camp at Presbyterian), East Jackson focused more on practices and controlled scrimmages.
“We opted to do a lot more practice,” David said.
As for the returning players, the East Jackson boys – 9-17 a year ago – welcome back junior shooting guard Nathan Crumley, senior point guard Trent Dowdy and senior center Jake Grindle, the team’s top returning rebounder. Following the graduation of leading-scorer Cody Gibbs, East Jackson don’t really possess a go-to threat, but Turner thinks this team may be more dangerous from the perimeter, pointing to the shooting of Crumley and sophomore Jarron Davis this summer.
Turner added that Davis, “really showed that he’s ready to play,” noting his improved defense in addition to his ability to shoot.
Sophomore Casey Reed also had a good overall summer, Turner said, and sophomore Caleb Hill surprised Turner with his improved physical play and rebounding.
East Jackson played 18 scrimmages and much of that schedule was used to get the younger players on the court. The Eagles played as many as 15 players a game. “We were just trying to get a lot of kids minutes,” Turner said.
The coach said he did learn a lot about this group during the summer.
“We wanted to get an idea of who we thought could help and who would have to be on the JV. I think we’ve got a pretty good idea,” he said.
As for the East Jackson girls, they’ll be guard-heavy in breaking in an entirely new starting lineup. David said the Lady Eagles may utilize a point guard-by committee with junior Kelsee Palette and sophomore Kayla Thomas returning. Sophomore Madison Wuertley, who was voted most improved player in the summer, can play point guard – with David praising her ball handing ability – but Wuertley can shoot too, meaning she’ll see time at the two spot.
The role of scorer – if the summer is any indicator – is in the hands of senior Taylor Patrick, who can play the three or the four. She was the leading scorer this summer and can attack the basket. Patrick, however, creates opportunities for other players, too.
“She sees the court really well,” David said.
Patrick was voted “impact player” by the team this summer.
Elsewhere, Hannah Jackson returns as a junior in the post, and Hydeia Rucker, a 5’9” sophomore who can jump, could also see time in the post as well.
When David runs down her lineup, she doesn’t mention the five spot because the Lady Eagles don’t have a true post player right now.
“We may just play a lot of guard,” David said.
East Jackson, however, is going to have to be stout on the other end of the court if it’s to have success in 2011-2012.
“We’re going to really have to hang our hat on defense,” David said.