East Jackson went 14-11 in Jarvis Smith’s first season with the Eagles and were one of the better teams in a tough and rugged Region 8-AAA.
But they’re searching for a different ending this year.
“We were one game away from a state bid last year so, yes, that's one of the goals,” Smith said.
Having two of its best players back will help in that mission.
East Jackson returns offensive weapons Makayl Rakestraw and R.J. White, who combined to average 34 points a game last year. But the Eagles will also have to meld a number of newer players with their experienced players. Smith said that process going smoothly.
“The one thing I am enjoying this year thus far is our kids' chemistry,” Smith said. “Our older guys are really taking care of our younger guys. They are starting to realize they are going to need them to play well and buy minutes for us to be successful this year.”
Smith noted that his roster will have six-to-seven first-time varsity players this season as the team fights for a state tournament spot out of Region 8-AAA, which advanced four teams past the first round of the state tournament last year.
The coach pointed to the strength of his coaching staff in developing this year’s team.
“Coach (Tyler) Gamble and coach (Clinton) Womack are two bright, up-and-coming coaches who have shown their value to our program,” Smith said. “We are looking forward to seeing what we can do with our group this year.”
•Lineup: Makayl Rakestraw averaged 22 points per game last year and is a playmaker, not just for himself, but for others as well. Smith expects Rakestraw to pick up from where he left off last year. The team’s second-leading returning scorer, R.J. White, averaged 12 points a game last year in less than 20 minutes per contest. He will expand his role with more minutes, according to Smith. Elsewhere, the team will look for more aggressive play out of Kendrick Carson, who was last year’s assist leader. “He is really a good floor leader,” Smith said. The team will also look to Greg Huggs, a tough, undersized post who can stretch the floor.
•Strengths: Led by Rakestraw, East Jackson again expects to benefit from its guard play. The Eagles, however, have an overall lack of size, which will make the battle on the boards tough. “Which means we have to do a great job rebounding as a unit,” Smith said.
•Region outlook: Last year’s Class AAA runner-up, Jefferson, left the region due to reclassification, while Morgan County and rival Jackson County left as well. The region’s new teams are Stephens County and Oconee County. “Our region is still going to be tough,” Smith said. “No nights off. We have to battle every game. Every game is important if we want a chance at the post season.” Hart County, Monroe Area and Franklin County all return to the region. Monroe Area reached the Elite Eight last year, while Hart County advanced to the Sweet 16. Both are early favorites to compete for the region title, but Smith is looking forward to the challenge of trying to fit into that mix. Smith also said the coaching in the region is overlooked. “A fine group who gets the best out of their teams,” Smith said, referring to 8-AAA’s coaches.
•Goals: While the team wants to one of the four state tournament spots out of the region, Smith said his squad has higher ambitions, too. “Ultimately we want to put ourselves in a position to compete for a region title,” he said.