After graduating four seniors last season, the East Jackson boys’ basketball team brings a very inexperienced team into the 2021-22 season.
The Eagles have three seniors on this roster, but also have seven juniors stepping into big roles for the first time in their careers. The roster is rounded out with five underclassmen.
Obviously, it’s easy to see how youth can be a weakness, but first-year head coach Tyler Gamble explained how youth isn’t always a bad thing. He also has experience with this group. He spent the last three years as an assistant coach and was the junior varsity coach the last two years.
“They want to play hard, they want to have fun,” Gamble said. “They’re willing to really do stuff the right way and they’ve been going after it because they’re young and they don’t know any different. They’re not set in their ways, they’re really coachable.
“The downside of it is, they’ve never been down three, a kid is going on a run, the crowd is going nuts. They’ve never had to work through that. We have to manage the highs, manage the lows, and not be so emotional. But we’re young, it’s easy to do that.”
However, Gamble acknowledged that East Jackson is still looking for leadership.
“We don’t have that one guy where we can say ‘hey, let’s look to him and he can lead us out of a slump.’ We’re still trying to find our identity,” he said.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The entire team: East Jackson is still looking for its players to watch. Gamble said the team is taking a by-committee approach and will rotate around 11 players each game.
“We talk about it all the time in our staff meetings,” he said. “We play about 11 or 12 and we need that one key guy to emerge. Right now, it’s by committee…. We have a bunch of guys who are chippy and nasty. It’s hard to throw out their names because we’re still finding that being so young.
However, Gambe did spend some time talking about sophomore Eli Buffington.
“Eli is a long wing for us,” he said. “He shoots it well, he can do a little bit of everything.”
Gamble considers team unity, depth and youth as East Jackson’s biggest strengths. Each of those three things works hand-in-hand.
“We really enjoy working and we really enjoy each other,” he said. “We have some depth. As we find our identity, that will probably narrow a little bit.
“It’s easy to point out all of the weaknesses of the youth, but it’s kind of a strength too. They feel like they have something to prove. They want to see things change and see things get better. So I think the youth helps us in some cases. Our youth helps us because they are coachable and they are hungry.”
Besides youth, ball security and rebounding are two of the issues Gamble wants to clean up. Though both are related to East Jackson’s youth.
“We’ve got to take care of the basketball,” he said. “We rely on some of our bigs to be the only rebounders. The guards have to get more active in that. Other than that, we have to continue to grow up.
“We have to make sure we’re locked in, in preparation and scouting and understanding the game.
REGION 8-AAA OUTLOOK
There might not be a tougher region in Class AAA than Region 8. Hart County, Monroe Area, Oconee County, Frankin County and Stephens County are five fantastic basketball programs.
The Bulldogs have the strongest team in the region and are coming off a Final Four run. However, no one in the region should be taken lightly.
“Top to bottom, maybe the toughest region in the state,” he said. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve had a team in the Elite Eight every year. One year we had three. We’ve had two teams in the state championship since I’ve been here. This region is absolutely loaded.
“The region is quite the opposite of us. They have very experienced groups. It’s going to be tough and our guys know that. Our guys don’t shy away from that. We have open conversations about how good our region is and the battles we are going to have.