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East Jackson's Makayl Rakestraw is one of the returning players the Eagles will look to this year under first-year coach Jarvis Smith. 

New East Jackson boys' coach Jarvis Smith has been on the job for nearly six months, and he’s gone about instilling a defense-first brand of basketball.

Smith takes over after former coach David Akin resigned after three seasons on the job.

“Defensively, we’ve got to be a defensive team that plays offense,” Smith said. “So, we’ve got to hang our hat on the defensive end, and just create opportunities to get into transition. The kids have bought into that.”

Smith, who amassed a 185-89 record and two state titles in stops at Robert Toombs Christian Academy and Tattnall Square Academy, said his new charges began buying into his defensive-minded philosophy during the time he had with the team over the summer.

“They’ve started to buy into it, but you know how it goes,” Smith said. “They started playing the best ball we played this summer at the end of the summer, then time was up. We need to do that this year, but about January get rolling, and not wait until the region tournament.”

Smith has also gone about establishing a rapport with his new roster, one that returns the second-leading scorer from last year Makayl Rakestraw (13.6 points per game).

“I think we’re doing better this year, because we’re coming together as a team and making a bond,” Rakestraw said. “I feel like we go harder in practice and stuff.”

Junior Kendrick Carson agrees about the team-building that’s taken place.

“It was good to get to know him and get our chemistry good and our bond,” Carson said. “We’ve been hanging a lot, doing a lot of stuff that we needed to do to build our bond together.”

RELYING ON GUARDS

With a smaller lineup, East Jackson plans to play fast this season under Smith.

“We’re going to be guard-heavy,” he said. “Being guard-heavy, we’re going to have to play at a little bit faster-paced game. We’ve got to be a scrappy team … We don’t have an inside presence, so we’re going to have to make plays with our guards.”

Carson likes the style of play.

“I think we have an advantage against a lot of teams because we’ll be moving at a faster pace as being guards,” he said.

Rakestraw believes the team will be able to share the wealth in this system.

“I like it,” Rakestraw said. “I feel like we’re all going to get a chance to score. It’s going to be as a team. It’s not just going to be one person.”

GETTING BACK TO STATE

East Jackson has goals this year, and they start with taking care of games in Region 8-AAA play. The team finished outside of the top four in the region last year and missed the state tournament for the second time in three years.

“Region is a big thing for us,” Carson said. “We just want to win the most games we can in region, and our goal as a team is a region championship.”

Smith added, “We just want to put ourselves in a position that we’re in the state playoffs this year. That’s all about winning. We’ve got to protect our home. You take care of home (games), you steal some on the road, we put ourselves in that position, and that’s our goal this year.”

Junior Jimmie Jackson pointed to a bounce-back this year after a 10-16 campaign last year.

“Improve on our record, play as a team and hopefully make the playoffs,” Jackson said of the team’s goals.

Meanwhile, Rakestraw doesn’t want to be saying “what if” after the season.

“No regrets,” he said. “Leave it all out on the court.”

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