The East Jackson girls’ basketball team has goals, but new coach Cherrelle Pullen wanted her players to be reminded of them daily.
So, Pullen came up with a “vision board.”
“The objective was for us to see it, and walk by it daily and know what we want to do as a team, as basketball players and as individuals — because, again, this is more than just basketball — what we want to achieve as an individual person,” said Pullen, who is a head basketball coach for the first time.
And those goals? East Jackson wants to finish above .500 for the first time in program history, play in the state tournament and go further than last year.
“Go ahead, call it out and speak it into existence,” Pullen said.
Pullen inherits a program that set a record for wins in a season (11) and advanced to the state tournament for the first time.
The team returns its top three scorers from last year — Haven Rollins (14.5 points per game), Maurissa Thomas (10.2 points per game) and Kenzie Whitehead (9.5 points per game). Rollins set the school record for points in a single season. Thomas was the team’s leading rebounder.
While several pieces from last year’s history-making team return, the team had to settle in under a new coach. By all accounts, that process is going well.
“She’s been working hard with us” junior Mikayla Gadson said. “Every practice, she makes us run more. We’ve just become family now already.”
“It’s been good,” freshman Yasime Clark said. “She’s been providing a good experience, especially the Savannah trip we took this summer. It got us closer together there for bonding, and she’s really hands on with us, and she wants to get to know us.”
QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY
Depth could be a concern again this year with only nine players on the roster. Pullen, however, doesn’t necessarily see that as an issue if those nine are good.
“We’re low in numbers, but we have a huge heart,” Pullen said. “I don’t think it takes 15 (players) to make a difference. The strong nine we have, that are committed, will put some points up, stop some people and I’m excited about it.”
Pullen will build her team around aggressive, but disciplined, on-ball defense. Offensively, the Eagles will look to its trio of scorers from last year.
“Having a new system that’s up tempo, I’m expecting they will be able to create even more offensive opportunities for themselves, as well as, for their teammates,” Pullen said. “I definitely need them to be fully committed to this year and not become comfortable or complacent in their achievements from last season simply because growth happens when you continue to plant seeds, tend to your seeds, trust the process and reap the harvest.”
AN EVEN BETTER SEASON
East Jackson made history last year with a memorable surge the second half of the season on into the postseason. The Eagles hope that’s just the beginning. Even the incoming freshmen, who weren’t part of last year’s run, are motivated to improve on that breakthrough.
“We’re hoping to go farther,” Antonia Pittman said. “We’re hoping to improve, and we’re upcoming freshmen, so we didn’t play last year. We played middle school last year, but we’re hoping to get better.”
With a team with no seniors, Gadson said she and the other juniors will assume leadership roles.
“We want to encourage the younger players because this is something that we really want to accomplish and break another barrier that people have on us as girl basketball players at East Jackson,” she said.
Clark, meanwhile, pointed to rivalry games.
“I just want to beat Jefferson,” she said.