Kalib Clinton has, no doubt, been the driving force for Jackson County the past three seasons. But it might not be Clinton alone powering this year’s Panthers.
And that’s plenty encouraging for the team’s first-year coach.
“I am extremely excited about the balance we have with our team this year,” coach Bryan Parker said. “I would say that we have more pieces than we have had in a very long time at Jackson County and guys are really buying into their roles on the team.”
Clinton, the program’s star 6-5 forward, has been nothing short of spectacular his first three seasons (averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game the past two). But the talents of other players around him should make the Panthers tougher to defend.
The addition of Trentyn Flowers gives Jackson County perhaps one of the most gifted freshmen in the state, while junior Bryce Blake — alongside Flowers — will give the Panthers much needed-length and the ability to stretch the floor on both ends, according to Parker. There’s also veteran sharpshooter Kedric Zimmer, who has expanded his game entering his senior year.
What’s more, Jackson County returns its entire starting five from a year ago, so experience should be on the Panthers’ side most nights.
But perhaps the most encouraging sign for Parker is the energy level he’s witnessed in practice since taking over.
“Our guys have embraced the opportunities they have been given during these crazy times and haven't taken anything for granted,” Parker said. “ … As a coach the last thing you want to have to coach is effort. With this group, that is never an issue.”
For Parker, this is his first head-coaching assignment after assistant stints at both Collins Hill and Jackson County. He expressed his appreciation to athletic director Brad Hayes and principal Jason Wester for the opportunity.
“I am honored that coach Hayes and Mr. Wester have given me the opportunity to coach these young men,” Parker said. “They are all awesome young men, and we are excited to represent Jackson County and get things started.”
•Lineup: Clinton, who has signed with Charleston Southern, had a monster 2019-20 campaign, averaging 27.1 points and 10.3 boards per game. He could be even better this winter. The senior is bigger, stronger and faster and spent the summer basketball circuit playing with Game Elite against the state’s best players. “He is a dog on the court and is going to open some eyes across the state this year,” Parker said. But Parker is most proud of Clinton’s growth as a team leader “He pushes everyone to get better daily and reach their maximum potential,” Parker said. Meanwhile, Zimmer is a dangerous outside shooter who has grown as an all-round player. He’s also emerged as a leader. “He is our coach on the court, and I expect him to return to his old form after a down year last year,” Parker said. Then, there’s Flowers coming into the fold. The freshman has an outstanding basketball IQ and work ethic in addition to his talent, according to Parker “His potential is through the roof and we are excited to watch him grow,” Parker said. Jackson County, with its starting five all back, has more depth this season. It was also strong defensively last year, holding teams to 48 points per game last year “But our weakness was always that we couldn't consistently score,” Parker said. “I believe this year, with our balance, we should be much better on that end of the court.”
•Region outlook: Parker called moving up to Class AAAAA and into Region 8-AAAAA “daunting.” Clarke Central, Eastside and Walnut Grove all won at least 18 games last year. But he said the jump provides an opportunity for the team to move out of its bubble “and really show people who we are.” The coach is excited about the change. “Our previous region was pretty loaded with basketball talent, so it will be interesting to see how schools in our new region compare,” Parker said.
•Goals: Jackson County hasn’t reached the state tournament since its 18-win, Sweet 16 campaign of 2016, and the Panthers want to change that. Parker said he’s seen tremendous growth in the program since arriving two and a half years ago “and know our guys are hungry to prove some people wrong and open some eyes.”