Most all of last year’s Jefferson girls’ basketball roster returns this season. But the biggest difference between this year and last year? This group won’t sneak up on anyone.
Jefferson played a host of freshmen and sophomores last season and perhaps surprised the region and the state by going 25-4 and advancing to the Elite Eight.
But the Dragons — who lost just one senior and no starters from last year — will appear on everyone’s radar now.
“I think our mentality is going to be a little bit different because we’re going to go from being the hunter to the hunted a little bit,” Jefferson coach Greg Brown said. “We’ve talked about having a bullseye on our back … I think if anything, it’s increased their desire to want to be better.”
Brown added that the team talks often about progressing from “good to great.”
“We feel like we have not reached our potential, yet,” he said.
Jefferson hopes to go from good to great with a returning cast that includes Livi Blackstock (Jr.), who has committed to North Georgia, and Deshona Gaither (So.).
Blackstock (14.2 points per game last year) is a preseason all-state selection and a player whom Brown trusts with the basketball. The coach said “everything is going to kind of go through her.”
“We just want the ball in her hands a bunch because she takes care of it so well,” Brown said.
Meanwhile, the coach lauded the strides made by Gaither (11.6 points per game) in the offseason.
“I don’t know that we’ve had a kid improve more from last year to this year than Deshona,” Brown said. “She had a great summer for us … Deshona doesn’t know how good she can be. She has an ability to just take games over.”
Brown said Gaither will have the ball in her hands as much as Blackstock.
“We feel like with the two of them, we can get to the rim whenever we want to to give the opposing team just a lot to guard,” Brown said.
Natalia Bolden (So.) also returns, having averaged 12 points per game last year, but she’s out with an injury for now. Allianne Clark (Jr.) provides the Dragons with another scoring option and has benefitted from a year in the weight room.
“An area that I think was a weakness for her last year is probably a strength this year,” Brown said of Clark’s weight room efforts. “And she’s put a lot of time in getting shots up, and she’s going to be a really big shooter for us.”
BUILDING ON LAST YEAR
Last year’s success served to instill confidence in a young team, one that ended up spending multiple weeks ranked No. 1 in Class AAA.
“It was really exciting because we got to prove everyone wrong that doubted us,” Clark said. “We just really had a great season.”
Blackstock noted the contributions of the entire roster in a memorable campaign.
“So, we all stepped up and played our roles,” she said. “It was really great.”
Gaither held a similar view as Blackstock.
“It was really fun building our chemistry and just getting to know each other, and now we get to play again together,” she said.
While the Dragons won’t sneak up on anyone this time, Jefferson’s depth is the reason it could once again win big and push deep into the state tournament bracket.
“We can play nine and 10 kids again this year, just like we did last year once we get everybody back in the swing of things,” Brown said.
Brown said he purposefully loaded up the front end of his schedule with tough opponents to ready his team for region play. The eventual goal after three consecutive Elite Eight appearances is to breakthrough and take the next step.
But the team will be careful not to lose sight of the process.
“We just want to go one game at a time though,” Blackstock said. “We can’t win a state championship right now, so we just have to practice really hard every day.”