The Jefferson boys’ basketball team’s goal last year was to “change the banner,” and the Dragons did so resoundingly, winning a region title and advancing to the state finals for the first time in program history.
“The banner has officially been changed,” coach Kevin Morris said.
Now, they’ll have to change the roster.
Jefferson will lose three players that had been the bedrock of the program under Morris. Six-foot-eight center Jacob Radaker is now at the Naval Academy while twin guards Owen Parker and Daniel Parker have graduated. Morris pointed out that the team had played with essentially the same core for three seasons.
“This is definitely the first year that we’ve had to do a lot of reorganization,” Morris said.
All the talent certainly hasn’t left the program, though. Jefferson does return two extremely athletic and gifted players with Malaki Starks and Kam Robinson, who were a major part of last year’s finals run and will lead the Dragons on the floor this winter.
“Their athleticism is just crazy,” Morris said of the two. “I don’t know that I’ve ever had two players as athletic as those two are on the same team. They’re going to set the tone for everything else. They’re able to get others open, and they’re able to defend at a very, very high level.”
Starks and Robinson will likely be unavailable for a while, however.
Both are standouts on Jefferson’s No. 2-ranked football team — Starks is a prized five-star recruit for major colleges — that could very well play into late December. And it’s not just Starks and Robinson who are busy on the gridiron. Morris said nine of his top 14 players are football players.
“I sure do want my basketball players, but I also want those guys to do as good as they possibly can do for them and our school,” Morris said. “It is a little bit of a dilemma for the basketball coach for sure.”
Morris might be without his full team until January, but it also creates an opportunity for the team to capitalize upon.
“It’s definitely a deal where we’re trying to gain some experience, trying to gain some depth and get some younger kids some chances that they normally wouldn’t get at this point,” Morris said.
•Lineup: Once the Dragons are at full strength again, they’ll feature a lineup with Starks and Robinson, but one that will include Spencer Darby, an excellent outside shooter. Morris said Darby can affect a team’s game plan by just his presence on the floor. “He’s just going to keep somebody out there with him which is going to open up driving lanes for us … just having him on the floor is a weapon for sure,” Morris said. Jefferson also returns a group of talented players — J.T. Fulkrod, Riley Holliman, Josh Howell and Romaine Harriott — that have been waiting in the wings for more playing time. “They would have gotten to play a lot on another basketball team other than ours,” Morris said. “They’ve got a lot of talent, and they’ve got a lot of ability and we’re looking for them to come out and be really good.”
•Strengths/weaknesses: With players like Starks, Robinson, Holliman and Fulkrod, the Dragons will be guard-heavy. Morris said he’s used a lot of five-guard sets in practice. “Because I just feel like if we’re going to put our best people on the floor, we’re going to need guards on the floor,” Morris said. Defensively, the Dragons will certainly miss Owen Parker and Daniel Parker, who frequently generated turnovers last year. “And there’s no 6-8 in the middle, for sure,” Morris said, referring to Radaker. The program’s tallest player is 6-3. Morris said the team will have to look to its guards for a lot of rebounding.
•Region outlook: Jefferson joins Region 8-AAAA which includes Cedar Shoals, which played for a state title last year. While the Jaguars lost two key players off that squad, Morris still expects Cedar Shoals to be good. “Those guys are always very athletic, and very good basketball players,” Morris said. “I would say they’re definitely the favorites, and the rest of us have got to figure out who’s going to step up. I think it will be a very balanced region.” The rest of the region includes Chestatee, East Hall, Flowery Branch, Madison County and North Oconee.
•Goals: The Dragons have played for a region champion for three-straight years under Morris, winning last year’s 8-AAA title, and have reached the state tournament three years in a row. Morris said as good as last year’s team was, the goal was never to win a state championship. “The goal always is, first, you want to win the region championship,” he said, “then get into the state tournament and just see what happens.”