East Jackson High School put together and hosted a highly impressive, first-ever 8-AAA basketball media day that included round table discussions with each team, video interviews, and radio interviews. The top players and the coaches from each school were invited to attend along with local media outlets that cover those schools. It was a first-class event and an opportunity to meet and get an in-depth and personal view from the boys’ and girls’ perspectives as well as the region coaches. It was an outstanding way to kick off the 2017-18 basketball season that cranks up in less than two weeks for the Bulldog squads.
The Lady Dogs were represented by juniors Lou Reid and Amanda Powell along with senior Morgan Walker. Head Coach Josh Reeves introduced his attendees with these words, “We’ve got two holdovers from the state championship team in Lou and Morgan along with newcomer Amanda Powell. These three players will make up a big part of our team this year and provide a lot of leadership.” He described Powell (a transfer from Athens Christian) as an aggressive addition that shoots it well, has a high skill set and is working into the offense and game plan. “She leads by example and plays good defense, but we’ve never had the full team around her so we’ll see how that goes. She’s definitely capable of starting for us,” Reeves commented.
Morgan’s MO the past several seasons has been to pressure the ball from end-to-end and push the tempo. This year’s issue may be the quickest and fastest we’ve seen. “We may end up with a four-guard set most of the time this year. With Aris (Hubbard) in the middle as the fifth starter, we’ll be a faster team this year. She’s a track star. We’re still looking to see who’s ready to step up and be in that second group of our rotation. We are at our best when we press the whole game and interchange parts. The young girls, and especially our sophomore group, are solid so we’ll be happy if they can move in on cue without missing a beat.”
The ‘Bigs’ that are returning include Jamie Puckett and Neshay Cobb along with Hubbard. The coach feels he has a nice mix of athleticism and great pieces, particularly on defense, to do a lot of different things inside. “We’ll play a lot of games early to try and figure things out before we go into some very tough region play,” he said.
The players agreed with their coach about the positives going into the season. Reid said, “Practice is going good and everybody is working hard to get in shape. We lost some good players, but we’ll probably do better this year with our quickness and depth. I think our strengths will be our guards and rebounding inside.” The Lady Dogs will try to replace some vital parts from another Region Championship team in 2016-17 like Tat Davis, Autumn Woodard, Sarah Couch, Selena Fortune, Alisha Ellis, and others. They will look to make this their fifth straight season as region winners.
Walker will play a role this season as a combo guard with her versatility. Asked what she sees that role as, she answered, “I think my role this year will be to get in there and help out where I can with assisting and taking some good shots. Defense will be important so we’ll see how it goes.” Powell says she’s adjusting to her new teammates well. “It’s good here. I play with Lou in travel ball and I like the up-and-down style of play. Last year we slowed things down, but Coach Reeves plays fast like we play in travel ball.”
Most of the teams represented said Morgan, along with Franklin and Hart are probably the preseason frontrunners for 8-AAA’s Region Championship. However, there’s new blood in the head coaching seats at Franklin, East Jackson, and Monroe Area so it should be interesting to see how things pan out.
The Morgan boys are hands-down the team to beat…again. Coming off four straight trips to the State Championship Finals where they have won two and lost two, the Bulldogs will once more be a team to watch out for on the state level. They have won six straight 8-AAA Championships and haven’t lost a regular season region contest in five years. Plus, they return several key players from last year’s state runner-up squad. Three names to watch will be juniors Alec Woodard, Stevin Green, and Tyrin (Ty/Spank) Lawrence. Woodard returns as Morgan’s leading scorer followed closely by Lawrence. The shooting guard tandem will be part of one of the most dynamic backcourts in the state this season. Green made his presence known a year ago in a starting and/or sixth man role at the point guard position. His explosiveness on the court gives him the ability to penetrate defenses and at times light it up from outside. Another name we are all familiar with is senior Anthony Cooper who is at the time becoming a human highlight reel for the gridiron Dogs. His acrobatic touchdown catches have been one of the main reasons the football team just notched another Region Championship into their belt. He’s a demon on the basketball floor as well. The high-flying senior returns with his style of all-out hustle, thunder dunks, blocked shots, and rebounds.
Head coach Jamond Sims’ group may be the team to beat, but you wouldn’t know it by talking with him. “This is a very humble group of guys with a team-first mentality. Sometimes they may be a little too unselfish. Any of these three can score 15-20 every night, but they probably turn down more good shots than they take.” It’s a team-oriented group that is fun to watch.
Woodard was the first to say it, “We had three big senior losses, but we want to continue where we left off at…playing for a state championship. We’d like to make it back there for five straight, play for it again, and win it this time.” Woodard was a starting guard as a freshman on the 2015-16 State Champs. “Practice is going good, but we have to play it day-by day. I need to be a leader and we need to get better defensively. That’s what we feed off of. Transition baskets, turnovers, and defense. My job is to be aggressive offensively so I can help set up the rest of my teammates,” he commented.
Green echoed some of his teammate’s thoughts. “I want to be better defensively, be a better playmaker, and shoot more consistently. We were disappointed to lose in the finals last year and we’re hungry to get back. We’ll run a lot and use our transition to get some easy baskets. I don’t want to be in the group that breaks any of those streaks.” Lawrence went on to say, “Losing three seniors means the three of us have to become the leaders. Our goal is to get better every day at practice and see where it takes us. My goal is to be a better defender. They say I can’t play defense so I’m out to prove them wrong.”
The boys will mix up their man and zone defense according to Sims. “We may have to play a little more zone early until the football team finishes their run, but we’ll play the schedule out with the five or six varsity guys we have. We’ll just have to fill in the gaps by giving some JV players the opportunity to show us what they can do as we get their minds ready for the future. It will be good for them and the program.” Several key players are still involved with football.
The Bulldogs open up on November 12 with a scrimmage at Warner Robbins with the girls playing a number of regular season games starting on November 19 at Greenbrier. The boys will not open until the 29th with a home contest against Jefferson.