The Eastside boys basketball team seems pretty optimistic about its chances of rebounding from a turbulent 2006-07 campaign, one that resulted in a 9-17 overall record (3-7 Region 8-AAAA, Sub-region B).
However, Eastside head coach Michael Gerald is leaning away from depending on one or two players. In his fourth year at the helm, he is holding firm on his philosophy of team play aimed at all of his returning players.
"I am trying not to keep the spotlight on one or two people," admitted Gerald. "I feel like this will really be a team effort this year."
Two key losses for the Eagles this season are 2006-07 All-County Player of the Year/All-Region Torrio Cook and Jamahl Maddox.
Cook, who now plays for Truett-McConnell, averaged 20.3 PPG last year, including a school record 45 points against Cedar Shoals. He dominated the headlines, and was the heart and soul of the team, on and off the court. In addition, he led the Eagles from the charity stripe (72 percent).
"Torrio did a lot for us last year," said Gerald. "We are looking forward toward the challenge without him. We are going to miss him, but his absence will free up some opportunity for some other people."
Maddox, who is now playing ball at Coastal Georgia Community College, averaged 8.5 PPG last season for the Eagles
This year the Eagles have three seniors and nine juniors returning.
Artis Clanton returns as Eastside's top scorer. The 6-foot-3 forward averaged 14.1 PPG last season, including 8.7 RPG and 1.5 BPG. Neal Latimore was a pleasant surprise last year, playing the post and wing positions for the Eagles. The 6-1 junior averaged 6.6 PPG.
Cameron Robinson (6-1 junior) averaged 5.2 PPG, while Jacorey Maddox (6-2 junior) returns with his steady and relentless defense. Rashad Hill (5-9 junior, 3.2 PPG) and Andrico Bailey (6-2 junior, 6.3 PPG) will also battle for the last three vacated spots.
"Right now we're still searching," said Gerald. "It's wide open; we can play 10 to 12 people (a game)."
The Eagles will focus on improving their motion offense and will play a much more aggressive zone defense due in part to the speed they possess. This helps create turnovers and capitalize on scoring off the fast break.
"Our defense has got to be our cornerstone," noted Gerald. "They (Clanton and Latimore) set the tone, but we are trying not to put it in one or two peoples' hands."
Eastside is also looking to improve its horrendous road record of 6-13. Yet the Eagles cannot afford to struggle in their initial games - like they did last year - only to be at the mercy of defending region champion Cedar Shoals (21-1), runner-up Alcovy (14-12), Rockdale County (13-8) and Heritage (13-11) come tournament time.
"It's going to be an interesting year," said Gerald. "Three teams have new coaches and players, but when it's all said and done we just want to be in the thick of this come playoff time."
The Eagles are looking to soar into the 2007-08 season with their first win to be in the mix at the end with a playoff berth.
"We are not comfortable with just mediocre," admitted Gerald. "This year we are striving to get better."
This season will not be the same as years before for the Eastside girls varsity basketball team.
The Lady Eagles (9-17 overall) are preparing to seek redemption this year with a fresh perspective on becoming more competitive, particularly in region play.
"This group that I have this year is probably the most athletic group that I've had," said Eastside third-year head coach Jason Grooms. "Hopefully, with the depth and added athleticism we will be able to matchup with some of these tougher teams that we're going to play."
Returning for the Lady Eagles is Ashley Burtts, who will be relied on heavily this season. The senior guard is the team's returning leading scorer with 10 PPG. She also led the team in steals.
In addition, Burtts had a game-high 23 points against Pope last season. Grooms is hoping for more performances such as that to help carry the team this year.
"She is very athletic," praised Grooms. "Ashley is one of our fastest girls (court-speed) and can play with anyone in our region."
Shay Shepard, a junior, is the team's leading rebounder and top defensive player. Ashley Crew (junior), along with freshman Jay Cook and Raven Williams, should also contribute for the Lady Eagles this season.
"I'm really excited about this group, but we still (have) a lot of work to do," said Grooms. "We are going to come out fighting. This is a scrappy group, so we'll see what happens."