COVINGTON, Ga. — Alcovy boys basketball has a new freshman tandem that is already making waves on the court.
Andre Jernigan and Jakori Pinelle were both selected by head coach Mack Hardwick during the offseason to make the jump from the middle school hoops scene straight to varsity.
Pinelle and Jernigan have both stepped up in big spots to make plays against more experienced teams, proving that they both belong at the varsity level. Their impact is felt on both sides of the court, too.
“[We are] extremely impressed,” Hardwick said. “They came straight from middle school, so we wanted to put some chemistry in them by putting them in three fall leagues. That gave them a sense for the varsity speed and adjustment.”
The jump to playing varsity as freshmen presents challenges for many, but Pinelle and Jernigan felt they were well equipped.
“[When we made the jump], people were bigger than us, and we had to develop each other and [with the] team to get ready,” Pinelle said. “[The preparation] was rocky at first, but we came up and we were ready to play as varsity players.”
Pinelle and Jernigan have taken their coaches by surprise in different ways.
Jernigan has adopted a scorer’s mentality, and it has shown in the stat book as the Tigers’ third-leading scorer.
On the other hand, Pinelle has stepped up to be a cornerstone on the defensive end of the floor.
Hardwick pointed to how the duo, with their different strengths, feed off each other in order to add value to the entire team. Alcovy (6-10, 3-2 in Region 3-AAAAAA) is off to its best region start through the first five region games since the 2019-20 season.
“[Jernigan] can shoot. You have to respect his shot, but he can drive just as good as he shoots. [He] is not afraid to go inside the paint and float it over someone and finish with contact,” Hardwick said. “Do not get it twisted, [Pinelle] has a very nice offensive game as well. He can slash and attack and finish through contact, but I am most impressed with his defense.”
Pinelle pointed to his skillful offensive teammates, such as Kendarrius Spear and Nick Durham, as being integral toward helping him quickly refine his defensive tools.
“Being more of a defensive player, guarding Nick [Durham] and [Kendarrius] helped me develop more defense and to see how to move my feet more,” Pinelle said.
Meanwhile, for Jernigan, he’s had a desire to be on the court most of his life. Jernigan credited his family for helping him have the multifaceted offensive game he possesses today.
“[My love for the game] came from my family,” Jernigan said. “I grew up with it with my dad and my brothers, and they taught me.”
What stood out most to Hardwick about each freshman has nothing to do with their play on the court. It actually has to do with their intellect.
And it is that intellect that has caused Hardwick to help them develop even more.
“As they will tell you, I do not treat them like freshmen,” Hardwick said. “Mentally, both of them are very reserved, meaning they can have a huge chip on their shoulder because they are freshmen, but they are very humble, hardworking young men.”
That is one of the top reasons why Hardwick was convinced early on that Pinelle and Jernigan would skyrocket to the varsity level.
The careers for Pinelle and Jernigan are just getting started, too. With three-and-a-half years yet to play, Hardwick is hopeful both players can become some of Alcovy’s best.
“The fact they are playing as freshmen at the varsity level, when they get to junior and senior year, I expect it to be extremely easy for them, maybe child’s play,” Hardwick said. “I could not ask for two better blessings. They will be the future of Alcovy.”