The mantra is simple, “We’re here.”
With just four games left in the regular season, it is also true.
The Eastside boys’ basketball team has arrived among the top teams in Region 8-AAAA. And today they will see if they can make it to the top.
The Eagles are one of two unbeaten teams in region play, and travel to the other unbeaten, Johnson, today for a battle to be the league’s top seed.
Eastside has a chance to reach the state playoffs for the second straight year and just the third in the last eight seasons. Also, with a 12-4 record, the Eagles have clinched a winning season for the second straight year and just the third time since the 2005-06 season.
With a past that includes six straight losing seasons before coach Greg Freeman took over before the 2011-12 season, Eastside has also been playing for respect.
“It seems like every time we play, we play for respect, because they’ve been the other guys for so long,” Freeman said. “We know we’re not supposed to be here but guess what? We’re here.”
The Eagles are no longer playing like the other guys but are coming up with their own identity, winning all five of their region games.
Today they will try to go from other guys to region leaders, going on the road to try to earn a No. 1 seed.
“I told my guys to relish the chance to go into someone else’s place and beat them,” Freeman said. “All you have to do is look at the NFL playoffs; it doesn’t really matter to me where you play as long as you play well and do the things you’re coached to do.
“We had a year when I thought we should have won every game we played, with the exception of when we were missing kids," he said.
The Eagles have reached a 12-4 record on their athleticism and the gaudy statistics of Quindarrius Russell and Treyvon Francis.
Russell is among Region 8-AAAA’s leaders in points scored with 19.4 a game, while Francis is Class AAAA’s top assist man with 9.9 per game, according to maxpreps.com.
With Russell scoring in bunches early in the year, opposing teams have focused on him, leaving others, such as Jamal Hardge and Justin Adams, to pick up the scoring.
Eastside showed that strength of balance in Tuesday’s win over Stephens County with five Eagles in double figures. Anthony Henderson led the way with 18 points, followed by Adams and Treyvon Francis with 13 apiece and Hardge and Russell with 11 each.
That is the type of balance Freeman hopes can lead to a win over the athletic Johnson Knights.
“They’ve got a 6-foot-6 kid who’s supposed to be pretty good, and they’re guards are pretty good,” Freeman said. “It’s going to be a test.”
Freeman hopes Russell can overcome that test with a good game, as well as the physical play of Chavis Williams, who stepped up to a similar challenge last season, guarding 6-10 Desmond Ringer of Eagles Landing, who will play at South Carolina next year.
“He’ll accept that challenge,” Freeman said. “I’m worried about us getting into our flow. I know they’re going to be playing with a lot of confidence playing at home. We have to come out and understand it’s a different gym, but all gyms are alike.