Eastside travels to Cairo
Eagles move to new Region
Eastside’s 2009 basketball season had its fair share of ups and downs. The Eagles finished 10-16 overall but at 5-4 in Region 8-AAA had a wining record in league play and made the state playoffs.
“I thought we had a better year than I anticipated we would with the amount of kids we graduated the year before,” Eastside coach Michael Gerald said. “The kids really made a difference when they had to make a difference. They continued to believe in what we were doing. Obviously you wish you could have won more games but the goal at the end is to put yourself in position to make the state tournament. You want to be playing your best basketball when it counts.”
Eastside lost to state champion Columbia in a spirited effort. The Eagles were within four points in that game late before Columbia finished the game on a run to dispatch Eastside in the opening round. With the 2010 season here, what are Eastside’s chances of returning to the playoffs and perhaps beyond?
Eastside lost its leading scorer and rebounder in Jhaustin Thomas who transferred to Columbia over the summer. Ironically it was Thomas who played so well in the state tournament game at Columbia against the eventual state champs. Now, Eastside will have to fill the void left after Thomas played the past two years for the Eagles.
“It’s tough but in this day an age, it can happen to anyone,” Gerald said. “If we lived in Atlanta, you could have a player one day that’s gone another. You could have a player who has six friends who play AAU ball
together and the next year, he’s gone. That’s unfortunately the way it is. I could sit here and feel sorry for my program but you can’t you have to work with what you have and continue to work hard.”
Without Thomas, Eastside suddenly goes from a team with a legitimate inside presence to a smaller group who will rely on several players including Sheldon Rankins to make up for the loss.
“We’re going to have to rely on a number of different people,” Gerald said. “When you don't have Jhaustin, you don’t have that one person that stabilizes inside play on offense or defense.” Gerald said. “It’ll be an adjustment. We’ll have to change our scheme a little bit. We’ll use as many people as we can afford to use and hopefully with the kids we play in that role, we’ll get the job done.”
Eastside moves to a new region for the third time in four years. After playing teams are far north as Elberton the past two years as a part of Region 8-AAA, the Eagles are now a part of Region 4-AAA. The traveling will certainly be easier for Eastside. You can’t say that about the competition.
“Anytime you can shorten your travel by and hour or an hour and a half, that’ll benefit you in the long run,” Gerald said. “I know there will be some good basketball teams (in the new region). I don’t know a whole lot about them. But I think Henry County, Eagles Landing, Spalding and Stockbridge — they'll all be good teams. These teams have done well in the past. I think this region is as good if not better than what we're coming out of. We’ll have to come ready to play every night.”
If Eastside is going to compete for a playoff seed, the Eagles will have to be more consistent. That may be easier said than done. Only three players return with any significant varsity experience.
“We’d like to get off to a good start and from there it’s about consistency,” Gerald said. “You have to play at a certain level night in and night out and when you don’t play at that level — if you take a night off, you might not do well against a team that at least on paper, you should do well against. We have a young team; therefore, we have the tendency to not fully understand what’s at hand. But still, I’m telling these kids if they are going to play at this level, you have to play a certain way every night and give yourself a chance to win regardless of who you are playing.”
Whether or not Eastside can make a run will be dependent on how quickly the players come together. They won’t have much time to waste. Three of the Eagles' first five games are against rivals Alcovy, Newton and Heritage from the Region 8-AAAA days and Eastside opens region play against Henry County in just its third game.
“We have a lot of young guys,” Gerald said. “We hope that they continue to work hard and maybe we can catch a break here or there and try to be ready at the end of the year when they playoffs come around. That’s our goal. We hope to be playing our best at the end of the season, and if can make it in the playoffs, everyone starts with a clean record. Anything can happen.”