Ea­gles raise their game

East­side off to 4-0 start af­ter play­off run

The Covington News - - SPORTS - BRYAN FAZIO bfazio@cov­news.com

In a county where New­ton High is a peren­nial play­off team and Al­covy reached the elite eight last sea­son, East­side has been the odd-team out in the re­gion’s boys bas­ket­ball scene.

How­ever, things ap­pear to be chang­ing as the 2012-13 sea­son is un­der way.

East­side is off to its best start ever with four straight wins, head­ing into Satur­day’s matchup at Mon­roe Area, which ended af­ter press time.

“It feels good,” East­side coach Gre­gory Free­man said. “How long has it been since East­side has been a de­cent bas­ket­ball pro­gram? Th­ese guys be­lieve in them­selves be­cause they’ve worked hard.

“They play in the shadow of a cou­ple of good pro­grams here in Al­covy and New­ton but our guys are pretty good.”

Since Free­man took over at East­side prior to the 2011-12 sea­son, the Ea­gles have been work­ing harder in prac­tices than they had be­fore, and have changed the style of their play from find­ing one or two play­ers to score to mov­ing the ball around to each player.

Those new habits, cou­pled with a pos­i­tive end to the pre­vi­ous sea­son, have led East­side to an av­er­age vic­tory of 10 points per game.

“The be­lief among (our play­ers) is that they are a good bas­ket­ball team.”

East­side started 201112 los­ing seven of its first nine games, but fin­ished win­ning four straight to­ward the end, and then ad­vanced to the semi­fi­nals of the Re­gion 4-AAA tour­na­ment, earn­ing a bid

into the post­sea­son.

The Ea­gles lost in the re­gion tour­na­ment to Drew, which went on to play for the state cham­pi­onship, be­fore beat­ing Henry County 69-64 in the first round of the state play­offs, set­ting the stage for this year.

“That def­i­nitely was a spring­board for this year,” Free­man said. “In the play­off game, we led for most of that game and we should have ad­vanced, but we had some un­for­tu­nate calls that didn’t go our way.

"Now they un­der­stand what play­off bas­ket­ball is.”

This sea­son, the Ea­gles have been treat­ing each game like it’s a play­off game, putting all their ef­forts into all 32 min­utes. That at­ti­tude starts in prac­tice, where East­side has both lived up to Free­man’s ex­pec­ta­tions and im­pressed him.

“None of our prac- tices are prac­tices where the kids get to go in and shoot layups, we’re on the grind ev­ery day,” Free­man said. “(Fri­day) in prac­tice, they were mov­ing the ball like an NBA team. It was fly­ing all over the place.”

That kind of work has trans­lated into games, where the Ea­gles are mostly over­matched on size, but have, thus far, been over­match­ing teams on ef­fort. Against Henry County, on Tues­day, the Warhawks went into a zone de­fense against East­side, which went to a man-cut­ting of­fense, push­ing past Henry County un­til it switched back to man-to-man de­fense.

“I’m try­ing to get them to un­der­stand that in or­der for us to really do some dam­age this year, and for us to go far, that I be­lieve we have the makeup of a group that is go­ing to be bet­ter than most peo­ple think we are,” Free­man said.

That has been ev­i­dent up to this point, start- ing with a 57-49 win over Her­itage, fol­lowed by a 61-48 vic­tory over Green County and an im­pres­sive 62-48 win over Class AAAAAA Al­covy.

Lead­ing to the Ea­gles’ success has been the strong work ethic and the abil­ity to be un­selfish. Free­man said he feels that each mem­ber of East­side’s 12-man ro­ta­tion has the abil­ity to score and de­fend, which is lead­ing to open bas­kets.

Cur­rently, the open shots have fallen into the hands of Quin­dar­rious Rus­sell, whom Free­man be­lieves is lead­ing the state in scor­ing with 28.7 points per game prior to Satur­day.

Rus­sell scored 32 points Tues­day, af­ter net­ting 31 against Green County Nov. 27.

“He has emerged,” Free­man said. “It’s what we do — our of­fense; it is pred­i­cated for our perime­ter guys to get clean looks. He gets clean looks and he knocks them down.”

Rus­sell is just one of sev­eral guys on the East­side squad who has stepped up in 2012-13 as it con­tin­ues to im­prove.

“We have three le­git­i­mate guys who can score and some guys off the bench who play with en­ergy,” Free­man said. “Last year, they didn’t really un­der­stand the team con­cept they had been brought up in a sys­tem where one guy is go­ing to get the ball.”

It showed Tues­day night, with East­side mak­ing more di­ag­o­nal passes and mov­ing the ball one ex­tra time. The Ea­gles have three more games and two tour­na­ments be­fore start­ing subre­gion play against Mon­roe Area on Jan. 8 but ap­pear to be on their way to a suc­cess­ful run to­ward an­other post­sea­son bid.

“We work on be­ing bet­ter ev­ery day,” Free­man said. “If they mas­tered some­thing, we’ve got some­thing else to work on and then go back to what they’ve mas­tered.”

An­thony Banks /The Cov­ing­ton News

Treyvon Fran­cis rises for a shot against Al­covy re­cently, one of East­side’s four wins in as many games to start the sea­son.

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