By Jeffery Armstrong
The Jonesboro Cardinals basketball team advanced to the 2002-03 state AAAAA finals with a combination of talented starters, a deep bench and tremendous heart. The Cardinals lost the state championship game to the Wheeler Wildcats, but that didn't take away from a season in which the Cardinals went 27-6, easily the greatest boys basketball season in school history.
As the Cardinals hit the court tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Eagle's Landing High for their first game of the 2003-04 season, expectations are high for the Cardinals to make their third straight state playoff berth.
And when you field a team starring senior all-star shooting guard Toney Douglas, there should be high expectations. But are the Cardinals good enough to be ranked No. 10 in the state after losing so many talented seniors?
"This is going to be an interesting year. We lost a very talented nucleus of players," said Jonesboro head coach Mack Cain. "We're ranked high in the preseason, but this is a totally different team than last year's squad. They've got to find they're own identity."
Cain said the Cardinals can get back to the state tournament, but there are a lot of question marks surrounding his team.
Some areas the Cardinals are concerned with include who will handle the point guard play, who will help take the scoring burden off Douglas and who will step up off the Cardinals' bench.
One thing Jonesboro doesn't have to worry about is the play of the sharp-shooting Douglas, who has signed to play at Auburn University next year. The News Daily 2002-03 Player of the Year averaged 28.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game last season and he is recognized as one of the state's premier players.
"In my opinion, Toney is the best shooting guard in the state," Cain said. "I said last year that he's the only player I've ever given the green light to shoot in all my years of coaching."
Another returning starter is senior post player Darrell Robertson, a 6-foot-5 center who plays hard, blocks shots and gets key rebounds, Cain said.
Two players Cain hopes will help the Cardinals compete for region and state titles this year will be seniors Jamal Lewis and Kenny Harris. Both players came off the bench last season, but will most likely start in 2003. Cain feels Lewis will perform well, but he's really high on the improvements Harris, who transferred to Jonesboro from Delaware, has made since last year.
"Kenny just didn't seem to catch on to what we were doing last year, but he's really done well this summer," Cain said. "He's worked really hard n in fact, he's worked the hardest over the summer. He has the potential to go to the next level."
Freshman Brandon Lucas was slated to start the season at point guard, but his debut will be delayed due to a fractured collarbone he suffered playing football this year. Juniors Harold Walker and Xavius Benjamin will also be counted on to help the Cardinals this season.