By Jeffery Armstrong
Make no mistake about it: LaTreace Johnson, senior forward on the No. 1-ranked Jonesboro High girls basketball team, really wants to beat Mt. Zion tonight.
"I don't care if we were ranked No. 1 or ranked No. 276, I want us to beat Mt. Zion every time we play them," Johnson said.
Johnson and the rest of her teammates will get their chance tonight when they face their cross town rivals in their first game as the new No. 1 team in the state in Class AAAA in this week's gasports.net poll. Game time is set for 7 p.m. at Jonesboro High.
"It's unbelievable that we're No. 1 in the whole state. I mean, we're just regular ol' people trying to play some basketball," Johnson said. "That type of stuff just doesn't happen around here."
Johnson believes her 7-0 team is finally getting the respect it deserves after a few years of playing solid basketball.
"I think we've been this good for a while now. But when people saw that we were winning games for the third year in a row, they finally realized that we're no fluke," she said.
Johnson said the team has even more motivation than usual to defeat Region 5-AAAA foe Mt. Zion in front of their home crowd this season. Last year, Mt. Zion came to Jonesboro's gym and whipped the Lady Cardinals, ending Jonesboro's long home winning streak.
"I don't know what happened to us in that game," she said. "We just didn't play well at all."
Jonesboro has been playing well this year, even as the injury bug has hit the team pretty hard. It's ironic that Jonesboro climbs to the top spot in the state, just as the team's three starting forwards, Johnson included, suffered injuries. Senior Sheena Brown and sophomore Jawanda Duffey were beset by injuries at the same time last week. Johnson, who's battled ankle injuries since the eighth grade, twisted her left ankle and had a painful blister on her left foot as well. It speaks to the effort and desire of Jonesboro players Shad? Smith, Jasmine Duffey, Kala Smith and others that they're able to keep winning without their key forwards. Sitting on the sidelines is not something the ultra-competitive Johnson likes to do. She really wants to play tonight, even though she expects limited minutes, and start by next Tuesday.
"I'll have to bust my butt and do whatever it takes to play," she said.
The Mt. Zion girls (4-3) are looking to rebound from their close home loss to Southwest DeKalb on Tuesday. The Lady Bulldogs must shoot better if they hope to defeat Jonesboro - they missed all 14 3-point attempts against SWD.
In other girls' action, Morrow will get its third chance to defeat a ranked Region 2-AAAAA opponent when it hosts the Riverdale Lady Raiders tonight at 7 p.m. Riverdale, undefeated at 4-0, moved into the No. 10 spot in Class AAAAA this week. Morrow (4-2) has lost to ranked region foes Stephenson (No. 1) and Redan (No. 4) so far this season and faces a Riverdale team tonight boosted by freshman Laura Broomfield, who scored 22 points in their win over Tri-Cities on Tuesday.
The North Clayton Lady Eagles will also face a state-ranked team tonight, hitting the road to play the No. 9 Stone Mountain Lady Pirates and junior standout player Angelique Gray, in Region 5-AAAA action at 5:30 p.m. Stone Mountain (4-2) is on a three-game win streak.
In boys' action, the North Clayton Eagles will try to put a loss on the sixth-ranked Stone Mountain Pirates tonight at 8:30 p.m. and the undefeated Morrow Mustangs (6-0) will look to improve to 7-0 as they host a young Riverdale Raiders team at 8:30 p.m. Morrow will try to lock down 6-foot-8 Riverdale sophomore center Gani Lawal, who's a threat for a double-double in each game. The "scrappy" game of the night will be the Mt. Zion Bulldogs at the Jonesboro Cardinals at 8:30 p.m., a contest featuring two teams that will do their best to outwork and outhustle opponents every night.
Other area games tonight include Forest Park at Washington at 5:30 p.m., Union Grove at Lovejoy at 6 p.m. and East Coweta at Mundy's Mill at 7 p.m.