When the Forest Park girls basketball team met the end of its season in the Class AAAA semifinals last spring, it was against a Southwest DeKalb team with a deep inventory of talent that allowed for multiple starting lineups.
Lady Panthers coach Steven Cole noticed. With Forest Park returning nearly its entire roster from last season, and adding some promising freshman, Cole wants that same versatility and depth of trust in his roster.
"I really admire (Southwest DeKalb coach Kathy Ritchey-Walton) and the way she subbed, because every week she had a different lineup. I think that takes a lot of guts as a coach," Cole said. "It showed she had a lot of trust in her players. I'm hoping to reach that point where she was."
Ten different players scored for No. 2-ranked Forest Park in a dominating 81-29 win at home over Jonesboro in a Region 4-AAAA game Friday. Junior guard Ashlee Cole led all scorers with 20 points, while Keyonna Allen had 17 points and 10 rebounds and Nikki Wilson added 10 points.
Those three were starters a year ago and remain the core of this season's team. But it's the pieces around those three that gives Forest Park (3-1, 2-0) a chance to return to the semifinals.
Freshman guard Kayla Potts, who led Adamson Middle School to the Clayton County championship game last season, started Friday night and displayed impressive shooting range (made her first two three-point attempts) and aggression on defense (had a game-high five steals). Junior Tamara Brewster came off the bench and scored 10 points.
Indeed, one-fourth of Forest Park's scoring came from reserves.
"Every coach knows it's hard to find playing time when you've got 12 to 15 girls," Steven Cole said. "Sometimes it's a juggling act, but when you've got a team with the right attitude and willing to play their roles, hopefully throughout the season I'll be able to figure it out."
Forest Park already figured out its identity as a defensive-minded team. Three nights ago, the Lady Panthers held Banneker to just five points.
Jonesboro (3-2, 1-1) reached that total early in the second quarter, but was confounded Forest Park's intense pressure defense throughout. Forest Park had 15 steals, held the Lady Cardinals to 33 percent shooting (9-of-27) and led 51-13 at halftime.
"Really, we don't hold back on anyone," Ashlee Cole said. "We come to play every game."
Jonesboro boys 50, Forest Park 41
Jonesboro sophomore Cameron Sutton made a crucial lay-up with 1:18 remaining to help the Cardinals overcome a lackluster performance in a Region 4-AAAA win Friday on the road.
"Cameron Sutton won us the game," Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman said. "His composure won us the game."
Sutton scored 15 points for Jonesboro (5-0, 2-0), while Rasham Suarez had 19 points, eight rebounds and seven assists and James White had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Malikki Priester had 14 points to lead Forest Park (1-1, 0-1).