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Young talent gives Jonesboro hope for a bright future

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Derrick Mahone

dmahone@news-daily.com

This will go down as one of the best season's in Jonesboro history after reaching the Final Four for the second time in the school's existence. The Cardinals finished the Class AAAAA runner-up in 2003 to powerhouse Wheeler.

In reaching this season's semifinals, Jonesboro won its last 16 straight games before a loss to second-ranked Miller Grove in the semifinals last Wednesday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.

It was definitely a season of growth for the Cardinals, who started three seniors and two sophomores.

Two-time region player of the year Rasham Suarez and James White, a pair of Div. I signees, and sophomore Cameron Sutton were the only three starters returning from a team that missed the state playoffs last season.

Forest Park transfer Jordan Enadeghe played the role of rebounder and defensive stopper.

The turning point in the season came in a 79-78 heartbreaking loss to region rival North Clayton. That was the last time the Cardinals lost before the Miller Grove game.

Jonesboro seemed to play with a chip on its shoulder after that loss. The Cardinals would later avenge that loss and an earlier loss to highly-ranked Lovejoy for the region championship.

With each win, the Cardinals seemed to be gathering the much needed confidence it had in making a long state tournament run with a group of eight sophomores.

Daniel Peace and Cameron Sutton seem poised to step into the scoring role that is being vacated by the graduation of Suarez. If sophomore center Chukedubem Okeke continues to develop, he should replace the inside presence of White.

Jonesboro analysis

This season: The Cardinals finished with a 28-4 record and won the Region 4-AAAA tournament championship. They also won the Tip-Off Championship at Parkview at the beginning of the season and was second in a tournament in Puerto Rico. Jonesboro had its 16-game winning streak snapped in the 65-52 loss to Miller Grove in the semifinals.

Who Jonesboro loses: Leading scorer and two-time Region 4-AAAA player of the year Rasham Suarez, along with Arkansas-Little Rock signee James White graduate. The Cardinals will also lose senior Jordan Enadeghe in the lineup. Myron Sallie gave the team some quality minutes off the bench in the post position.

Who's back: A pair of sophomores -- Patrick Petty and Cameron Sutton -- started for the Cardinals. During the postseason, when Sutton was nursing a knee injury, sophomore Daniel Peace emerged as a point guard. Alejandro Bennifield saw increased minutes in the later part of the season.

Looking ahead: Replacing leading scorers Suarez and White will be tough. However, the school's JV program won 14 games with a sophomore-laden roster. If Peace, Petty and Sutton continue to develop, the Cardinals are in good shape for the next couple seasons.

Sophomore big man Chukedubem Okeke should continue to improve to give the team an inside presence.

By the number: 20 - Average number of games the Cardinals have won each of the last six seasons.

Dan Maehlman says: "I'm proud of my kids. It was a heck of a year."