Photo By Gabriel Stovall
Incoming freshman James Walker, Jr. (left) and rising junior Paul Sellers look to make an immediate impact this season for defending region champion North Clayton.
The post-Marcus Hunt era has begun at North Clayton this summer.
This summer was the first in four years that the defending region champion Eagles will be without one of the most decorated players in school history. The former all-state player is now enrolled at nearby Georgia Tech.
Although the Eagles will miss the two-time Clayton County Player of the Year, coach Martisse Troup says enough pieces will be in place for the Eagles to pursue an encore performance.
Last season’s accomplishments included the team’s first region championship in 18 years and a Final Four appearance, its first in six seasons.
“We’re real excited about what we have coming back and we’ve already been playing really well even during the summer,” Troup said. “We’ve lost some parts, but we also have some upcoming seniors and new faces emerging as well. The summer league really gives us a picture of where we are.”
Troup said the team has won 30 of its 40 summer league contests.
Perhaps no newcomer will be as intriguing as forward James Walker, Jr.
The versatile incoming freshman from Rex Middle School has the length and size of an effective wing or post player combined with the quickness and ball-handling skills of a shooting guard.
And yes, the 6-foot-5 Walker is already drawing comparisons to the departed Hunt.
“I think skill wise, he’s a little better even than Marcus was at this same point in his career,” Troup said. “You don’t get too many freshman who come ready to start, but James is that kind of player. He’s been contributing 12 to 15 points a game for us in the summer already. He’s just a great kid who loves the game of basketball.”
There is always a danger that such lofty comparisons could cause a young player to rattle himself with unrealistic expectations.
Good thing for Walker he doesn’t do comparisons.
“I don’t put myself up against other players and all that stuff,” Walker said. “I just play with intensity, always work hard, and like coach Troup says, I don’t let myself be pushed around just because I’m a freshman.”
While it’s easy to emphasize the void Hunt left for the Eagles to fill, other important cogs — six in all — from the last season’s roster were subtracted by graduation. Among them is point guard Dionte Agard who steadied North Clayton with his senior leadership when the Eagles played its best ball down the stretch.
Troup said he is depending on rising sophomores Tracy Hector, Reginald Scurry and Malik Young as well as rising junior Paul Sellers — all standouts on North Clayton’s junior varsity squad — to contribute right away.
As for scoring and senior leadership, Troup gives the nod of confidence to guard Stafan Bradley. And Bradley said he is not diluting expectations because of the seeming absence of star power.
“I actually think we can go further this year than last year if we work hard and bring more intensity on the court,” said Bradley, who averaged about 16 points a game last season. “Different people are just going to have to step up and give more to there roles and positions.”
And for Troup, that means more team play — especially on the defensive end.
“Sometimes when Marcus was on it would be easy to kind of just look for Marcus,” Troup said. “But now, we have to play team defense, get out on transitions and on offense, move the ball around and just come together in order to be successful. It’s defense that wins championships, and that’s how it’s going to be with us.”
Troup made it clear that his team’s goal is to defend their region crown despite having to encounter some unfamiliar foes due to the Georgia High School Association’s bi-annual region reclassification. Teams like Eagle’s Landing — arguably one of the Southern Crescent area’s best teams — will provide new challenges for North Clayton.
“We’re going into this season as defending region champs, regardless of what region we’re in,” Troup said. “We know it’s going to be a dogfight and we know we’re going to have to work hard to get there. But our team is excited and hungry to do it.”