Photo by Derrick Mahone
Jonesboro junior guard Pat Petty talks with coach Dan Maehlman as the fourth-ranked Cardinals hold their final practice before taking on top-ranked Miller Grove on Wednesday in the Class AAAA semifinals.
Sharman White doesn’t personally know any of the Jonesboro players, but the Miller Grove coach has gotten a good feel for the Cardinals personnel as he studied film.
White’s assessment is that the Cardinals guard trio of Daniel Peace, Pat Petty and Cameron Sutton are a close-knit group that plays with a lot of confidence.
“The thing that you can see about them is that they really trust each other,” said White, whose team faces Jonesboro tonight in the Class AAAA semifinals. “They are definitely going to be tough.”
Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman says that is a pretty adequate assessment.
Jonesboro vs. Miller Grove
When, where: Today, 8:30 p.m., at Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Records, rankings, seeding: Jonesboro is 26-4, ranked No. 4 in Class AAAA and the No. 2 seed from Region 4-AAAA; Miller Grove is 22-6, ranked No. 1 and the No. 1 seed from Region 6.
How they got here: Jonesboro defeated Griffin (52-40), Brunswick (55-51) and Lovejoy (58-49); Miller Grove defeated New Manchester (83-35), Loganville (74-29) and Marist (60-51).
What to look for: How Jonesboro center Chukedubem “Duby” Okeke, a 6-foot-7 junior, does against Miller Grove’s Tony Parker, an All-American center. Jonesboro will need for its guards to control the tempo and hit big shots.
“If you were to look at our film from last year, you could not say that,” Maehlman said. “These kids have complete confidence in themselves and each other. I know they will step up on the big stage. Throughout the season, we have been down, but this team has never given up.”
The fourth-ranked Cardinals will bring that same type of attitude and then some as they face top-ranked Miller Grove, the three-time defending state champion.
“Guard play is huge, especially at this point in the playoffs,” Maehlman said. “Not only guard play, but good guard play.”
And that is something the Cardinals have been getting from Peace, Petty and Sutton. The junior trio spearheaded Jonesboro’s comeback win against Lovejoy in the quarterfinal round. Sutton hit a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter to give the Cardinals the lead for good as they overcame a 19-point deficit.
The players say their closeness off the court has transitioned well on the court.
“We know each other well,” Sutton said. “We know each other’s tendencies. It definitely helps on the court. We know what to do in certain situations.”
They started playing together in the ninth grade on the same AAU team. Each went to a different middle school, but knew of each other.
“We know that we can count on each other,” Petty said. “We have a close bond.”
While some would give Jonesboro little chance against a Miller Grove team that features Georgia signee Brandon Morris and McDonald’s All-American center Tony Parker, one of the top recruited players in the country, White said he is not underestimating the Cardinals.
“I know coach Maehlman, and I know Jonesboro will be ready,” White said. “He has a fantastic team that will have that never-say-die attitude. Those guys trust each other, and they are going to be tough.”
Miller Grove will enter the game on a 14-game winning streak with its last loss coming against Chamblee. The Wolverines have played a national schedule, which included losses to powerhouse Oak Hill Academy on national television, and Simeon of Illinois.
At one point, the Wolverines lost five straight games to drop out of the national rankings.
White said that tough stretch of losses made his team a lot stronger.
“It hasn’t been real easy for us record-wise,” White said. “We have lost some games in the last moments of the game. This team has stuck together and overcame that adversity. We knew coming into the season that we had a large bull’s-eye on us. It is not easy being the hunted.”