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Jonesboro basketball program has both boys, girls teams dreaming big this season

Photos by Derrick Mahone
Jonesboro point guard Daniel Peace is being counting to help lead the Cardinals back to the Class AAAA semifinals for a third straight season.

Photos by Derrick Mahone Jonesboro point guard Daniel Peace is being counting to help lead the Cardinals back to the Class AAAA semifinals for a third straight season.

Jonesboro basketball went 2-for-2 last season.

Two programs and two Final Four appearances in the state playoffs.

And now that the 2012-13 season is underway, with both the boys and girls teams returning a bevy of talent from last season, that makes two teams who are looking for more.

“Coming off last year’s success our expectations are high,” said Dan Maehlman who serves as both Jonesboro’s athletic director and head boys basketball coach. “From an athletic director’s standpoint, I couldn’t be more proud of not just our basketball programs, but every athletic program here at Jonesboro. It shows how hard our kids work over here academically and athletically as well.”

The Jonesboro boys have last season’s Final Four starting five back with two of those players — guards Patrick Petty and Cameron Sutton — set to re-join the team after their run through the state football playoffs is complete. Chukedubem “Duby” Okeke, Jonesboro’s 6-feet-8 senior center and Winthrop signee will anchor the middle for the Cardinals.

Meanwhile, the Lady Cardinals return their own complement of senior firepower in returning starters Briana Benson, center Kimberly Dawkins and sharp shooting guard Victoria Florence.

Benson averaged 15.7 points a game for Jonesboro last season while earning first-team all-Southern Crescent guard and the 6-feet-1 Dawkins averaged a double-double. Senior Ashley Hand will join the starting lineup and senior Raven Wynn, a Forest Park transfer, will add backcourt depth.

What it means is that both teams not only share common goals in winning state championships, but they also share a common desire to help each other along.

“Both of our programs, between boys and girls basketball, are really tight,” Maehlman said. “Every night both teams want to come home with a win. If the girls aren’t playing very well, our guys don’t just sit back. They step up and encourage them to fight whatever adversity, and vice versa.”

Said Petty: “It’s a real good thing for us both to be good like that. But it’s a hard thing too because it puts the bull’s-eye on our backs. Everybody wants to beat us.”

Senior point guard Daniel Peace said the shared success causes the teams to do the extra that it takes to keep tabs on each other. Peace said his team always watches the first half of the girls game and the girls usually stick around for the boys.

And because they share the same sport, it gives them an educated perspective from which they can help each other both on and off the court.

“We both have experience out there and we both know what’s going on,” Peace said. “So we can kind of talk to each other about what we saw that could’ve or should’ve happened. It’s a good situation.”

Benson agreed.

“It feels good because we both support each other on and off the court,” she said. “We hang out with each other and both support each other for the same tasks.”

New head coach Lamar Harris hasn’t been at Jonesboro long, but he saw enough over the last few years as an assistant with Drew girls basketball to give him insight on the tight-knit nature of Jonesboro basketball.

“They have the right attitude,” Harris said. “They’re like a big family around here. They push each other and they don’t want to see each other get down. It’s easy to coach in an atmosphere like that.”

One other thing the two teams share is a dissatisfaction with how they finished last season.

When asked if the expectation was for a return trip to the Final Four, Benson quickly objected.

“We’re going to go all the way this year,” she said.

Same for the boys, Petty said.

“We’re not trying to go back to the Final Four,” he said. “We want a state championship.”