Photo by Derrick Mahone
Jonesboro Lady Cardinals coach Lamar Harris (right) is looking for big things out of rising junior Michaelle Smith.
JONESBORO — The parallel between Jonesboro girls and boys basketball is striking. Both teams enjoyed deep, experienced rosters over the last two seasons, which consequently led to extended runs into the state tournament.
Both were led by a capable ‘Big Three.’ For coach Dan Maehlman’s boys it was Patrick Petty, Cameron Sutton and Duby Okeke. For coach Lamar Harris’ girls, its was Kimberly Dawkins, Briana Benson and Victoria Florence.
Both squads also enjoyed strong play from a bench mixture that included seasoned upperclassmen and scrappy freshmen and sophomores.
And both bunches are finding themselves having to find new standouts, as both teams witnessed heavy graduation loss.
For Harris, eight seniors have graduated, leaving him with a lot of raw, untested talent that’s getting a lot thrown at them in the summertime.
“We’ve had a pretty good month of June,” Harris said. “It’s looking real good. Our girls are committed. They’re ready to take the lead and they feel like they’ve been ready for a while. It’s not like we’re asking them to step up to the plate. They’re real confident.”
They also need a break, according to the second-year head coach.
The Lady Cardinals are doing what many basketball clubs like to do during the summer — play lots and lots of basketball against lots of different teams.
Instead of playing in the popular Clayton State summer league, Harris took Jonesboro on a tour that brought them to summer leagues at Mays High and Ben Hill Recreation Center in Atlanta, where they just finished this week. They also took part in the Swan High summer league in the spring, and left undefeated.
That stint alone has comprised of almost 30 games, not counting practices and scrimmages. For that reason, Harris says forget Georgia High School Association’s dead week next week, which bans any organized team practices and games for the week.
The Cardinals are looking forward to dead month.
“They’re tired,” said Harris, whose first Lady Cardinals team finished 26-3, losing in heartbreaking fashion to eventual state champion Columbia in the Class AAAA semifinals.
“They saw a championship slip through their fingers last year. And they didn’t just see it, but they were apart of it,” he said. “In a way that’s a good thing because they’re working hard because they want to get back there again.”
Though young, the talent in Jonesboro’s cupboard is substantial. Rising sophomore Victoria Sutton — sister of Cameron Sutton — has “a high basketball IQ,” according to Harris. She showed well in several games last season, especially on the defensive side.
Then there’s rising junior Michaelle Smith. The 5-foot-11 forward saw increased minutes as the 2012-13 season went on. Harris said her expanding perimeter game should make her even tougher to guard.
After the month of July break, Harris said it’s back to the weight room for the Lady Cardinals. And though nothing is mandatory for the rest of the month, Harris said he won’t be surprised to see a few stray players come around for some extra work.
“I’ll open the gym during the weeks anyway,” he said. “But it’s nothing mandatory. They can come shoot and get a workout in. They can’t say they won’t have a gym to go to. I mean this summer is where it starts. This is where you build that camarderie and polish up the weaker areas.”