Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman gives junior guard Deantre Mack some instructions during a recent practice as the team prepared for the upcoming season. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)
JONESBORO — On paper, it looks as if Jonesboro is headed for a rebuilding season.
And that is to be expected when you graduate your top scorers and rebounders from a year ago. Throw in the fact that nine experienced seniors that played in a pair of Class AAAA semifinals are gone, the rebuilding word seems appropriate.
But hold off any weeping for coach Dan Maehlman and his Cardinals squad.
The Region 4-AAAA runners-up will not be completely starting from stratch this season. Jonesboro might be young, but there is some talent among its roster.
Junior Deantre Mack is the lone returning player with a lot of playing time from a year ago. He averaged 6.7 points and 2.2 rebounds in 28 games last season.
Now, he is being asked to be more of a leader with a young squad.
“This year, my role is to be a leader,” Mack said. “I’ve got to step up and be that leader that the rest of the team will follow. We got to keep Jonesboro basketball up. I’m not going to say that we are too young, because everybody on this team is on the same page.”
Big expectations are placed on freshman James “MJ” Walker, Jr., who transferred from Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, where he was reclassified in his grade. Prior to spending a year at SACA, a Class A private school that produced current NBA all-star Dwight Howard, Walker was a standout at Rex Mill.
He lead the team to the Clayton County Middle School championship.
“He is going to be an immediate impact player for us,” Maehlman said. “Talent wise, these types of players don’t come around every day. There is a lot expected of him this season.”
And so far, he has shown that the preseason hype is legit.
In the Cardinals’ 60-56 loss to McEachern over the weekend, Walker scored 18 points despite some foul trouble in his first varsity game.
Several college coaches and recruiting service analysts were in attendance at the tournament game in north Atlanta.
Jonesboro returns to action Saturday against Carver-Columbus in a game at Sandy Creek High in Tyrone. A November 26 game in the Hardwood High School Jam Fest at North Atlanta High in Buckhead will pit Walker against Luella’s TeMarcus Blanton, who recently signed with South Carolina.
But for now, the hope is for Jonesboro to improve with the season, and challenge again for the Region 4-AAAA title.
Aside from Walker’s expectations, Maehlman said that Mack’s leadership will also be a key for the squad.
“His role as a leader is very important to this team,” Maehlman said. “That is a lot to ask of him, but he is making strides towards that goal. We have to practice hard and play hard to win games this season. The last couple of years, Dee Mack has been the man behind the scenes, but this year, he has to be out front with his leadership.”
Another big help for the Cardinals has been the addition of Tracy Hector, who transferred from North Clayton over the summer. Hector missed several games last season with a wrist injury, but has fully healed. In the McEachern loss, he lead the team with eight rebounds to go along with his six points.
“I’ve got to make smart decision for this team on the court,” Hector said. “I know they are counting on me to be a leader. I think we have the potential to have a good season.”