For the first time in years, there is genuine hype surrounding the boys basketball program at Eastside High School.
The Eagles open the regular season occupying the No. 5 ranking in Class AAAA, their highest preseason ranking in program history and on paper, it isn’t hard to see why.
When Eastside takes the court Saturday in their season-opener against Redan, team size will be at the forefront.
From the Eagles’ backcourt consisting of 6-foot-2 junior Myles Rice to their frontcourt consisting of 6-foot-8 sophomore Chauncey Wiggins and 6-foot-6 sophomore Miokaye Grant, veteran head coach Michael Gerald likes what he’s seen thus far.
“I’ll tell you what, there is no substitute for size,” Gerald said. “ Hopefully (our size) will really benefit us in the long run.”
Eastside’s introduction to being ranked plays no barring on their fate from last season. While the Eagles positioned themselves well for a playoff run, a slip up against Druid Hills — a team they had previously beaten twice in the regular season — ended their season.
It’s a loss Gerald and his Eagles haven’t forgotten.
“I think we can learn a lot from that loss,” Gerald said. “I felt like our last practice before we played that game we weren’t as focused as we had been. You have to be prepared and you have to be the best version of yourself every time you step out on the floor.”
Of the Eagles’ projected starting five, only two return with significant minutes from last season. Rice led the Eagles in scoring with 12.6 points while Kenny Garrick served as a contributor on the wing.
In the frontcourt, both Grant and Wiggins were brought along slowly as freshmen last season. Grant didn’t receive playing time until midway through the season whie Wiggins was integrated even later.
That will soon change for the duo. Wiggins has since exploded on the recruiting trail and will enter his sophomore season with several Division 1 offers including Georgia, Georgia Tech and Clemson.
Pairing up with Wiggins is Grant, another talented big, that has Gerald thinking loving his potential.
“We’re looking forward to (Grant) having a breakout season for us, “Gerald said. “He’s pretty athletic for his size and has good footwork. We need him to be that physical guy on both ends of the court. He’s probably going to play the four and five for us.”
Gerald also expects senior Jake Casola to provide the Eagles with valuable minutes as a forward. Casola stands at 6-foot-5.
From a physical standpoint, having the likes of Wiggins, Grant and Casola will help give the Eagles an edge they did not have last season.
“We have to be tougher than we were last season,” Gerald said. “We kind of showed that in spots throughout the season, but it has to be more consistent. You have to be able to do those intangible things.”
In the backcourt, Rice will be joined by both Garrick and Jayce Douglas, a 5-foot-8 junior that Gerald thinks can serve as a spark plug for the Eagles when called upon.
“(Jayce) plays the point and he played on the junior varsity team last year,” Gerald said. “He just has to get to that varsity pace. He has pretty good handles and is creative. When teams try to take the ball out of Myles’ hands, he can still run our stuff for us and get us good shots.”
With Garrick slotting in nicely with Rice, Gerald is expecting a big leadership role from one of his five seniors on the team.
“Kenny brings experience and he had a really good offseason,” Gerald said. “We just need his leadership and we need him to be consistent a little bit more than he has been in the past. He’s going to be that spark and brings great athleticism to the table. We’re pretty excited about that.”
In order to snap their playoff drought, the Eagles will have to maneuver itself through a difficult Region 4-AAAA, a 7-team region that opens with three Top 10 teams. Woodward Academy ranks No. 1 in the classification while North Clayton ranks ninth.
“Last year’s region was great,” Gerald said. “It was a fight every night. I think this year, you have Woodward and everyone else playing for second, third and fourth. They are the team to beat. We go to Woodward for our first region game and that’s going to be a good challenge.”
With expectations at an all-time high for Eastside, Gerald is ready to get to work on what he hopes is the start of a great season for his Eagles.
“We’ve had some talented teams, but if the guys continue to work hard and do the things that they’ve been doing, the sky’s the limit,” Gerald said. “I’m probably more excited for the guys than I am for myself. It’s going to be an exciting season.”
With the sudden passing of former head coach Brent Wren, Gerald announced that his team will dedicate the 2019-20 to Wren’s memory. Wren passed away last May after a battle with cancer.