Gladys King and her Eastside girls basketball team are no strangers to heartbreak after having their playoff hopes dashed for the second year with a gut-wrenching loss to Woodward Academy in the first round of the Region 4-AAAA tournament.
And while their candle was blown out by the War Eagles last February, it didn’t take long for King to rekindle that flame and give her team something to keep in mind heading into the offseason.
“I’m coaching with (a chip on my shoulder),” King said. “I’m hoping that they pick up on the coach’s attitude. I feel like we were robbed, so I think we should go out and play like someone came in and stole something from us. We don’t want to let anyone take something from us again.”
Ready to right their wrongs from last season is an Eastside roster full of experience. The Eagles return all five of their starters and did not graduate any seniors that played significant minutes.
It’s a luxury King said she has never had even dating back to her head coaching days at Rockdale County. Of Eastside’s returning crop of players, the vast majority return as seniors.
“This year, It’s a special group of girls because I’ve had all of them for four years,” King said. “I get chill bumps and teary eyed thinking about it because I know they have to go away. I’m excited for them.”
Seniors Alysee Dobbs, Dasia Burgess and T’Niah Douglas return as Eastside’s top scorers from one season ago. Dobbs led the Eagles in scoring with 14.3 points while Douglas averaged 10.4 and Burgess averaged 9.7
With King’s main three catalysts all gearing up for strong senior seasons, the addition of Lizzie Teasley, who broke onto the scene averaging six points as a freshman, and several new faces has given the veteran head coach a lot of flexibility with her lineups.
“I’ve looked at different lineups where I can go with smaller guards and run a four-guard set,” King said. “Or I can run with three bigs inside and go with two small guards. I’m going to mix it up a little bit. I’m excited about that because I’ve never had that opportunity.”
King attributed that luxury to the likes of Dobbs, Burgess, Douglas and Teasley, who all have the ability to play multiple positions at any given time.
While Teasley’s role has not yet been defined by King yet, the sophomore will, without a doubt, provide the Eagles with a huge offensive boost when called upon.
“I’ve seen her come in with more confidence,” King said of Teasley. “She knows what I expect out of her in terms of what I want her doing as a point guard. I saw her doing some things the other day that she didn’t do her freshman year. It was really sweet. I’m very excited for her.”
With Dobbs and Burgess serving as two of the biggest leaders on the team, both in different ways, King said she won’t have any trouble keeping her players in line throughout the season.
After coming as close as one could to making the postseason the past two years, King still expects her team to climb over the peak that has been unreachable for one reason or another in 2018 and 2019.
“It feels like it, but it’s not guaranteed,” King said of their playoff chances. “Last year, it felt like it then. I really hoped and pushed for that. That’s what we worked for. I’m constantly reminding them at practice about those things. It’s something that you learn from and hopefully grow from. I’m just hoping that they learned something from it because I know I have.”
At the end of the day, King said she is more than confident in her team heading into the season.
“I know that they’re going to do well,” King said. “It should be a really good year.”