COVINGTON -- Establishing a culture was near the top of Michael Gerald’s to-do list after the announcement of his full-time hire in early June.

Serving as the Eagles’ interim head basketball coach for the entire 2018-19 season, the verteran head coach very nearly helped lead the team into the Class AAAA playoffs, a task some viewed as an uphill climb.

With the climb proving to be steep at times throughout the season, their goal fell one game short after a first-round loss to Druid Hills in the Region 4 tournament at North Clayton. With the program looking to make a full-time hire following the tragic passing of former head coach Brent Wren, Gerald was promoted.

The veteran coach wasted little time in setting up a rigorous June summer schedule for the Eagles, one that featured a weekend trip to the University of South Carolina, as well as multiple summer league trips to Newbirth, Winder-Barrow and Monroe Area.

An opportunity to dig his roots into the program with full support of the administration, coaching staff and players, Gerald said that his first month on the job has been a big success.

“I think guys are really adjusting well,” Gerald said. “They’re realizing what it will be like with myself being the coach. We’ve got to work towards the goals that we’ve set for ourselves and the guys have done a great job so far.”

With hopes of reaching new heights at Eastside, a program that has never advanced out of the first round of the state playoffs, the rising duo of junior point guard Myles Rice and sophomore forward Chauncey Wiggins showed in June why reaching that goal is very much attainable.

Rice returns as the Eagles’ leading scorer from last season after averaging 12.6 points per game on a 40 percent shooting clip from the field. In the month of June, Gerald said it’s quite obvious that his 6-foot-1 guard has taken the next step.

“He’s a different player,” Gerald said. “He’s a difference maker because he has that toughness that we need at times. I still have to slow him down a little bit, but for the most part, he has definitely been that leader that we need on the court. We’re pleased that he’s growing. He’s grown a lot since the end of the season. He’s made some huge strides.”

Gerald also spoke highly of Wiggins, a 6-foot-7 forward who played sparingly as a freshman last season. Spending most of his freshman campaign apart of the Eagles junior varsity squad, he was eventually called up by Gerald, with zero intentions of ever sending him back down.

“Obviously, the sky's the limit for him,” Gerald said. “We talk about that a lot. The one that I want him to keep doing is understanding that it’s always process. One day you’ll look good and the next day you will have some work to do. Just to always continue to work. He’s about to get some full-time action here. He has a lot going in his favor right now. “

Wiggins, who has began to make a name for himself on recruiting scene in recent weeks, said his main focus lies on trying to improve his game in any way that he can.

“My game has elevated a lot,” Wiggins said. “I’ve just kept training. Staying on the weights a lot. All you have to do is keep putting in the work.”

Aside from Rice and Wiggins, the Eagles also plan to call up Mio Kaye Grant to the varsity squad, a 6-foot-6 forward who played alongside Wiggins on the junior varsity team as a freshman.

Rising seniors Darrell Duncombe and Kenney Garrick are also expected to play major roles for the Eagles next season and both were on the court with the team this past June.

“We have a new core and we’re gelling pretty well,” Miles said. “We play at Newbirth a lot and that’s where we get a lot of our work in. Playing up at South Carolina, we did well. I think that weekend helped us bond more as a team and that will help us win games.”

Sports Editor

A 2017 graduate of the University of North Georgia, Colin joined the Rockdale/Newton Citizen in March of 2018 as the papers' full-time sports editor. A 2013 graduate of Jackson County High School, Colin received a golf scholarship to Andrew College.