By Matt Nestor
As practice started at East, Head Coach Roy Sackmaster could see one major difference from past seasons on the floor.
For the first time since he has been at the school, he has enough returning talent that there is not one sophomore on his varsity roster. And that is enough to make any coach excited.
“This is the first year I haven’t raided the sophomore level,” Sackmaster said. “I think it’s about to pay off here everything we’ve gone through the last several years. We took our lumps last year with the five or six kids we brought up that probably wouldn’t have been brought up in a normal situation. But getting that experience has been invaluable.”
With a big group of returning players, it has made the coaching job easier at East this year. Instead of trying to prep a young team for their first varsity experience, Sackmaster is getting to prep an experienced team to try to take the next step.
“You can already see in practice we’ve been able to hit the ground running,” he said. “Last year, I was teaching them things midway through the season that we are already doing right now because we can just pick up where we left off.”
The E-Rabs have a great mix of players who make them dangerous in the conference. Seniors Matt Mallon and Deontray Austin are three-year varsity players, and fellow senior Darshawn Pumphrey-King brings physicality from the football field.
The junior class is loaded as well. Point guard Javon Henderson is poised to become one of the top guards in the conference. Wes Short and C’Vontez Johnson provide quality depth as well.
“It’s great because we do have some really talented players,” Sackmaster said. “They’re getting better every day. Every time we can get them on the court and we can coach them, they’re getting better.”
But the two keys for East this year will be Alonte Holliday and Steve McNease.
Holliday is a senior transfer from Guilford. Sackmaster believes Holliday can be an all-conference performer and gives the E-Rabs a dimension they haven’t had.
“He has the best work ethic of any player I’ve ever seen since I’ve been here,” he said. “He just brings all the things we missed last year. We had no leadership, and he brings leadership. He brings a positive attitude, and that work ethic rubs off on other guys.”
McNease, a 6-foot-5-inch junior, is still developing. But on raw talent, he is as good as any big man in the conference.
“He’s proven that he can hit the outside shot consistently,” his coach said of the post player. “That is nice because he is going to be able to stretch the defense and cause mismatch problems by pulling the other team’s big man away from the basket. When Steve is ready to play, he can go out and take a game over at both ends.”
More than anything else, expectations are a good change for the E-Rabs. They have only won one game the last five years over Thanksgiving, a mark they hope to beat.
On top of that, they think they can compete with any team in the conference and hope to at least win a regional championship to end the season.
“I think we’ll play some meaningful games for once,” Sackmaster said. “It’s finally going to be a meaning to playing us. I like to think we’ll be a factor in determining the outcome of the conference.”
From the Nov. 24-30, 2010 issue