Photo by Brian Paglia / Eagle’s Landing senior point guard Isaiah Dennis and the Golden Eagles go into Saturday’s game against No. 9 Jonesboro after getting plenty of challenges throughout a grueling prep tournament schedule.
McDONOUGH — Eagle’s Landing’s Eric Wortham watched from afar as the other boys basketball team on the south side of Atlanta made back-to-back semifinals.
As Wortham and Golden Eagles made noise in Class AAA, he noticed Jonesboro was doing the same one classification up.
He couldn’t help but think about two powerful teams on this side of the city meeting on the court.
“I’ve always wanted to play them,” Wortham said. “Now, I finally get an opportunity.”
Eagle’s Landing gets the opportunity at No. 9 Jonesboro at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday to see what a whirlwind of high school basketball tournaments against some of the top competition in the country did to help an augmented roster find the kind of chemistry that gets teams past semifinals appearances.
The Golden Eagles enter the game 9-5 overall after taking a few shots from impressive out of state teams.
Eagle’s Landing lost twice in the Memphis-Atlanta Challenge to Hamilton (80-72) and Melrose (73-53) out of Memphis, Tenn. in early December.
It lost twice more in the City of Palms Classic in Florida to Omaha Central (61-37) and Tift County (81-72) before Christmas.
It lost to Dorman (49-44) from South Carolina in the championship game of the Upward Classic in Bluffton, S.C., after Christmas.
Despite all the expectations placed on a team returning a core that made consecutive semifinals, the arrival of transfers Chris Davenport and Trevin Joseph increased the expectations even more and gave the Golden Eagles an unprecedented challenge — how to make so many talented pieces fit together.
Eagle’s Landing coach Clay Crump figured the only way was to test his team as much as possible. The Golden Eagles encountered Division I talent galore. Melrose featured Markel Crawford (Memphis) and KC Goodwin (Southern Illinois). Omaha Central featured Akoy Agau (Louisville). Tift County had Brannen Greene (Kansas) and two top Class of 2014 prospects in Tadric Jackson and Ali Vaughn.
“We’re a much better team,” Wortham said. “Those games helped us. We know what we need to work on.”
And Eagle’s Landing found its talent wasn’t gelling as well as it needed to.
“We didn’t click as a unit,” Wortham said. “We weren’t being as unselfish as we should have.”
Eagle’s Landing will need to be clicking on all cylinders against Jonesboro. The Cardinals (10-3, 6-0 in Region 4-AAAA) have a veteran guard trio of Daniel Peace, Patrick Petty and Cameron Sutton who have contributed or started since they were freshmen. Center Chukedubem “Duby” Okeke, a 6-foot-8 senior who signed with Winthrop, has developed into a defensive force.
They have the kind of experience and basketball smarts stand up to the Golden Eagles without hesitation.
“We just have to play hard,” Wortham said. “That’s all we have to do. We have to want it more than Jonesboro.”