Photo by Jason Mussell / Stockbridge’s Eldred Taylor (left) and Rodney Latham are trying to put down the foundations of success in their first year as head coach of the girls and boys teams, respectively.
STOCKBRIDGE — Eldred Taylor and Rodney Latham knew each other going into this season, their first as head coaches in high school basketball at Stockbridge, which has been handy during the most difficult of times.
Taylor was an assistant on the boys team for several seasons under former coach Duane Kelley. Latham would always be around eager to keep a solid relationship between Stockbridge and his Austin Roads Middle School program.
Now, they’re running the show at Stockbridge — Taylor with the girls, Latham with the boys — and in unchartered territory. Latham’s Tigers entered Tuesday just 5-13. Taylor’s Lady Tigers were 1-14.
“We seem to understand each other,” Taylor said. “He’s a guy I can talk to. He understands what I’m going through and I understand what he’s going through. He’s pulling for me just like I’m pulling for him.”
Together, they’re trying to pull Stockbridge basketball back to the competitive level its used to.
Once one of the county’s most consistent programs, Stockbridge has fallen on turbulent times. Since Kelley departed in 2011 after three straight playoff appearances, the Tigers have gone 15-30 since after a 74-65 victory at Dutchtown on Tuesday. After long-time girls coach Tondra Irby left a year before Kelley, the Tigers have gone 17-48 after a 63-37 loss at Dutchtown.
The decline has been a product of a mixture of factors — from coaching instability to roster turnover.
Kelley was replaced by Bryan Lamar, who came from Tucker only to leave after went back to Tucker to become its head football coach. Irby was replaced by assistant coach Tyecia Powell who left after just two seasons. Latham expected to have dynamic shooting guard Trevin Joseph back, but Joseph instead transferred to Eagle’s Landing.
So Stockbridge turned to two familiar faces to start rebuilding.
Latham lost five games in four years at Austin Roads and his boys teams reached the county championship each season. That made him a natural choice to replace Lamar and try to restore order and community to the varsity boys program.
“They were familiar with me,” said Latham, who coached most of his current players in middle school. “It’s been helping as far as getting these guys to buy into it. I think that that has been a plus as far as building a community. It’s only going to get better.”
Indeed, the Tigers have shown signs of improvement. Tuesday’s win against Dutchtown avenged an earlier loss in the season and showcased some of Stockbridge’s best young talent. Sophomore Ramone Wynn had a game-high 27 points, while junior guard Nathan Greene added 10. Latham said he’s excited about junior guard Kamal Hatter and sophomore Ronald McCloud. And he’s already identified plenty of talent waiting to come up from the middle ranks.
“My best players right now are 10th graders,” Latham said. “We have a good freshmen class coming in so ... in two years we’ll be competing on the same level.”
Taylor has endured far more struggle. The Lady Tigers lost their first 12 games before defeating Locust Grove on Jan. 15.
Tuesday’s loss at Dutchtown was never close, but Taylor was impressed by the team’s energy, especially after getting down 11-2 early in the first quarter. Stockbridge mounted a quick 5-2 run to cut the lead to 13-7, but couldn’t keep up with a team as talented and experienced as Dutchtown.
Taylor understands that’s the Lady Tigers’ biggest disadvantage almost every night. The team’s leading scorer, Asia Monday, is a freshman; she had a team-high 15 points against Dutchtown. Two sophomores and two juniors round out the starting lineup most nights, and freshmen and sophomores are usually the first players Taylor calls from the the bench to contribute.
Taylor said Stockbridge’s administration knows the building effort Latham and he are in the midst of.
“Hopefully there’s a bright future,” Taylor said. “Hopefully we can get this turned around. ... The young girls are still up-beat. The young girls know that we’ve still got some time to turn it around.”