Central head coach Andre Taylor knew that overcoming the loss of a 6-foot-11 major college recruit who was expected to be the a vital part of his team was not going to be easy.
But the Chargers seem to be overcoming that hurdle.
After losing Kentrevious Jones to a transfer to Westside before the season started, the Chargers have continued to improve. They are sitting at 8-1 at the Christmas break, with the one loss coming at the hands of Warner Robins, the seventh-ranked team in GHSA Class 5A.
Central started the season with three wins, but it was not until the fourth game that that Chargers started to play like Taylor had hoped.
“I think we were almost waiting for the fourth game because it was Westside,” Taylor said. “It wasn’t just because (Jones) was playing for them, but it is just a huge rivalry, and him being there made it even bigger. But we were tired of hearing that we were going to have a terrible year this year because we lost him. I mean, these guys played a lot of basketball last year, and we were 27-3. But we definitely needed a confidence building win.”
The leader of the senior class is four-year starter Antarius McCoy, who is averaging more than 20 points this season, including a 40-point outburst in a comeback win over Eastside this week. The 6-foot-2 McCoy has spent most of his career as a deadly 3-point shooter, but he thought he needed to expand his game this year.
“Last year, if I missed a few 3s, I would just keep on shooting, but now if I miss the first couple, I know I have different ways that I can help the team,” McCoy said. “I am trying hard to do whatever it takes to get the win, and if that means playing defense and rebounding, I am willing to do it. As a team, we feel like we have an understanding of how to win games, and a lot of that has to do with playing great defense.”
Taylor said his team had to change the way it plays without Jones, who recently transferred again, this time to a prep school in Connecticut.
“We have guys who like to get up and down the court and pressure the basketball, and we haven’t done that as much over the last few years because we had a legitimate big man on the court,” Taylor said. “But the up-tempo style suits us, and everyone is happy because they are all getting looks in the offense. Kids tend to be happy when they get to touch the basketball, and that’s what has happened.”
Taylor had a long list of players who have stepped up so far this season for a team that won eight straight before falling to the Demons in the championship game of the State Bank and Trust Classic on Wednesday at Jones County.
“Antarius McCoy has matured so much from even last year to this year, and he is so important to us, and college coaches should start to recognize his talent, but so many others are giving us great minutes,” Taylor said. “Guys like Kanuri Williams, Justus Williams, Wanya Thomas, Tyrice Paul, Dewan Owens, Kylan Hill and Sin’Quin McClendon, I mean I just really cannot say enough about the way these guys have stepped up for us.”
McClendon might epitomize what Taylor wants from his team. The 5-11 senior plays inside for the Chargers and knows exactly what his job is.
“I go in and try to play physical and give my team a chance to win,” McClendon said. “We are all like brothers on this team, and we are all very happy about the way things have started. I feel like if we stay humble, we can have a great year.”