by Russell Cooks
The Sandy Creek basketball program is coming off one of the most successful stretches in school history. Even with some key components graduated, the Patriots don’t plan on skipping a beat.
The class of 2016, which featured four-year starters Christian Turner and Javon Jackson, was able to make two Elite Eight appearances and came up just two points short of the Final Four this year. That squad featured what was affectionately known as the Big 6. They were the six players who got the lion’s share of the playing time. Four of the Big 6 have graduated, and another one has transferred. Now, the only remaining player that got significant playing time is senior Evan Jester, the “modern day renaissance man.”
Coach Anthony McKissic, said, “Evan Jester is the standard that all my players strive to achieve. Having a player with a 4.0 GPA makes it easier on me to recruit him out to colleges. Our overall goal here at Sandy Creek is for all my players to earn scholarships to the next level. Having good grades makes that a lot easier. Evan is the face of Sandy Creek basketball on and off the court.”
Jester is ready to fully embrace his role as the face of the team.
“I am fully ready to embrace that leadership role. I want to make sure I have a successful senior year,” he said. “We all need to be on the same page and have the same mindset on and off the court. We all have to work hard from the beginning of the year and not just when it gets closer to the playoffs.”
Selected as a Junior Marshall for ranking in the top 10 percent of the Class of 2017, Jester revels in his success on the court and in the classroom.
“It feels good to excel because it is not easy to study for major tests and quizzes after a week of late practices or finishing a project before an early morning shootaround.”
Jester will be surrounded by a lot of new faces. Rising senior Eric Williams transferred from Fayette County High to Sandy Creek. Williams plays shooting guard and small forward. Coach McKissic said, “Eric brings a maturity to the team, and he has really connected with the rest of the team.”
Beyond that will be a number of players mostly new to varsity ball. When asked his perspective on this year’s team compared to last year’s team, Coach McKissic said, “We need to keep gelling and keep working hard. These kids are a lot longer than last year. Last year’s team was lot faster and more athletic, but this year’s team can extend the zone and cause problems for our opponents.
“We have a very unique group of players that have been in waiting,” said Coach McKissic. “They were not able to get playing time on the varsity, and they did not get playing time on the junior varsity until late in the season.
“Kam Miller is reminding me of Christian Turner with his excellent ballhandling skills. Xavier Brewer has really extended. He is now 6’ 7” and playing great all-around basketball. Jarred Godfrey has become a beast. He is exploding to the basket and making thunderous dunks. TJ Bickerstaff is now 6’ 8” and he’s running the floor great and playing great defense.”
McKissic went on to say, “The biggest surprise is Cris Porter. He is shooting 50-55 percent from three-point range, and he is averaging 20 points a game. He has gone from being a junior who would play on the junior varsity to being a possible starter at the two guard.”
The fresh faces are eager to make their marks.
“To get a chance to play on varsity is a wonderful experience,” said Kameron Miller. “As players, we finally get a chance to show what we have learned and how we can utilize these skills in the game.”
TJ Bickerstaff added,” It feels great. I have put in a lot of work. Not playing that much made me work harder. It also helped me become a better player mentally and physically.”
“It feels great. I feel like I really have a chance now to show the basketball program, college coaches, and other schools what I’m made of. I also thank God for the opportunity,” added Xavier Brewer.
Jarred Godfrey replied, “It feels great finally being able to showcase my talent and show everyone what I am capable of doing out there on the basketball court.”
Jester has noticed their improvement, especially among one trio, this summer.
“Jarred Godfrey, Cris Porter, and Kameron Miller,” he said made the biggest leap. “Jarred stepped up big during the summer with making some key plays and attacking the hole. Cris has stepped up to make some big threes and has proven he is one of the best shooters in his class. Kameron steps up big time on defense and has shown that he can get into and put pressure on anybody that you put in front of him.”
It’s been a summer of progress for a team with big goals.
Porter said, “The team is coming together during summer league. We have some things to work on as a team, but I have no doubt that we will come together during the season. Last year’s team had great success, and we will have to continue to work hard to go all the way.”
Brewer added, “I think we’ll be great. The thing we need to do to surpass last year’s team is to listen to coach, focus on and off the court, and always work hard.”
Bickerstaff replied, “As long as I work hard and give 100 percent effort in practice and in the games, the team should be fine. I think when we fix the small things we will go farther than we did last year.”
“We have an excellent team this year. I believe that we can get the job done as necessary. We’re very young, but we play very hard. To get further than last year, I think we should simply believe in each other and play team basketball as we know we can do”, added Miller.
Godfrey said, “We must continue to work hard and improve our individual games. Also, we must buy into our coach’s gameplan and stick to it. If we do this, we will turn out alright.”