The last six players on Redan’s 2009 girls’ Class AAAAA state basketball championship team graduated in May.
That group of state champions included eight players who signed college basketball scholarships. It also was responsible for a 58-game winning streak that ended with a loss in the 2010 Class AAAA state championship game.
This year coach Jerry Jackson is working with a roster that features five freshmen, five sophomores, one junior and one senior. Only one player, senior Tyauna Ellison, was even in high school when the Lady Raiders won the state championship.
But the team hasn’t been deterred by its youthfulness. Redan is 11-4 with a 5-3 record in Region 6-AAAA, its crowning achievement so far a 56-51 upset of No. 1 Chamblee on Jan. 10.
“They understand now but earlier they didn’t understand about the pride and tradition that goes along with the program,” Jackson said. “They know they have a high standard to uphold.”
Redan is 27-17 in state tournament games, third in the county behind Southwest DeKalb and Stephenson. The Raiders have qualified for the state tournament 12 seasons in a row and have lost in the first round only twice during that stretch—in 2000 and last season.
Jackson noticed a collective commitment in the summer and again over the holiday break to put the necessary work in to be competitive in a region that features the state’s top-ranked team (Chamblee), a former state champion (Southwest DeKalb) and two other teams (Miller Grove and Marist) that will be fighting for a spot in the state playoffs.
“You’ve got to be prepared to play in this region,” Jackson said. “This was the most effective Christmas break we’ve had. Plus, their attitude, hard work and dedication showed in the off season.”
Jackson has seen his team grow up quickly this season. Redan had a four-game winning streak snapped Jan. 13 in a loss to Tucker. The Raiders’ only other losses have come by five points to Miller Grove, three points to Southwest DeKalb and by 10 against Douglas County.
“Our strength has really been our togetherness and willingness to accept each other and play together as a team,” Jackson said. “They all do a great job of supporting each other and picking each other up. They don’t care who’s going to score 20, they just want to win.”
Despite the lack of upperclassmen, Jackson knew experience would not be an issue as many of his players are on AAU teams, and most have played in recreation leagues for years.
Ellison, an undersized post player, personifies the team’s work ethic. She is the team’s leading rebounder, averages double figures in scoring and is a defensive catalyst. Sophomores Destiny McClary and Brea Elmore are the team’s top two scorers. Sophomore Jada Byrd and freshmen Kiante Jones and Jaylen Black also have made an impact, Jackson said.
“We’re young and we’re learning from experience,” Jackson said. “That’s what is keeping us together. If things don’t go the way we want, we come back and work on it. We don’t get down.”
Jackson knows that with youth also comes unpredictability, which is something he has prepared for this season.
“We never know which team we’re going to get each game,” Jackson said. “We got a good one on the court the other night [against Chamblee]. The last few games they’ve played well together.”