SPRINGFIELD — Effingham County boys basketball coach Jake Darling is building his team from the ground up.
As he enters into his fifth season at the helm, Darling plans to utilize talent from each class to contribute to what will be another competitive year of Class AAAAAA ball.
“We have eleven guys on our team that can start,” Darling saod. “They each have their own individual strength and it depends on what we need on any given night.”
The Rebels lost four key contributors to graduation in Tydarius Fish, Kha’leed Stapleton, Samari Westbrook and Trevon Wilkenson.
“Kha’leed Stapleton was our biggest scorer,” Darling said. “We relied heavily on him for our scoring. Everything we did went through him.
"Samari Westbrook was a 6-foot-5 post player. He changed a lot of people’s shots down low. It’s going to hurt not having his size.
"Tydarius Fish kind of ran the show for us and got us into what we needed to get in to. Trevon was a good shooter from the perimeter.”
The Rebels will feature quite a few fresh faces. There are four newcomers, not including freshman.
“Anthony Johnson, Randy Scott, Shemar Westbrook and possibly Ne’Cos Gadson as juniors will be the core of our team,” Darling said. “We have a transfer from Bethesda, JaQuez Brown. Those five guys are going to carry most of the playing time as juniors, so they don’t have a lot of varsity experience. But this years’ experience will help us in the future for next season.”
The Rebels went 13-16 a year ago and have consistently posted double-digit win totals. Effingham County wants to finish the 2018-19 well above .500.
“We are coming into the season with three guys that have a little bit of varsity experience and they were sophomores last year,” Darling said. “We have three guys that are 6-3 or bigger. (It’s just a matter of) getting them involved in what we do, getting familiar with the program and adding that depth for us.
"Julian Legrande will help us at the point guard position. This is the deepest team that I’ve had as far as talent and being even and spread out. We are going to be relying heavily on freshmen and sophomores. Anybody can pick up the scoring any day.”
Darling is zoned in on this year’s campaign but he is also preparing young talent for the future. He believes one Rebel can be the go-to-guy just as Stapleton was.
“Our ninth graders coming up won the middle school region championship so we have a lot of talent coming up,” Darling said. “Tyler Griffin and Khiry Wallace are going to provide some big minutes — I think Tyler Griffin can be that kid. He’s going to be our most talented basketball player.
"As a coach, with one eye on this season and one eye on the future, we are going to put a lot into those guys. Both of those guys are going to have that transition from middle school to varsity, which is a different level. They are going to have some bumps and bruises along the way. And we are going to give them the opportunity to get those bumps and bruises as early as possible so they can be ready midway through the season.”
The Rebels will play host to Ridgeland-Hardeeville on Friday in the season opener. The Jaguars are coming off a 23-2 season.
“I think they played in the Final Four and I don’t think they lost anybody,” Darling. “That’s going to be a big test for us. Statesboro is always a big test for us. They are always competitive on the state level and a local rivalry for us.”
Jenkins is also on the schedule and the Rebels will compete in the Savannah Holiday Classic. Darling is hopeful his guys will face some of the better teams in Savannah.
“Hopefully, we will get matched up with a Johnson or Savannah High,” Darling said. “They are always competing for a state championship seems like.”
In regards to the best attributes of this team, Darling can’t answer that until he has his entire team at practice and in the huddle together.
"I still have six guys on the football field," Darling said. "We haven’t had our whole group together. We did have them together over the summer. They have all been through the system. They have all been through the middle school programs. They’ve got that foundation when they come here.
"For me as a coach, it’s easy going in to practice and tell them what we are doing, and they already know it. Our basketball IQ is a lot higher than it’s been in the past. Their ability to be coached and know what’s going on is our strength.”