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Darling remains optimistic despite Rebels' 0-3 start in Norcross
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By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

Make no mistake, Effingham County boys basketball coach Jake Darling wanted to register three wins at Norcross High School’s round-robin holiday tournament, but the 0-3 week didn’t ruin Thanksgiving.

The Rebels were competitive with three teams that combined to win 70 percent of their games last season while advancing to their respective state tournaments.

Darling also saw some encouraging signs from junior forward Keion Wallace. The Region 2-AAAAAA Co-Player of the Year showed no ill effects from shoulder surgery that sidelined him for most of the football season.

Wallace, who was returning about six weeks early, averaged nearly 21 points a game in the three games at Norcross.

“We played solid defense but for the most part we were just rusty,” said Darling about losses to Woodward Academy (54-50 on Nov. 22), Norcross (67-55 on Nov. 23) and Stephenson (54-49 on Nov. 24).

ECHS was missing point guard Caleb Williams, who was out with a concussion. Williams, a senior, was the region’s Defensive Player of the Year last season.

The Rebels expect to have Williams back for the busy upcoming week. They’ll have non-region games against May River at home on Friday before traveling to Augusta to play Solid Rock Academy on a neutral court on Saturday.

ECHS opens region play Tuesday (Dec. 7) at home against Statesboro, the 2020-2021 region regular-season champion.

“Before (the Norcross round-robin) we had only four practices with the guys coming back from football and it showed,” Darling said. “Our offense was sloppy. Basically, we need practice time.”

In the opener against Woodward Academy (17-7 last season), Darling said the Rebels committed 20 turnovers.

The next night, Norcross (21-8 last season) made nine 3-pointers to pull away. ECHS was within two points late in the third quarter, Darling said. Wallace had 20 points and Rashad Scott added 15.

Darling said Rebels’ 6-foot-4 sophomore Jordan Goldwire played well against Norcross’ tall frontline which included 6-10 Aiden Sherrell and 6-8 senior Jerry Deng, who has offers from several Division I schools, including the University of Georgia.

“We probably played our best game against Norcross,” Darling said. “It was a fun game to be a part of.”

Against Stephenson (11-6 last season), Wallace poured in 26 points, but ECHS couldn’t find another player to step up.

“Stephenson was athletic and physical and I think we were just exhausted from playing three games in three days,” Darling said. “Mentally, we’re not where we need to be. We played some tough teams in this tournament, but we did it to find out where we are.”