Varsity Kansas

2014-15 boys and girls basketball preview: East

Astrid Same, East basketball
Astrid Same, East basketball The Wichita Eagle

Schedule

December — 9, at Southeast; 12, Carroll; 13, West; 19, at South.

January — 2, Northwest; 6, at Kapaun; 8, 9 or 10, TBA at Koch Arena; 13, Heights; 16, at North; 22-24 at Highland Park tournament (B); 29-31 at El Dorado tournament (G).

February — 3, Southeast; 6, at Carroll; 10, at West; 13, South; 17, at Northwest; 20, Kapaun; 24, at Heights; 26, North.

Boys

Coach: Joe Jackson, third season, 37-11

Last season: 22-3, third in 6A

Top players

Zach Jackson, 6-5, sr., G

Xavier Kelly, 6-5, jr., F

Samajae Jones, 6-0, sr., G

Joe Jackson has his own Big Three — the teenage version.

“The state title is obviously on these guys’ minds, but we’re not going to focus on that,” Joe Jackson said. “We’re all focused on staying in the moment. Take care of business on a day-by-day basis and some of the things you want to happen in the end will take care of themselves.”

Zach Jackson, Kelly and Jones were the core of last year’s City League championship team that lost to Blue Valley North in the Class 6A semifinals and beat Maize for third place. Zach Jackson, who has committed to Nebraska-Omaha, averaged 12.3 points in the regular season. Kelly, a junior, is an up-and-coming football recruit who already has an offer from Kansas State and averaged 11.5 points.

Jones led the team in scoring at 13.3 points.

And they’re all back, with a state title in their sights.

“Zach is a phenomenal kid, definitely our leader,” Joe Jackson said. “Xavier is unbelievably humble ... just so down to earth. Samajae is one of the top guards in the state, Maybe the best guard in the state.”

With such high expectations, attitude will be key.

“One of the things we’ve really pushed for is to have a great locker room,” Joe Jackson said. “We believe we’ve got good kids who are buying in for the good of the whole rather than being worried about the individual.”

Girls

Coach: James Cole, seventh season, 45-82

Last season: 8-13

Top players

Astrid Same, 5-11, so., F

Alexis Shamberg, 5-8, so., G

Shayla Johnson, 5-7, sr., G

Ava Davis, 6-4, fr., F

Youth will rule the day for Aces. Cole thinks as many as three freshman have the potential to start in a group that includes Maria McKinnney, KK Ross, Brianna Jackson and Robin McCoy, and a potential anchor in the post with Davis.

“I think if we can get off to a good start prior to the holiday break, then we can come out in the last (part) of the season and really compete,” Cole said. “Hopefully make some noise in the top third of the league.”

The young talent will have other young, returning talent to build with. Same can do a little bit of everything — she averaged 8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks on the way to being named honorable-mention All-City.

“We have to find a couple of players to help Astrid in the post,” Cole said.

One of those players that could help is 6-1 junior Alexis Beard, a transfer from South who will be eligible after the end of the semester.

“They are athletic, and they have high basketball IQs, so we should be better on both sides of the ball,” Cole said. “We also should have more options to shoot and score, so I don’t see a drop off at all. If anything, a rise.”

Tony Adame

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