‘Sky’s the limit’ for 1-0 Eagles

Published 10:58 pm Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Prince Edward County High School’s varsity boys basketball team put together an inspiring start to the 2018-19 season Friday night when it took what had been a close, back-and-forth game against visiting Altavista High School and pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 62-50 victory.

The game also marked the beginning of Michael Jackson Jr.’s tenure as Eagles head coach, taking over for James Scott, the beloved longtime leader of the program who retired from coaching basketball at the conclusion of last season.

Jackson was pleased with where his new team ended up Friday.

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“First game, we had a little jitters,” he said. “Other than that, second half, we picked it up a lot and got a lot better. So, I think that for the first game, we did really good.”

Asked if he thought Prince Edward was sluggish in the first half in terms of pace, Jackson said, “I think a lot of it (is) we’re transitioning from football to basketball, so from a mental standpoint, that’s where we’re at right now, but slowly we’re making progress …”

Jackson brings with him experience as head coach of the junior varsity basketball programs at several Virginia high schools, including but not limited to Appomattox County High School, Jefferson Forest High School and Nelson County High School.

“This is my first varsity experience,” he said.

A young Eagles squad struggled last year, finishing with an 8-15 overall record after falling in their first game of the Region 2A playoffs.

Prince Edward fields a senior-heavy team this year about which Jackson is quite optimistic.

“Sky’s the limit, sky’s the limit,” he said, referring to his expectations based on what he saw in the preseason. “These guys have a lot of potential. They have the experience in other sports, as well, to excel, so I’m looking for the best. I look for the guys to go out every day and compete 100 percent, and we’ll let our game to do our talking.”

The coach is counting on multiple players for leadership, led by guard Rodney Sprague.

“He’s a senior, one of our best scorers,” Jackson said. “I look for him to be a big leader and to carry his team pretty far in the playoffs.”

Sprague was key for the Eagles Friday night, handling the ball heavily and finishing with 12 points, but his team had to go without him down the stretch when he fouled out around the midpoint of the fourth quarter.

“We do a lot of hard work, and if one goes down, the next man is up, so that’s how we look at it, and that’s going to be our approach every game,” Jackson said.

Standing out along with Sprague is senior guard/forward Rah’Quan Payne, a football star who has shown that he is also a force on the court.

“He’s also one of our primary ball handlers, and he’s one of the ones that closed out the game for us tonight, so he did really well,” Jackson said Friday.

Payne ended up leading Prince Edward with 22 points.

Additionally, Eagles senior guard Tajh White, another football standout, showed his effectiveness, finishing with 15 points.

“He’s a big vocal leader for our team,” Jackson said. “He does really good with our young guys as well. We do have nine seniors on the team, so I look for them to lean together to raise the young guys right and prepare them to be leaders next year.”

Prince Edward is not fully healthy right now.

“We also have a few injuries,”Jackson said. “One of our starting big men actually went out at the beginning of the year, so we’re reshuffling and doing a lot of things different now.”

That big man is senior power forward Jair Haskins, but he may not be out for the whole season.

“We’re looking for a return maybe in January,” the coach said. “He’ll add a different element to our team,” with that element being an inside presence.

The effort and energy Prince Edward played with throughout Friday’s game, both on offense and defense, was impressive.

The Eagles (1-0) returned to action Tuesday when they hosted Cumberland County High School for its season opener, and they host Bluestone High School on Friday at 7 p.m.