Life for the East Marion Eagles basketball team is a lot different nine months after winning the school’s first state championship in Class 1A.
Not only are the Eagles back in Class 2A, they are missing three of their five starters from last year, plus two of the three bench players who regularly saw minutes. John Rawls, Flenard McLin and Nick Beach graduated, while Lawrence Lambert transferred and Vashon Sims is out for the year with a back injury suffered in a car accident during the summer. While Sims, a junior, is progressing well, head coach Calvin Brown said they don’t want to take any chances with his recovery and would rather err on the side of caution.
The result has been an 0-7 start to begin the year, but there is a lot more to East Marion’s record than meets the eye. With three 4A schools, two 6A opponents and a 3A team accounting for six of its games, East Marion has faced a difficult schedule while adjusting to life without the aforementioned stars and missing a couple key players through the first four games because of football.
Brown said the Eagles are progressing slowly but steadily and that he still likes what they’re going to look like in February.
“We just need to expedite the process so we’re not taking any unnecessary lumps. We’re taking some calculated lumps now. We scheduled intentionally, and we knew it would be rough in the early going,” he said. “But how rough and how long (the lumps are), we want to decide that.”
Caleb Rawls, a 6-foot-6 junior, has taken over the mantle as East Marion’s star and has responded with 16.9 points per game, 11.6 rebounds and 3.1 blocks while shooting 48 percent from the field. The combo forward is no stranger to the spotlight after sinking four straight free throws to secure East Marion’s 58-53 win over Okolona in the title game in March and averaging 12.7 points and 7.2 rebounds as a sophomore. But being the go-to guy is a lot different, and Brown said he’s got to get used to it.
“There’s a lot he was able to do last year because there was so much talent on the floor that had to be accounted for. Now being the focal point, it’s a lot different,” he explained. “Mentally and emotionally he’s got to get used to it, but he’s handling it well. We’ve got to get some production from some other places as well.”
Devin Daniels and CJ Myers have helped East Marion become more competitive since joining the team late Nov. 25 because of football. Daniels is averaging 10.3 points per game, 2.7 assists and 2.0 steals in three games, while Myers is adding 7.0 points and 1.7 assists.
“It helps everybody settle into their roles,” Brown said of their return to the team. “Devin is our floor general so being without him is like the head is cut off. Having him back as the brains of the team is going to make life easier for everybody once he gets his legs under him.”
Junior Cameron Walker has had to step up considerably as well this year. He played sporadically last season as a sparkplug off the bench but has now taken McLin’s place as the starting shooting guard. He’s averaging 10 points per game but shooting just 29 percent from the field, with half of his shots coming from behind the arc at a 20 percent clip.
After 10 days off, East Marion’s most recent game was a 60-58 nail-biting loss at McComb, which featured a career-high 24 points by Caleb Rawls on 50 percent shooting. Myers was perfect from the field, shooting 6-for-6 and adding 14 points, while Daniels and Walker each added nine points. Caleb Rawls and Walker each had 10 boards, and Daniels had three assists.
The Eagles played at Jeff Davis County Tuesday night, but results were unavailable at press time. They will make short road trips Friday and Saturday night to take on West Marion (1-1) and Columbia (1-5), respectively, in county matchups.