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The Student Newspaper of Jackson-Reed High School

The Beacon

The Student Newspaper of Jackson-Reed High School

The Beacon

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Jackson-Reed Boys Basketball Season Preview: ‘Run it Back’

The Tigers basketball season tips off Saturday in the James Hampton Showcase.
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TIGER HOOPS: The 2023-24 Jackson-Reed Boys varsity basketball team.

Ever since the clocks at George Washington University hit zero during the championship last season, the Jackson-Reed Boys varsity basketball team has been on a mission. 

The Tigers fell short of both of their goals last year. A 28-8 season ended with nothing to show, in both the DCIAA and DCSAA playoffs. After being stunned by Bard in the city semi-finals, their state title hopes crumbled in the following weeks against Sidwell Friends. 

Nearly nine months later, the Tigers are looking to finish what they started. The team has a new look as they’ll be without longtime Tiger star forward, now Texas A&M freshman, Rob Dockery. However, the expectations don’t change. The Tigers want to reassert that they are the best public school basketball program in the District, by bringing home a city and state title in their 2023-24 campaign. 

Their first chance starts in a two game weekend series in the inaugural James Hampton Showcase at Coolidge High School. The Tigers will play West Philadelphia (Pa.) High School on Saturday at 6 pm, and Achievement First High School (N.Y.) on Sunday at 12 pm. 

“Last year we relied a lot on Rob [Dockery],” said senior point guard Lucas Sekasi. “This year we have a really well rounded team. Which [we’re] figuring out how to play as a [unit], and not carry off one guy.” 

The Tigers have been working the last several months to get back to where they want to be: in the postseason with an opportunity to win championships. Adopting the mantra of ‘run it back’ this past off-season, the team competed in two summer league tournaments among multiple showcases. Some included the St. James tournament, Capitol Hoops at DeMatha which the Tigers won after beating DeMatha Catholic High School; the Bishop McNamara league and a live period showcase at the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers Fieldhouse in Delaware.  

“We played a lot of competition that pushed us,” said junior small forward Jayden Fort. “It’s built our bond together [to where] we’re all like brothers, [and] it made us buy in.” Senior power forward Kai Settles added, “we went through a lot of adversity [and] we lost a couple games, [but] it brought us together. We had new players coming in and going out [which]  took time for us to mold together.” 

The summer days of grit translated to the team’s fall training camp ramp up. Morning conditioning practices for the Tigers began at 6:30 at least twice a week, in addition to evening practices six days a week for workouts. 

The Tigers took the challenge of the off-season grind head on. Both new and returning players adapted to the changes, including junior small forward J.J. Massaquoi, who transferred from DeMatha and is in his first season as a Tiger. When first looking at the off-season schedule, Massaquoi was shocked. “I was like that’s crazy,” he emphasized. 

“[But] I realized that’s exactly what it’s going to be like in college. If you want to be like the best, you have to work like the best,” he continued. “That’s what we’re doing. We’re up before everybody, working hard. If we get everything right, stay strong [and] in shape, [we’ll minimize mishaps on the court].” 

The Tigers did so in their three preseason scrimmages, and knocked off Bishop Ireton 57-48, Good Counsel 84-53, and Patriot High School, 65-45.

The team credits it to their off-season regime, by simply “doing what most teams aren’t doing,” as senior small forward Scottie Hubbard said. The early mornings and late nights “gets us ready for the season, [specifically] our bodies in shape. [We’ve] built tough skin, to show everyone that we’re not going to quit. We’re a hard working team and we’re ready to show that.” 

“We’re trying to get a good feel because this is a new team,” added senior point guard Justin Gilmore. New additions to the varsity Tigers include the forwards Massaquoi, and Hubbard, a transfer from St. Andrews, but also junior small forward Nikola Glisic from Serbia, and point guard Marcel Lane. Joining the team after being a part of the junior varsity squad is sophomore small forward Dawit Abraham and juniors, power forward Rockwell Lewis, and point guard Micah Richmond.  

A reality this season for the team is playing a tough national schedule, but the Tigers recognize this and are committed. “We want practice to be as competitive and as hard as possible,” said Gilmore. Some of those tactics have included simulating game situations and targeting on court scenarios to prevent unpreparedness for moments when in game.

The national schedule includes 15 conference games, ten of which will be played at JR starting on December 11th for the team’s home opener against Ballou. Following Ballou is a road rematch against Bard and a home matchup against Roosevelt, which was a narrow five point Tiger victory last season. Both games take place in January. 

However, penciled in between is 11 classics on marquee stages. December: the season-opener in the James Hampton event, the traditional DC Gonzaga Classic, followed by the Mid-Atlantic Basketball Showcase. January: the Behan Strong Classic, Hoop Buzz Invitational, M.L.K. Classic, I.M.G. Classic, then a home St. Mary’s Ryken event, on top of the Riverdale Baptist Showcase in February. Among the plethora of events, one notable addition to the schedule this year is in December during winter break. The team will travel to Bristol, Tennessee to compete in the 40th annual Arby’s Classic.

“We’re trying to put the guys in position to maximize themselves,” said third year Tiger head coach David “Tee” Johnson. “A championship is what we play for, but scholarships for all these guys is the ultimate goal. We want to give these players a position to play in front of college coaches and get a college opportunity if that’s what they want to do.”

In an evidently demanding, but also clearly rewarding program, the mindset the Tiger’s Coach Tee has installed is: “you have to love basketball to be a part of this program.”

A part of that has been through leadership. “We’re trying to talk [the younger guys] through mistakes to help them understand the game,” said Gilmore. “[We want] to have the game slow down for them to make sure they understand the pace of it, because it’s new to some people.”

The fellow senior Settles added, “I had to set an example off the court with my grades, but also on the court and on the bench by motivating guys. Motivating them by pushing them to keep going. We’re going to have our ups and downs, guys mad at each other, but [we have] to strive to keep everything positive, and everyone together.” 

That is embedded in the team philosophy: ‘We over me’ added assistant coach Danny Larios-Joya. “It’s not a one man show. It’s going to take a team effort in practice, in games, [and] on and off the court,” he said. “To solidify what we want, by making each other better, we have to hold each other accountable.” 

The Tigers believe the stigma of getting better by one percent everyday is by doing just that. “We’re going to take it one day at a time,” coach Tee added. “If we get in the gym, and put in the work; if we do what we’re supposed to do by staying disciplined, [and] we hit the road as a team and trust each other; [with] the guys trusting the coaching staff, I think we’ll be right where we need to be when it’s time.”

Joining coach ‘Tee’ Johnson are five assistants: Larios-Joya the junior varsity head coach, Bill Bourgouin, Elvin Jackson, freshman head coach Brent Park, and junior varsity assistant coach Aireon Boone. 

The Tigers view this season as another year to do something special. In order to hang a city championship banner for the first time since the 2021-22 season, and a state banner since 2017-18, “[we] have to stay unselfish,” said junior shooting guard Jack Corrigan-Conaty. “Especially close games against other good teams. That is the only way we will make it back all the way.”

Now on the cusps of beginning a journey back to George Washington University in March, the Tigers are ready to claw their way back to where they once were. 

“We lost last year, and we have to earn [that championship stigma] back,” said senior point guard Joe McRae. “We have to always come into the gym ready to work. We haven’t done or earned anything yet.”

With the ‘run it back’ tour starting on Saturday against the West Philly Speedboys, the senior Lucas Sekasi added, “we want to show that we’re hungry. We’re coming back. Last year we got upset, and this year we aren’t taking anything for granted.”

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Justin Glenn
Justin Glenn, Sports Editor
Justin is a sports fanatic.. you’ll most likely see him with a baseball cap of some sort throughout the hallways. If he isn’t writing about high school sports, he’s likely watching a D.C. sports team, NASCAR or some other professional league in his free time. Outside of sports, he enjoys the outdoors and watching Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch, besides that, he’s an average out-going person.
  • 2023-24: Assistant Sports Editor
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