NEW BOSTON – The New Boston Tigers (17-5) have what many teams at the Division IV level can’t say they have: two guys who are 6’5” and above that are multitalented players who can score on you in different ways.
Their size is important and will continue to be important if they want to make a run in the postseason.
But what about their guard play, an aspect of their diverse lineup that sometimes is overlooked?
Junior Malachi Potts, and freshmen Jerome McKinley and Grady Jackson haven’t only played an integral role in New Boston’s regular season successes, they’ve been crucial.
It’s no easy task for any player to jump right into varsity level of competition, let alone freshmen who have played regularly against all-district players in Eastern’s Evan Leist and Green’s Tanner Kimbler. Not only have McKinley and Jackson played against stout competition, they’ve thrived amongst southern Ohio’s best.
“I’ve played with older kids my whole life,” said McKinley. “Playing against seniors who have a higher skill level I think has better prepared me and helped get me ready for this stage.”
“I had to get stronger, and I had play above my grade level,” said Jackson. “For us to succeed and fulfill our potential, we’ve all had to go above and beyond and put in the extra work.”
When Potts went down with an injury that sidelined him for eight in the early part of the season, a road game against the Tigers sectional final opponent East, it was time for Jackson and McKinley to grow up on the court, and they needed do so quickly.
“That injury was a gift and a curse at the same time,” said Potts. “Sitting on the sideline and seeing the game from the coaches perspective, that really helped me shape them. Showing them the little things that they couldn’t see from the court, and helping them out as one of their fellow players I think really helped them adjust as freshmen.”
“Mal’s a leader, he’s the glue that keeps us together,” said Jackson. “Not just on the court, off the court too. He sees things from a different angle, and I think it’s really helped me and Jerome develop and adapt quickly to this level of play.”
Before Potts’ injury, he averaged 7.7 points per game, and even though that may have dipped since then due to the rise of Jackson and McKinley, his effort and quick decision making has not. Potts leads the Tigers in charges taken, as well as a 4:1 assist to turnover margin, an impressive margin at the high school level, or at any level for that matter.
“Mal is my mine me,” said New Boston head coach Adam Cox on Potts. “He knows all of our sets, plays, and all the lingo we use. It’s really like having another coach out on the court. He’s a great leader, and an even better kid.”
The similarities between Jackson and McKinley’s numbers are consequential. For the season, Jackson is averaging 13.5 points per game, 3.4 steals per game, and 3.8 assists per game. McKinley is averaging 13.7 points per game, 3.2 steals per game, and 3.2 assists per game.
Maybe craziest of all, despite having two players taller than 6’5” in Kyle Sexton and Tyler Caldwell, McKinley is second on the Tigers’ roster in rebounding at 6.8 rebounds per game, three of which come on the offensive end.
“Both of them are extremely talented for freshman, and both work even harder,” said Cox. “As you would expect, they’re still learning and understanding the leadership roles of being a varsity starter. It’s going to be fun watching them grow and develop over the next three years with the amount of effort and hustle they put in.”
When Jackson and McKinley both make their first postseason appearance Tuesday night in the Tigers’ sectional final contest with SOC I foe and rival East with a chance to play at Ohio University’s Convocation Center on the line, both know they’ll be ready for the challenge that lies ahead
“Play our game, execute, get out and run like we have all year, and play defense like we can,” said Jackson when asked what it’ll take to win the school’s second consecutive sectional title. “It should be a lot of fun.”
New Boston and East tipoff from Northwest High School Tuesday evening at 6:00 p.m.
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT