They’ve got some big shoes to fill.
One year after Jefferson clinched its first Public Schools Athletic League Class AA championship in 62 years, the Orange Wave is back with a squad of fresh faces and question marks. There’s only one thing this team is certain of — it wants to defend its title.
“We don’t know yet who’s the go-to guy and who we’re going to put in new situations,” Jefferson coach Lawrence “Bud” Pollard said. “The regular season is to basically get you ready for the playoffs. My goal is to get playoff-qualified, win enough games, and get us in the postseason.”
Jefferson graduated some of the program’s biggest names last season — including Shamorie Ponds, Curtis Smith, and Rasheem Dunn — but this year’s Orange Wave standouts are still ready to step up.
The Orange Wave hosted the annual Jefferson Hersh Tip-Off Classic last weekend and will also compete in the Brooklyn Bridge Classic, the Wheeler High Tournament of Champions, and the New Heights Invitational this season. Pollard isn’t expecting his squad to win every one of these games. In fact, he expects some bumps in the road, but if Jefferson can consistently compete, it will only help prepare the team for a deep postseason run.
“I’m not concerned with going 28–1 or going undefeated,” he said. “If I can play a tough schedule, go .500, and make the playoffs, that can get us ready to make a run. That’s what we’re trying to do. These guys have got to be ready to play every night.”
The key, as far as Pollard is concerned, rests on how much his players want it. And, right now, the Orange Wave want to set their own standard of excellence.
“The guys last season averaged 26 wins a year, and these new guys have got big shoes to fill,” Pollard said. “A lot of people are going to be licking their chops right now, because they won a lot of games and kicked a lot of butt, so a lot of people are going to want to get some kick-back on us.”
Jefferson might not be ready to name its undisputed leaders quite yet, but the Orange Wave still boasts a core group of players that Pollard hopes will step up when they have to. Seniors Malachi Faison, Marques Watson, and Khalil Rhodes will all likely see solid minutes once the season gets underway.
Pollard is also anticipating some more options off the bench this winter — looking to try different players at different spots until something clicks.
“We’ve got some newcomers and some guys we moved up from junior varsity, but we’ve got a nice roster here — a good group of kids — and we’re going to be a little deeper than last year,” he said.
It’s not going to be easy this season — Pollard knows that, and so do his players. He’s reminded them every day in practice. Teams are gunning for Jefferson — hoping for another 62-year break between championships — but this team is adjusting to the weight of the bull’s-eye on its collective back.
“We’re just as good as everybody else,” Pollard said. “We just want to finish strong. That’s the key.”