Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

SPORTS >>Senior took charge of young Devils

Special to the Leader

“Conflicted,” “strained” and “out of place” are not terms normally associated with an All-State basketball player.

But that’s how Jacksonville point guard Terrell Eskridge felt at times while leading the Red Devils as a floor general the past two seasons — two of the best seasons for Jacksonville in the past dozen years.

That success came in large part because Eskridge was able to bury those feelings and replace them with leadership, humility and toughness.

This season, the team finished only 14-14, but that was after a 3-9 start. It ended with a trip to the quarterfinals this season, one year after the Red Devils reached the semis.

Eskridge never planned on being in Jacksonville, or even playing basketball. He was happy attending Little Rock Central and being an observer. One day that all changed — against his will. During his sophomore year, his mother, who had legal custody even though he lived with his father, transferred him to Jacksonville to be nearer to her.

“I didn’t want to come here,” Eskridge said. “I cried and I got mad. She actually finally said I could go back, but Central wouldn’t take me back after I transferred.”

While Eskridge still isn’t sure that was all for the best, he is now glad she made him play basketball. He played mostly junior varsity point guard his sophomore year, but stepped into the starting role last season. He was the only non-senior to play a major role on that team, and was the only senior to play a major role this year.

The drastic change in roles, Eskridge admits, wasn’t an easy transition. He ended up doing things this year, he said, he swore he would never do.

“When I was an underclassman I didn’t like it when the seniors would yell at me,” Eskridge said. “I wasn’t ever going to do that. I said that tomyself. But you get here and you realize that sometimes you have to. They’re so young you have to do things to get their attention. I didn’t do it for a long time, but when we got to 3-9 I knew something wasn’t working, so I had to try something else.”

Eskridge said his teammates didn’t take it well at first, but soon things began to click and the team became a force in the 6A-East Conference.

Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner credits his only senior with helping get the team on the same page.

“They all had that same kind of laid-back attitude, not much outward emotion,” Joyner said. “They were all playing, but everybody on this team was sort of functioning in their own little world. Terrell knew he had to start saying something. He took some flack, some persecution because they didn’t like it when he started getting in some people’s butts vocally.

“I stopped doing it because I had done it and it wasn’t working,” Joyner added. “As coaches, there was nothing else we could do. That team had to make some changes and it was going to have to be the team that did it. Terrell was the main one that took it on his shoulders to start making that happen.”

Terrell’s younger brother, junior Cortrell Eskridge, and Corey Graham were also approached by Joyner and began taking leadership roles, but the one that did most of the talking was Terrell.

“I had one teammate who wanted to fight me,” Eskridge said. “It just made him mad that I yelled at him or whatever. It settled down pretty quick, but they didn’t like it at all at first.”

Joyner also said Eskridge was usually right when he began correcting players in practice.

“Terrell is a student of the game,” Joyner said. “When he told someone something on the court, I always backed him up because he was just trying to tell them what was going to help them win.”

Last year Eskridge made All-Conference. This year he was named to the All-Conference and All-State teams. He was selected to play in the All-Metro game that took place last night at Hall High School. He was also named to the All-Tournament teams in the Red Devil Classic and the Wampus Cat Invitational in Conway.

He aspires to play college ball, but as yet hasn’t received any offers. That’s not to say no one is interested. He has been contacted by Lewis and Clark Community College, Belmont Uni-versity in Nashville, the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, and UA-Pine Bluff.

Eskridge likes Bel-mont the most out of those schools, but said he isn’t going to be picky.

“Nobody has offer-ed me a scholarship yet,” Eskridge said. “Whoever does, that’s where I’m going.”

He plans to study physical education and become a coach because of the advice of someone he admires greatly.

“Coach Joyner said he thinks I’d be a good coach,” Eskridge said. “I don’t know why, but I’m going to listen to him. He’s done a lot for me.”