By James Butler
RIVERDALE, Ga. — For the first time in program history, the Drew girls basketball team will start a season without Candence Jackson as its head coach.
After departing to take the South Atlanta High girls job, Virgil Amey takes over the Lady Titans’ program and he is hoping to keep the Titans going strong by emulating what some of the other top county teams do.
“My intention is to build a team upon defense,” Amey said. “Many of the coaches [in the county] place a trust on their defense to win games. We’re going to do the same. We’re going to work extremely hard. We’re going to work smart.”
Jackson started the Drew girls program, and in its first year playing a varsity schedule, led the Titans to a region championship. Her 2013-14 team made it to the state semifinals. Star Drew guard Jada Hargrove said she sees similarities in Amey and Jackson.
“They’re not really different,” Hargrove said. “A coach is going to coach and they’re going to feel a certain type of way whether you’re playing good or whether you’re playing bad. I just look at both of them as parents, father figure [and a] mother figure, to grow as a student athlete [and] grow as a person.”
Amey comes to Drew after spending the last four years working in basketball operations and development with the Junior NBA and the Atlanta Hawks. However, he has coached basketball on the high school level — including three solid years as the Druid Hills girls head coach in the late 1990’s — and is excited to get back on the court.
“Competing and coaching on the sidelines is different than basketball operations,” Amey said. “It’s something about being on the sidelines strategizing, putting the product on the floor to try to win [and] compete.”
Amey is also excited about the quality of players he is inheriting. Of course there’s Hargrove, a four-year starter who averaged close to 16 points per game a season ago. But Amey expects two-year starter Dareka Chelse to figure greatly into Drew’s success this season as well.
“The players are very coachable,” Amey said. “They are committed to getting better, becoming better, so right now I appreciate the leadership of Jada and [Dareka]. They are doing a good job of corralling the young players, because we are going to have a lot of young players.”
The Region 4-AAAAA Preseason Player of the year Hargrove, is a combo guard who can score.
“Great skill putting the ball on the floor [and getting] to the cup,” Amey said. “She does a great job at that. She’s also a great assist leader [and] a great team leader. We expect great things from her. She has many offers right now to play collegiate basketball.”
Hargrove uses the lessons learned from last season when Drew was eliminated in the region torney to stay grounded and inspire her team.
“My sophomore year we went to the Final Four, last year we lost in the first round (region tournament), and my freshman year we lost in the first round (region tournament), so it’s definitely reminding me to remain humble. I definitely want to make sure mentally we are tough and on the floor we are tough.”
The Titans will once again compete in a loaded region with the likes of Forest Park, Woodland, Dutchtown, and McIntosh, but they are excited about their future.
“Coach Jackson was a tremendous coach,” Chelse said. “She left behind a tremendous legacy and I feel like coach Amey is the perfect man to carry on that legacy. I feel like we’re one of the top teams in our region and we will perform as such.”