Hardaway, Thomas return to lead Jonesboro

Jonesboro’s Destiny Thomas shoots under the basket during a game against Paragould last season. Thomas averaged 10.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots as a sophomore last year for the Lady Hurricane.

JONESBORO — Jonesboro has its point guard and post in place.

Ereauna Hardaway and Destiny Thomas are already NCAA Division I recruits going into their junior seasons with the Lady Hurricane. Both regularly scored in double figures while filling the stat sheet in other categories last year as sophomores.

Filling in around them is the key for the 2020-21 Lady Hurricane, head coach Jodi Christenberry said.

“A lot of it, honestly, is going to come down to our role players, the players who when a team doubles down on Destiny or traps Ereauna, we get it out to one of the other role players and knock down a shot or get a layup out of it and make them pay for paying too much attention to Destiny or Ereauna,” Christenberry said. “I really think it’s going to end up being how good our role players do as much as it’s going to be with Destiny and Ereauna.”

Jonesboro was 16-11 last season, featuring Tennessee signee Destiny Salary along with Hardaway and Thomas. The Lady Hurricane finished fourth in the 5A-East before losing to Greenwood in the first round of the 5A state tournament.

While Salary and a couple other key seniors graduated, Jonesboro has high expectations with Hardaway and Thomas returning to the lineup in Christenberry’s 12th season as head coach.

“Ereauna runs the show for us. She’s got such great floor vision, probably one of the best point guards I’ve been around in a long, long time if not ever coached with the floor vision that she has,” Christenberry said. “Destiny has gotten stronger, she’s gotten more aggressive. She’s understanding the post game better than she did last year. I look to see her be more aggressive in the post and look to score more than she did last year.”

Thomas (6-2) had several big games last year, including a triple-double of 17 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocked shots against Jackson, Tenn., South Side in a tournament last December.

She averaged 10.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game last season while shooting 59 percent from the field.

Hardaway (5-5) regularly scored in double figures as well, including a 19-point game against West Memphis. She averaged 10.3 points, 4.2 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game while shooting 35 percent from the 3-point line.

Cincinnati is among the teams recruiting Hardaway, Christenberry said, while Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe and others are recruiting Thomas. Having a point guard and center is the same class is nice, Christenberry said.

“So many times in high school you either have a post and no guards to get it to her, or you have a point guard and you don’t any posts to dish to. It’s really nice that these two are here together, same grade level, all that kind of stuff,” Christenberry said. “I’ve seen so many times the right people kind of pass each other grade wise and you say, ‘I wish that kid could play with that kid.’ I expect to see some really special things out of them in the next couple years.”

Christenberry is counting on 5-10 senior guard/forward Chasity Jackson to knock down shots and 5-9 senior guard Lexi Laws could also add scoring punch. Laws scored 17 points against Jackson South Side last year and had 11 against Bentonville.

Lakiya Scott, a 6-1 senior guard, is vying for a starting spot after battling injuries the last two years.

Shene’sha Hunter, a 5-5 senior forward, is “one of those kids who can guard a post player beacuse she’s gritty and going to do all the stuff that nobody wants to do,” Christenberry said.

Forward T’Kera Anderson, a 6-0 junior, is probably the most improved from last year to this year, Christenberry said. Sophomores Diamond Reynolds (5-9), Jazma Hooks (5-4) and Bramyia Johnson (5-5) also have the potential to contribute.

The 5A-East lineup replaced one contender with another as Batesville moved in and Mountain Home moved out. Christenberry said the diversity of styles in the league presents a challenge.

“You have to go one night from focusing on maybe post play to the next night, you have to be able to contest every 3. Then the next night you have to defend every drive,” Christenberry said. “It’s like you have to change mindsets constantly. That’s the tough part about our conference because everybody has a different skill set and different strengths, so you better be prepared for everything.”

Christenberry said she tries to put together a challenging non-conference schedule so the Lady Hurricane will start to play its best around the end of January.

The formula produced state championships in 2016 and 2018 as well as a state runner-up finish in 2019.

“We start out in November and people are like, ‘They’re OK,’ but by the time we hit February, we’re starting to click,” she said. “The new kids are starting to understand the program, start to understand the offense, because it takes about two-thirds of the year to really get the offense down. They start to click, everything starts to fall together and it looks really good.

“Every team is different, but if we do mesh like that and things start to come together at the end, absolutely this team could make a run.”