EAST ORANGE, NJ – Derrick Johnson is back!
After a one-year hiatus, Johnson has returned as the East Orange Campus High School girls’ basketball head coach and will enter his 15th season at the EOCHS helm.
When Johnson was in charge, the Jaguars were simply dominant. Before he stepped down to become the EOCHS athletic director for the 2017-18 school year, Johnson guided the team to a remarkable stretch. The Jaguars advanced to a state sectional tournament final in four straight seasons (2014 to 2017).
In 2014, they were North 2, Group 4 sectional runner-up with a final 18-9 mark.
EOCHS then won back-to-back Essex County Tournament titles and sectional titles in 2015 and 2016, finishing 25-3 and 24-4 respectively. They were in North 1, Group 4 in 2015 and North 2, Group 4 in 2016.
EOCHS vied for a third straight sectional title in 2017, but fell in the North 1, Group 4 final to Morristown to end 17-9.
Last season, with Jimmy Sheard at the helm, the Jaguars were 11-11.
Johnson, who is no longer the A.D., is now focused on helping the Jaguars return to glory.
“Since I took a year off, it was like a lull in the girls’ morale. But since I’m back, I think they can make a run,” said Johnson during a practice session on Monday, Dec. 3. “They just have to buy in and believe in their skills.”
Johnson is impressed with this year’s team.
“They’re very scrappy, a lot energy. We got a good nucleus,” he said.
This year’s team will be guard-oriented. Returning in the backcourt are senior Brianna Mills and junior Brianna Turner, who were key contributors on the 2017 sectional title run. Senior Lakel Willis and sophomore Destiny Battle also return.
Johnson expects those experienced players “to be leaders; to use their skill set to take the team to a higher level,” as well as set an example for the younger players.
One of those young players is freshman guard Trinity Haskins, who has a terrific upside, as well as being an excellent student in the classroom, Johnson said.
Sophomore Mokayla Watkins and junior Nadaya Stubbs will lead the way in the paint, looking to develop as the season progresses.
The Jaguars have a good mix this season. The key to a strong season is a belief in the system, combined with hard work and a positive attitude, Johnson said.
“I got a good group of young ladies, and they have to fight through adversity,” he said. “A loss here or there, doesn’t mean the season is over.”
The Jaguars will have a big test in the season opener as they host West Orange on Dec. 14. West Orange, led by Penn State-bound senior forward Mya Bembry, won the North 1, Group 4 sectional title a year ago.
Dec. 14, West Orange, 7 p.m.
Dec. 18, Newark Tech, 7 p.m.
Dec. 20, at Arts, 5:30 p.m.
Dec. 22, at Warren Hills, 1 p.m.
Dec. 26, 28-29, Marist tournament
Jan. 3, Saddle River Day, 7 p.m.
Jan. 8, Payne Tech, 7 p.m.
Jan. 10, at Nutley, 7 p.m.
Jan. 11, at Irvington, 4 p.m.
Jan. 15, at University, 7 p.m.
Jan. 19, at Trenton Central, 2:30 p.m.
Jan. 22, at West Orange, 7 p.m.
Jan. 24, at Newark Tech, 7 p.m.
Jan. 26, Arts, 1 p.m.
Jan. 29, at Payne Tech, 7 p.m.
Jan. 31, at Newark Collegiate Academy, 6:15 p.m.
Feb. 5, Nutley, 7 p.m.
Feb. 12, University, 7 p.m.