Not only did Arthur have to get her own returning players ready to play at a higher level following a rebuilding season — at least to McEachern’s lofty standards — but she had experienced new additions that had to buy into her system.
New to the Lady Indians were former Kell center Caliya Robinson, one of the nation’s top junior recruits, and sisters Aunesha and Audrisha Williams from Cherokee. Former North Cobb player Taylor Gordon was enrolled at McEachern last season, but she wasn’t eligible to suit up until this past fall.
With three of the four newcomers being starters, and returning starters Te’a Cooper and Jada Lewis continuing to grow into their roles, McEachern arguably had a more talented team than it did two years ago, when it won its first state championship with a perfect record.
It was up to Arthur to get the returning players to jell with the newcomers, and she succeeded.
Though the Lady Indians didn’t finish with a perfect record, losing a pair of showcase games in Tennessee, they became the first Cobb County girls basketball team to win a second state title when they beat Archer 81-62 for the Class AAAAAA championship.
McEachern didn’t lose to a single in-state opponent and finished with a 29-2 record.
Despite having to overcome the controversy of having so many transfers on her squad this year, Arthur’s Lady Indians stayed focused on the task at hand, and she is the 2013-14 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
“I wasn’t expecting (the award) because of what people think and feel,” Arthur said. “Some still acknowledge our team is good, which means we’re doing our job, despite what is being said out there. It’s an honor to be acknowledged in this fashion.”
Part of her Arthur’s job was finding roles for her returning players.
While Cooper and Lewis were tabbed as starting guards, forward Klintisha Martin, guard Declaria Daniels and center Zeiandra Bridges needed to adapt to whatever role they would have if they didn’t win starting positions.
Late in the regular season, when McEachern really needed to peak, Martin, Daniels and Bridges all stepped up once they understood their roles, and they became solid contributors off the bench.
“They struggled early, but in the last 10 games or so, they came in and were a spark off the bench,” Arthur said. “Everyone understood their role. I can only start five, and I had eight to nine players who could start. Once they realized they were OK coming off the bench, the dynamics of the game changed.”
But when Arthur first attempted to work the new players — Robinson, the Williams sisters and Gordon — into the mix, she said it was like “mixing oil and water.” Arthur said Robinson and Aunesha Williams didn’t play as well in December as they did in February.
To get her new team to blend together, Arthur did more teaching at the beginning of the season. Once they began giving input during practices on what kind of offenses and defenses worked best, it was a sign that they were catching on, which made it easier for Arthur to coach.
“Once they started to relax and know their players and tendencies, it was easier to coach,” Arthur said. “Then, I started feeling like Phil Jackson and Pat Riley. I could sit back, cross my legs and let them play. All that talent, people think it’s easy. It’s not, even back in 2012. You have one basketball and five talented players.”
After cruising to the Region 4AAAAAA title, McEachern won its first four playoff games by an average of 38.7 points. Cooper, a junior ranked the nation’s second best point guard in her class, was named Georgia’s Miss Basketball this season after averaging 19.6 points a game.