LAURINBURG — Jeremias Easterling grew up in Buenos Aires learning two languages — Spanish, and basketball. Then he had to add a third when he moved to Scotland County at the age of 11.
Easterling is a junior at Scotland High School and one of the starters for the varsity basketball team. Depending on the lineup around him, he rotates between power forward and center. But no matter where he is on the court, he is always involved.
Easterling grew up playing basketball, and his love of the sport comes from his father. Stanley Easterling played professional basketball for a few years after graduating from Gardner Webb University in 1989. His career took him all over the world, as he played in South America, Europe and Japan. Eventually, after his playing career ended, he found a job in North Carolina, prompting Jeremias’ relocation.
The hardest part of the initial transition was the issue of the language. Easterling was only taught Spanish in the Argentinian schools, so he had to quickly adjust to English when he started school in North Carolina.
“I sat in class and it was like listening to Chinese,” Easterling said when describing the difficulty. “But you learn by listening.”
This is Easterling’s first season as a member of the varsity squad, as he played with the junior varsity group under coach Miguel McLean last year. He said he has goals of going on to play in college, but right now is focused more on the remaining time with the Scots.
“I don’t want to leave high school without a ring,” he said.
Easterling has played in every game for the Scots this season and has averaged 7.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. He has also shot 59 percent from the field, putting in most of his shots from inside the paint where he can put his 6-foot-6-inch frame to use. He leads the team in rebounds per game and total rebounds with 129.
One of his most crucial plays, and one that he said he remembers most from this season, came on Feb. 10 against Purnell Swett. Scotland was up 60-59 with 15.3 seconds left when Miguel McKeithan missed a pair of free throws. However, Easterling put himself between two Swett players and managed to bring down the rebound and get it into the hands of Travis Miles, who then knocked down both free throws to make it a three-point game.
The Scots held on to win that game 64-59.
Scotland coach Michael Malpass said Easterling has been an important peg in the Scotland offense this year.
“He’s a great kid and he’s very coachable. He’s a great teammate as well,” Malpass said.
Easterling said playing under Malpass involves a lot of running during practice, but he enjoys being led by him because he is making everyone a better basketball player while still having fun.
In addition to trying to claim a state championship ring, Easterling has one more goal. This one is a little more personal.
“I want to be better than my dad,” Easterling said with a grin.
Scotland hosts Lumberton in must-win game
Tonight’s game against Lumberton will determine who gets to keep playing, at least for one game. The Scots (6-12 overall, 5-4 in the Southeastern Conference) take on Lumberton (11-10 overall and 4-4 in the SEC) in a game that determines who will claim third place in the conference and the final playoff spot.
The numerous postponements caused by the snow and ice forced the cancelation of the conference tournament, which could have provided another route to the playoffs as the winner of the knockout-tourney automatically qualifies.
Scotland won the matchup 64-44 at Lumberton on Jan. 27. The Scots held a steady lead of around eight points for most of the game before pulling away in the end. Malpass said he will stick with the gameplan he has been using, starting a small lineup of guards and rotating them in-and-out with a larger lineup.
An assistant coach keeps track of how well each lineup does in terms of points scored against points given up, which the coaches analyze at halftime to get an idea of any adjustments that need to be made. Malpass said it is important to approach the game the same as any other.
“I tell the guys to let me handle the pressure, and they just go out and play,” Malpass said.
The Scotland girls clinched the SEC title by beating Richmond 55-47 on Monday. They have a 9-0 record in the conference and are 11-7 overall. Their game begins at 6 p.m. and the boys play afterwards.