By Joe Mason
A lot has changed for Jahi Randall, and it’s all for the better.
Last year, Randall was a sophomore at George Washington High School, and while he had some talent, he needed to improve. And we’re not just talking his jumpshot, handle or defense.
“I am now a much better player, and a much better person,” said Randall, a junior forward on the Abraham Lincoln High School basketball team. “It wasn’t I didn’t like Washington. I just needed to get better. I matured a whole lot. Last year, I would get mad.
“When I got to Lincoln, the coaches told me that they expected a lot from me. They challenged all of us. But they challenged me to be a better player and a better person. They said they needed us to play smart and play better.”
With Randall as one of the key players on the floor, the Railsplitters put together an impressive season that saw them win the Public League Class AAAAAA championship and, for the first time in school history, advance to the state playoffs. They also won a game in the tournament, making it a banner year for the Railsplitters.
“This was a historic season for us,” said Randall, who earned second-team All-Public honors. “We did things no other team in Lincoln history did. We made the state playoffs. We won a game even. We came out with a goal and we didn’t accomplish it, but we did play really well, and we had a great season.”
That season came to a halt on Thursday night when the Railsplitters traveled to Garden Spot and lost to Carlisle 85–69 in a second-round game.
Lincoln got 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists from Marlon Sharpton, 11 points from Saleh El and 10 points from Shikeir Morrison.
Lincoln did struggle in terms of sending Carlisle to the line, as the Herd shot 30 for 50 on freebies.
It wasn’t the end Randall and company were hoping for, but it did bring a great season to a close.
“I don’t think most people thought we would be winning games in the (state) playoffs, but we did,” Randall said. “We knew we could do it. The coaches had confidence in us all year long. They told us we would go far.”
Considering most Public League teams have been home for about six weeks now, the Railsplitters gained valuable experience while playing against the best competition around.
And while they were playing for this year, the run will only help them when next year rolls around.
“This definitely raises the bar,” said Randall, who lives in West Oak Lane. “We know we can do this now. We know that if we listen to our coaches and play together, we can win. This shows us.”
Randall expects big things during his senior year, but he’s not waiting for them to happen.
Good things come to those who deserve them, and Randall isn’t going to wait long trying to achieve those goals.
“I thought about playing football, but I have a lot of things to work on, so I’ll probably just get started on them,” Randall said. “I have to work on my dribble. That’s the big thing. I can play the perimeter and get to the basket. I have the skills to do those things, but I want to be able to handle the ball better.”
That was probably Lincoln’s biggest asset this year.
While it had more than its fair share of talented players, what made the team special is that most of the guys in the lineup could play any position on the court.
That allowed Lincoln to put fast lineups on the floor when the situation called for it, or throw the bigs out there and pound the ball inside.
“We had so many guys who could do anything,” Randall said. “We could send five other guys out and pull all the starters and it would be just like the starters were out there. We didn’t miss a thing when we pulled the starters. They were just as good as we are.”
Depth proved key, and while the Railsplitters have a lot of seniors who will say goodbye in June, Randall and the other underclassmen are motivated, and eying another great run a year from now.
“We will get back next year,” Randall said. “We expect it. This isn’t pressure, it’s something we’ll put on ourselves because we like it when people are talking about us, and saying we’re a good team. We love to have the school supporting us.
“I am totally different than I was when I started the season, and we’re a different team than we were when we started the year. Now that we know what it’s like to win, it’s something we want to do all the time. We want Lincoln on the map.” ••