Prep Basketball Preview: A.L. Brown girls
KANNAPOLIS — The nice thing about SPC girls basketball last season was that even on an off night, you still had a chance to win by something like 42-39.
Actually, that was the final score when the Wonders beat Hickory Ridge at home, and the Wonders also managed to pull out an even lower-scoring 35-33 home decision against Cox Mill.
The Wonders shot 31 percent and averaged 41.7 points per game and still were able to scrap for a 9-16 mark that included six league wins and a 3A state playoff berth, no small achievement for such an offensively challenged team.
The bottom line is that the Wonders are moving up to the 4A MECKA this time and they are unlikely to make the playoffs if they again score like a football team.
“We know that,” coach Mike Wolford said on the eve of starting his third season. “We played Mallard Creek last season (a 56-30 loss), and that’s why I’ve pushed the girls harder than ever on the fundamentals. We want to step up to the challenge that’s in front of us.”
Brown lost several seniors, but on paper Wolford’s team can be better than last year.
The problem is that the Wonders could be a better team and still have a lesser record because of the step up in league and class.
“I do think we have athletes good enough to compete,” Wolford said. “If we make that extra pass and play smart, I think we’ll win some.”
A strength of the team should be ballhandling. Wolford jokes that he has 3.5 point guards. Junior Aitana Grant, sophomore Kyla Downs and freshman Shemya Stanback all have point guard attributes, although it’s also possible all three will share the floor at the same time.
The half-point guard in Wolford math is Mackenzie Rodgers, who has fine ballhandling skills but usually will be counted on to be more of a finisher and shooter.
Grant, 5-foot-7, is an exceptionally aggressive player. She spends a lot of nights in foul trouble because of that tenacity, but that’s who she is. She averaged 6.5 points per game last season, so she’s the leading returning scorer.
“She gets a lot of points off her defense,” Wolford said. “She’s very athletic and has some skills.”
Believe it or not, Grant shot better from the field (45 percent) than the foul line last season. She gets fouled more than anyone on the team, so Wolford is optimistic that her free-throw percentage will go up. If it does, she could be a double-figure scorer.
Wolford describes the 5-6 Downs as a “ballhandler who can get to the rim.”
“She can be tough to handle because she’s such a good athlete,” he said.
Stanback, only 5-2, is the only freshman on the varsity.
“She’s good, definite point guard material,” Wolford said. “We’re looking for her to play a lot of minutes.”
Statistically, the 5-6 Rodgers (3.6 points per game) is the team’s best shooter. As a freshman, she hit 33 percent from the 3-point line and 67-percent on free throws.
“She’ll have some added confidence this year, and she has lot of skills from putting in a lot of hours,” Wolford said.
Guard Talethia Alexander, 5-5, contributed 2.7 points per game, but she could increase that production a lot.
“She can shoot,” Wolford said. “That’s her game, and when she gets hot she makes them from 25 feet.”
Junior Sascha McCoy, the sister of Wonders running back Sandon McCoy, is another fine athlete and is listed as a 5-6 swing player.
“She’s a good volleyball player and she can run, jump and defend,” Wolford said. “She’ll attack people with her athletic ability and she should give us a lot of energy.”
Mariah Howard, a 5-8 sophomore, is another long-armed defender and will be important when the Wonders want to turn up the heat defensively.
Junior Esther Kituku, 5-8, a reserve forward last season, has increased her conditioning and skills in an effort to make a bigger impact this season. Wolford has been impressed.
For size, the Wonders have 5-11 Bailey Vernon and 5-11 Tiera Grier, both seniors.
Neither scored much last season, but both can block shots. Grier had 27 blocks and a team-best 53 offensive rebounds a year ago. Vernon had 30 blocks.
“When Grier is on, she’s as good a player as we have,” Wolford said. “Vernon has made a lot of improvement. She’s been much more confident with the ball and hasn’t been backing down from anyone.”
That’s the 10-girl roster. Newcomers Stanback, Howard and McCoy join seven veterans, who have all contributed in the past. There’s no obvious source of points, but there’s good depth.
“We’ve got 10 we feel good about and any of those 10 could start,” Wolford said. “Offensively, we’ve just got to keep working, but there’s no excuse for us not to be a good defensive team.”
Wolford said he has another talented freshman in Kelly Chrismon. She’ll start with the jayvees but is someone to watch for the future.
The MECKA will be tough, with Hough, North Meck and West Charlotte all highly regarded in the preseason.