Prep Basketball Preview: Salisbury girls

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 24, 2008

By David Shaw
When we last checked on the Salisbury girls basketball team, it was reeling from a season-ending miss-a-thon in the 2A Western Regional final.
Eight months later, the Hornets don’t need to be reminded.
“They talk about it, and they don’t talk about it,” said Andrew Mitchell, Salisbury’s third coach in three years. “The good thing to come out of it is that they’re all a lot hungrier this year. They didn’t point any fingers. They felt like they all choked.”
Salisbury returns to the court with a big appetite and an aching desire to better last year’s 28-2 overall record.
Mitchell, the former Livingstone College women’s coach, has replaced Dee Miller, who led the Hornets to an 11-1 CCC mark, a share of the league title and the conference tournament championship.
“It’s back to school for me,” said Mitchell, a classroom teacher for the first time in 18 years. “Thankfully, I didn’t have to come in here and create anything great. It’s already great. I’m just blending this team with my philosophy รณ which is playing good, fundamental basketball.”
Salisbury has the goods to win it all this season.
But as the Hornets learned during last season’s funeral March, the best team doesn’t always win. The team that plays best does.
“We’re playing for an undefeated season and a state championship,” Mitchell announced. “We’ve already beaten Butler and Concord in scrimmages. So far I like the heart of this team and the way it faces up to challenges.”
What’s not to like?
The honor roll begins with Bubbles Phifer, last year’s Player of the Year in Rowan County. The junior guard averaged a county-best 14.8 points per game and reached double figures 26 times.
“She’s a junior, but she plays like she’s on a college level,” Mitchell said. “She’s so graceful with the ball. I compare her to Chris Paul. She very seldom panics. And if you run at her, she’ll split defenders or find an open person.”
Phifer’s backcourt partner is senior Shi-Heria Shipp, a 5-foot-11 cool customer who kicks off the season with 878 career points.
Last year, when Salisbury won its first 12 games and later 16 straight, she was good for 14 points a night.
“Shi-Heria can be a leader in a lot of ways,” Mitchell said. “I appreciate where she is, and I’m pleased with the extra effort she’s giving. She’s always had a good outside shot and handled the ball well. Right now we’re forcing her to go left and hopefully make her even better.”
Nene Phifer (5-9) is penciled in to start at small forward. A defensive ballhawk, she’s improved her dribbling skills and developed a nifty little post move.
“But what you notice first about her is that defensive tenacity,” Mitchell said. “She’s got that real nasty defensive attitude we need.”
Salisbury’s power forward is 5-10 senior De’Rya Wylie. Mitchell reports she held her own against Butler, a 4A powerhouse in Charlotte. A unanimous choice to be team captain, Wylie’s act needs no introduction.
“We can put her on any post player in the state,” Mitchell crowed. “She’s not the tallest forward, but she’s quick and she’s strong. We need her to shut people down.”
Mitchell has a conforming role player in center Jasmine Clinding. A 6-foot senior, she’s improved her timing on shot blocks and hustles from end line to end line.
“She’s not gonna try to do anything she can’t do,” said Mitchell. “She does exactly what we ask her to do.”
The Salisbury bench will play a key role this season.
Sophomore twins Ayanna and Ashia Holmes are inter-changeable parts who can fill in at any position. Senior Kia Rice is ball of energy who’ll provide spark all over the floor.
“She’s like Bobby Jackson,” Mitchell said. “You don’t always know what you’re gonna get, but you’re gonna get something.”
Mitchell is also high on 6-foot sophomores Isis Miller and Jessica Heilig, both good rebounders with a soft touch around the hoop.
First-year senior Sherrell Ross (a 5-6 guard) is the team’s only lefty. And juniors Dominique Pearson Lecretia Young are steady shooters who can provide depth at guard or small forward.
“We’re still learning my system,” Mitchell said. “We’re not as smooth offensively as I’d like to be.
“But this right here is a good defensive team. When we play defense, we’re really good. Scary good. I want them to realize that when you play together and keep a positive attitude, this game can be a lot of fun.”