On July 6 and 7, 2009, I had the pleasure of being a part of the coaching staff for the Virginia High School Coaches Association Girls All-Star Game in Hampton, VA. Each year, coaches from around the state meet in Charlottesville, VA to review nominations for all-star game participants. The participants must be graduating seniors. There was an abundance of talent for both squads in this year's game.
I was chosen to participate as a result of the season my team had. We finished 23-6 and were the state runners-up in Group AA, Division 3. As a result, I was selected to be a part of the staff for the West squad. Coaches that lead their respective teams to the state championship games are asked to be a part of this unique experience. I was more than happy to go simply for my love of the game.
Our first day in Hampton was spent checking into our dorm rooms on the campus of Hampton University and making sure the girls were checked-in and ready to go. After a brief meeting and lunch, it was off to the Boo Williams Sportsplex for practice.
I was amazed at the intensity the girls practiced with; there were no letdowns. There easily could have been, but these young ladies were competitors and it showed. Being an all-star game, practice wasn't as taxing as a normal, regular season practice would be. Warm-ups were followed by some shooting and passing drills and then we moved into some offensive and defensive philosophy ideas. We finished practice in the Shell Drill and then headed back to campus.
We were taken on a boat tour through the harbor in Hampton after dinner as a team function. Passing by the naval facilities is a sight to behold. Seeing battleships on television or in a magazine does no justice to the sheer impressiveness of these ships! Only up close and personal can you gain a greater appreciation for what the men and women of the Navy experience on a day-to-day basis on these vessels.
July 7 was game day and any competitor knows what that means. We had a shoot-around in the morning and then took a tour of the Air and Space Museum before heading back to campus for a pre-game meal. Our game was at 6pm and we met in front of the dorms to load the bus and head to the Hampton Coliseum.
Most people expect an all-star game environment to be loose and full of fun. The bus ride to the coliseum was anything but that. The girls were all focused and listening to their iPods. I was pleasantly surprised with this and as a result, I was able to slip into my pre-game mode as well. It was time to get it on!
As the game started, it was clear that this wouldn't be your typical all-star game. Most of the all-star games I've been involved with are high scoring affairs with absolutely no defense being played. This was not the case on July 7th. There were the normal jitters and quick shots and missed lay-ups, but as the game progressed so did the play.
Our West squad jumped out to a double-digit lead before falling behind going into the fourth quarter. However, you soon realize how terribly difficult it is to coach in an all-star game because there is no set rotation. We were rotating five players in every four minutes. It is hard to get a feel for the game in four minutes, but the girls responded well. Down the stretch, however, the "players" took over and the game was a thing of beauty.
Our team was invigorated by running the floor and playing great team defense. We battled back on the shoulders of Amber Easter of Bethel High School, who will be playing for George Mason University this winter. Amber finished the game with 20 points, but she scored 18 of them in the second half and many of them during crucial times in the game. Amber would not be outdone though, as her good friend and opponent, Tiffany Davis of Hampton High (and Temple University), kept the East in the game with a dazzling array of drives to the basket sandwiched between deep three-pointers.
A back and forth, tug of war game continued to take place before our size got the best of the East squad. We were fortunate enough to be able to put three young ladies on the floor that were all around six feet tall but could play several different spots. Nikki Newman of Turner Ashby High (James Madison University), Dani Motley of Christiansburg High (Wofford), and Easter were simply too much on the glass and too much defensively for the East, who was led by a great group of guards. Our diversity coupled with the ball being pushed up the floor by Liberty University-bound guard, Brittany Avancini of Floyd County High School, put us back into contention to win the game.
Trailing by two points and with time running out, Easter was fouled and went to the line for two shots. She made the first and missed the second, but Nikki grabbed the offensive board and put it in to put us up by one. Another trip down the floor led to a foul with shots coming up. And again Nikki Newman was there getting a putback after the first missed shot to put us up by three.
With about 13 seconds left in game the East called a time-out. The ball was going to be in Tiffany Davis' hands for the last shot. Tiff came off a high pick and attempted to step back and shoot a three, but Nikki managed to fight around the pick and partially block the shot to seal the game for us, 78-75.
It was a great game with a great group of young ladies. I had so much fun with them and I'm sure many of them walked away from that game thinking that I was a nut! I can honestly say that I was extremely proud of our team because they regrouped and played a great brand of team defense and rebounded extremely well. Anyone who knows me and my players will tell you this: I preach defense and rebounding. If you can play defense and control the boards, you will win. But most players do not want to do that because it's the dirty work. All-star games are looked upon as offensive shows, but ours was a defensive battle...and I loved it!
Below is a list of the East and West team rosters with the players' college choices in parentheses. Some of the girls had not decided on a college at the time of the game so they are listed as undecided.
Bilnita Armstead of James Monroe High (Undecided); Tiffany Davis of Hampton High (Temple University); Trinese Fox of Nansemond River High (South Carolina State); Connie Lewis-Harrison of James Monroe High (Undecided); Timia Hobbs of Franklin High (Undecided); Lauren Johnson of Western Branch High (South Carolina State); Andrea Jones of Nansemond River High (Undecided); Sara Lamneck of Buffalo Gap High (Eastern Mennonite University); Shawntae Payne of Charlottesville High (Coppin State); Kerry Sarver of Loudoun County High (Virginia Tech); and Jasmine Williams-Hayes of Grafton High (Hampton University)
Brittany Avancini of Floyd County High (Liberty University); Khalia Boston of T.C. Williams High (Livingstone College); Ashley Buckhannon of George Wythe High (Radford University); Chelsea Cluesman of Lee High (University of Virginia); Amber Easter of Bethel High (George Mason); Michelle Foley of Mills Godwin High (University of Virginia); Meredyth Frye of Riverbend High (Georgia Southern); Erin McGartland of Oakton High (Marymount University); Dani Motley of Christiansburg High (Wofford); Brittany Nelms of Franklin High (Undecided); Nikki Newman of Turner Ashby High (James Madison); Paige Tiller of Honaker High (University of Virginia)
Congratulations to all of these young ladies. For some, the all-star game was the last basketball game of their careers. For others, it was just the official end of their high school careers as they are moving on to the collegiate level to play. Either way, I'm proud of you all and wish you all the best!