By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
PONTOTOC – Bill Russell’s plan called for his daughter, Kayla, to see a lot of action this season, but as a reserve.
Instead, the freshman guard was pressed into a starting role for Pontotoc’s Lady Warriors in the preseason when two starters – both guards – were suspended for disciplinary reasons.
“She’s adapted well as a starter; I’m pleased with her,” Bill Russell said. “I was counting on her, just in a different role.”
Kayla Russell, 14, has proven to be a solid perimeter shooter, ball handler and quick defender for the Lady Warriors (24-6), who play Lawrence County at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the semifinals of the Class 4A state tournament in Jackson.
“My teammates told me I had to step up,” said 30-game veteran Kayla Russell prior to Tuesday’s practice. “I’m not as scared anymore. I know I can hang with other teams.”
Russell and senior guard Katherine Downing have combined to connect on more than 100 3-pointers in a perimeter-oriented scheme. The team worked during the offseason on using a four-guard lineup to spread the floor and open the inside for star forwards Ebony Brinker and Rhandi Ball.
“We had to revamp what we were doing,” Bill Russell said. “Everybody had to take on a new role.”
In the Lady Warriors’ three-guard attack, Brinker and Ball have enjoyed success in the paint, combining to score 30 points and grab 14 rebounds per game.
“The loss of those players made everybody step up their play,” Ball said. “We all had to work extra hard to replace them.”
Bill Russell praised his “whole team” for adjusting to changes that had to be made.
“Of course, I had some doubts,” he said. “I’m extremely pleased with this team. They had more confidence than I did.”
Under the microscope
Nobody’s a tougher judge of Kayla’s progress than her father/coach.
“She’s shot the ball well this year, better than I thought she would. Of course, she’s spent a lot of time shooting,” he said. “I want to see her develop into a more complete player.”
The coach also expected the rookie living under his roof to play “a little better defensively.”
“Defense is my cup of tea,” he said. “My expectations are high for her. I guess I’m having a hard time separating the dad and coach.
“But overall, she’s played well for a freshman.”
Kayla could only smile when told of her dad’s assessment of her defensive play.
“He loves defense,” she said. “He expects more out of all of us when it comes to defense.”
Contact Gene Phelps at 678-1593