NEW ALBANY – New Albany, the state’s top-rated girls basketball team entering the season, didn’t look so all-world this summer.
The Lady Bulldogs, 32-1 last season, went 2-5 against teams from other states at Tennessee’s Lady Vols team camp.
“That was really good for us,” coach John Stroud said. “I wanted them to see there are other good players, other good teams in other parts of the country.”
Attending the UT camp and beefing up his team’s 2010-11 schedule will help the Lady Bulldogs, who return all five of their starters, in their quest to win a Class 4A state championship, Stroud believes.
“I want to do everything we can to prepare for this year,” he said. “We saw what some of our weaknesses were (at UT) and what they need to work on.”
New Albany’s tougher schedule features matchups against state champions from Arkansas, Missouri and Texas in a Fort Smith (Ark.) tournament. The Lady Bulldogs also play defending 2A state champ Newton and Briarcrest (Tenn.) Christian.
One of the Bulldogs humbled by the visit to Knoxville was sophomore sensation Jazmine Spears, a preseason all-state selection after averaging 19.9 points and 10.4 rebounds as a freshman.
“There were some tough girls up there,” the 5-foot-11 forward said, then smiled. “It was different. We’re used to blowing teams out. It was like practice. We learned some new things.”
New Albany finished its regular season unbeaten and didn’t lose until falling in the state finals to Raymond.
This season, with Spears returning along with 6-1 post Micha Washington, guards Kabrina Lucas and Nyambi Penson, and point guard Porche White, the expectations are high in this hoops-crazy town.
“Some of us feel pressure; I don’t,” said Washington, who averaged 15.6 points and 5.9 rebounds.
“It’s going to be difficult, because everybody wants to beat us,” said Penson, the team’s 3-point shooter. “I feel like we’ve gotten better.”
One player definitely not affected by the preseason hype and pressure is Lucas, who averaged 11.6 points last season at her guard slot.
“I don’t feel any pressure to win. I just want to play,” she said. “That’s just me. I’m very laid back. I don’t show any emotion when I’m on the court.”
Stroud believes Lucas holds the key to his team’s success.
“She can take over a game; she knows how to play,” he said. “She can turn it on and off. If we needed her to, she’s capable of scoring 20 to 25 a game.”
Stroud, who is in his 26th season as a coach, said he has never had five players this talented returning on a team. These five starters are 59-5 the last two seasons.
“They’ve been through everything that can be thrown at them,” he said. “They’ve been No. 1 in state, won the North half, won the Union County Tournament, played in the state finals. The only thing they haven’t accomplished is winning the gold ball.”
Washington thinks that will come this season.
“That’s our focus … the gold ball,” she said.
Contact Gene Phelps at 678-1593 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal