JOHN L. PITTS: One pick turned out to be best

JOHN L. PITTS

JOHN L. PITTS

TUPELO – Every sports writer has at least one good story about picking newspaper all-star teams. Unlike some, mine has a happy ending.

We do the best we can when it comes time to pick teams like the Journal’s All-Area squad. Sometimes we can get it spectacularly right, as we did last season in picking Itawamba’s Ashton Shumpert and Houston’s Chris Jones as our top football players. Both have already fit in quite nicely at Mississippi State.

Two of our multiple player of the year winners in women’s basketball, Tupelo’s Tan White and Myrtle’s Armintie Price, went on to outstanding college and WNBA careers.

It’s tough enough at the Journal, where we’re keeping an eye on 50 teams in our circulation area.

Imagine, though, if you were trying to keep up with every team in every city in every state.

That was a predicament I found myself facing in 1988-89, as girls basketball analyst at USA Today.

It seems like all the best players were at least six feet tall. There was talk of a sophomore in California (Lisa Leslie) who was already 6-foot-5 and great.

But I’d taken the train from D.C. to Philadelphia three times that winter to watch a 5-foot-6 guard for Dobbins Tech.

There had never been a USA Today national player of the year under six feet. But it seemed like she could do anything with the basketball she wanted.

In my moment of deepest doubt, I found myself sitting at a high school state tournament game with Georgia coach Andy Landers. He enthusiastically endorsed my choice.

You never know what will happen, but that pick did not disappoint.

Impressive career

On Saturday, Dawn Staley was enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. I could fill this whole paper with her accomplishments, but let’s hit the highlights:

• Three-time Olympic gold medalist.

• Two-time NCAA player of the year at Virginia.

• Six-time WNBA All-Star.

And now, a successful coach at South Carolina.

I’d give anything to go back to that Philly gym and see her play one more time. And, afterward, get a cheesesteak.

John L. Pitts (john.pitts@journalinc.com) is sports editor of the Journal.