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Commanderettes try to bring swagger into the 2012-13 season

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By Brandon Mattingly

 

The Commanderette basketball team is coming off a 19th District runner-up season that earned them a trip to the region tournament, but with their top scorer back, as well as some new pieces, they have their eyes on a bigger prize.

“I definitely think we can win the district and Class A,” said junior Riquel Logan. “We can make a deep run at region.”

Logan will be one of the keys to Washington County’s success this season for a team that’s looking to free up the inside game, where their true advantage lies.

The Commanderettes return 6-4 senior center Kenya Turner, who is fifth on the Commanderette all-time scoring list entering the season, as well as 6-2 junior power forward Jennifer Keene, who will again look to complement Turner in the post.

The challenge facing WC this year will be finding a way to get the ball inside, while spreading out the defense by hitting outside shots despite the departure of senior point guard Shay Yocum following the 2011-12 season.

“Riquel Logan, I’ve been telling everybody this since October, that the basket is really big for her right now,” said Washington County Head Coach Bernard Smalley. “She was 7-of-11 from three-point line in the scrimmage and in practice she’s been lighting it up. If she can hit the three with us being 6-4 and 6-2 inside, we can create a lot of problems for a lot of people.”

With Logan holding down the shooting guard spot, WC is turning to a pair of freshman to lead the way at point, but they’re in much better hands than it sounds.

“There’s the old saying that Christmas came a little early, and it did for us,” Smalley said. “We were able to pick up a transfer from Pike County Central, Nic Brizendine. She started as an eighth-grader there and she’s a very smart, heady ballplayer. In our only scrimmage she had 12 points and 14 assists, so she thinks pass first and she’s very knowledgeable.

“Lexi Thompson played a lot as an eighth-grader for us and she’s going to play a lot for us this year at the one and two,” he added. “She’s improved a lot and her jumpshot is a lot better. Her only problem is that she’s too hard on herself, but we’re expecting big things out of her.”

The Commanderettes had trouble getting the ball up the floor at times when teams applied pressure last season, but the addition of Brizendine and the progression of Thompson and Logan has Smalley reassessing his team as the season approaches.

“Inside is going to be our strength and I thought outside shooting was going to be a weakness, but so far it’s been a strength, too,” he said. “Instead of letting the game come to us naturally right now we think too much though, and we know teams are going to press us again, but with Nic and Lexi handling the ball I think we’ll be better.”

Turner took notice of how her teammates have looked early on as well, including the newcomer.

“In our scrimmage they were putting people in the post and the outside was open, so Riquel started shooting and hit seven (threes). We need that,” Turner said. “(Brizendine) is pretty good. She’s helping us out a lot.”

Smalley said another transfer, freshman Amber Murphy from Campbellsville, didn’t play basketball last season, but has been a big surprise. She’s shown a nice shooting touch and can play inside or out, and could be a contributor this season.

Still, WC has yet another freshman that will be in the mix this season, as she looks to crack the starting lineup.

“Taylor Eldridge was our sixth man last year and she came off the bench and scored 10 points for us in our region game and she’s probably going to start for us this year at small forward and she’ll be guarding the other team’s best player,” Smalley said.

It hasn’t taken long for injuries to factor into what Smalley’s rotation will be, with junior Amber Grigsby, who started several games last season, battling through illness and ankle problems and sophomore Jadiesha Durham returning after missing all of last season with a hip injury. Turner, an all-district, all-region and all-state honorable mention team member last season, is also on the comeback trail after tearing her ACL.

“She had an ACL tear early in the summer, but she’s been back with us for a week,” Smalley said. “She took a lick on that knee in practice the other day and was OK and the doctor cleared her. It’s going to take a while for her to get into game shape, but with her being 6-4, you just have to throw it up to the rim and let her go get it.”

Smalley said getting Durham back will be a nice boost on the defensive end, as her long arms are a great tool in the team’s matchup zone, which could cause problems for opposing offenses. The head coach also said junior Courtney Jones, who saw playing time last year, will certainly be in the rotation again as a key role player off the bench.

WC will have plenty of talent this season, albeit some of it young, but Smalley said attaining their goal of being in the mix for the top seed in the district will require a good start.

“We can’t afford to get out of the gate 0-2, 0-3 or 0-4,” he said. “These kids have got to have something positive happen, because I’ve got to get them where they think they can step on the floor and beat anybody. We’ve got a lot of ability and we’ve got to think that way; I even told them we have to play with a little bit of swagger.”

In talking with the team’s star center, that’s just the mentality this team is adopting.
“This year, we’re coming for everybody,” Turner said. “I’m excited about it.”

The Commanderettes travel to Campbellsville Dec. 20-22 for the Food Pantry Holiday Classic, and are scheduled to face Green County in the first round of the 5th Region All-A tournament on Jan. 14 in Fort Knox.

They’ll open the season at home on Tuesday at 6 p.m. against Taylor County.