Liberty County High School girls’ basketball players who have moved up to play college basketball in the past eight years:
• LaQuananisha Adams — Ga Tech
• Kourtney Alexander — Fort Valley State (originally signed with Albany State)
• Miata Askew — Young Harris College
• Candace Barham — Brewton Parker
• Kaneetha Gordon - Armstrong Atlantic State University
• Tiara Howard – Morris College
• Nicole Jernigan – Valdosta State
• Diamone Johnson – Morris College
• Courtney Rhodes – Morris College
• Metra Walthour – Georgia Tech
Liberty County High School girls’ basketball coach Carolyn Kelly has had recent success in getting players signed to play at the collegiate level.
In the past few years, Kelly has seen Nicole Jernigan, Kaneetha Gordon, Candace Barham, Metra Walthour, LaQuananisha Adams, Miata Askew and Kourtney Alexander move on to college ball. Just a few weeks ago, she watched as Courtney Rhodes, Diamone Johnson and Tiara Howard penned their names to scholarships for Morris College.
But Kelly said the credit to advancing student-athletes goes beyond the coaching staff. She said it takes the entire school.
“The staff of LCHS has played a major role in the success of these kids graduating as well as being offered a scholarship, from Principal Dr. Paula Scott on down,” she said.
She credits former basketball player and current LCHS Athletic Director Warnella Wilder for taking an interest in each player and ensuring they remain academically eligible to play.
“She is constantly talking to the kids about academics,” Kelly said. “She knows how important it is for you to be able to meet the academic standards required if you want to be successful at the collegiate level. The girls know that when she walks into that gym she is there to face them about something they need to do academically.”
When it comes to the basics of basketball, Kelly said she has spent the past 18 years or more developing potential players and future all-stars, and she is thankful the LCHS coaching staff is open and willing to lend a helping hand in developing her players.
“Coach Willie Graham plays a key role in helping the kids understand and learn the fundamentals of the game,” she said. “There are times when he will let my players work along with his players in developing the fundamentals of the game. He does a great job of building up their athletic ability. He shows them different things at practice to make them better.”
But when it comes down to it, Kelly said the biggest influence will come from the family and students themselves.
“I know that it’s not everyone’s dream to play basketball in high school and take it to the next level, and I’m fine with that,” she said. “But if that is one of their goals, we let them know there are certain things they have to do. Family comes first, but then it takes commitment, dedication and a lot of hard work. The family needs to be on board and trust that I will do all I can to try and get them to where they need to be if collegiate basketball is their goal.”
She added that she likes to try to recruit a few players per class to the same college. It’s a strategy she say helps the players and the college.
“I think it helps with the graduation rate because they have each other’s support,” she said. “Getting in school is important, but to finish is even greater. Look at Nicole Jernigan, Kaneetha Gordon, Metra Walthour and LaQuananisha Adams, they played at the collegiate level but more importantly they finished college and earned their degrees. And it’s always good for a coach to see that two-three kids came from the same school because their style of play is pretty much the same and their work ethics and attitudes will likely be the same. These are the things you have to sell the coach on more so than talent because they can find talent everywhere.”
One of Kelly’s combos just graduated from the highest level of college hoops, completing excellent careers.
Walthour and Adams were two former Lady Panthers who made it all the way to the Division I level of play at Georgia Tech. According to the school’s athletic website, Walthour was a two-year, full-time starter for the Yellow Jackets, led the team in assists this year for the second straight season and was third in scoring. Adams saw action in 33 games and started 15. The Yellow Jackets had a solid season, going 26-9 overall and 12-4 in the Athletic Coast Conference. Georgia Tech made the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history before falling to eventual national champion Baylor.
Kelly said she was able to make the final four games and watch them play. What gave her the best feeling of success was attending their graduation.
“Metra and Nisha have done a really great job for us,” Kelly said. “Not all the kids are going to be Division I players. Those are few are far between. But when you can send players to a Division I school and they not only play well but graduate, other coaches take notice. They know that we have the capability to produce players of that caliber.”
Kelly is preparing for the upcoming season with a young squad, featuring only one senior. She said they will likely take their bumps and bruises in 2012-13, but it gives her two full years to develop the players’ chemistry.
“And I think I will have two-three players that will go to the next level from this squad,” she said. “And again, it will take all of us to get them there.”