High School Sports

Highlanders march on after basic training

Heathwood Hall's A'ja Wilson goes up for a shot during practice, Wednesday, February 10, 2010. Photo by Gerry Melendez/gmelendez@thestate.com
Heathwood Hall's A'ja Wilson goes up for a shot during practice, Wednesday, February 10, 2010. Photo by Gerry Melendez/gmelendez@thestate.com

The best thing to do, John O'Cain figured before the season began, was to focus on the basics:

This is how you dribble.

This is how you set your feet to shoot.

This is how you box out.

That was how O'Cain approached his first season as the girls basketball coach at Heathwood Hall.

"I felt like that was important, considering that we have very little experience from last year," O'Cain said.

The Highlanders lost four-year starters Kristen Dickerson and Arayael Brandner, and O'Cain took over a team that consisted of five juniors, three seniors and three eighth-graders. So getting the fundamentals down seemed a logical first step.

And that is part of the reason the Highlanders (12-10, 7-2) earned the No. 2 seed in SCISA Region 1-3A entering the post-season, O'Cain said.

"Even for us players that have been playing for several years, it's always important to remember what you're supposed to be doing, to go back and improve on that," three-year starter T'Keyah Worthy said.

Another senior, Logan Ress, said the focus on fundamentals made her a more confident leader.

For eighth-grader A'ja Wilson, going back to the basics helped settle her nerves.

"Before I joined the team, I got kind of worried. I had the new-kid jitters, and I didn't know how I was going to fit in with the high school players," the 6-foot-1 guard said.

In her first varsity season, Wilson quickly learned her age would not be a factor. She became the team's statistical leader, averaging a double-double - 14.2 points and 13.6 rebounds. O'Cain's approach helped the left-handed guard develop a more reliable ability to handle the ball with her right hand, and she became more productive.

"A'ja is amazing," senior Kiaya Demonbreun said. "I've never had to be in the position she's in, but she handles it extremely well. And her fundamentals, I wish I had been that sound at her age."

According to O'Cain, Wilson "plays like an eighth-grader, and she makes young mistakes sometimes, and we expect that. But she also recovers from them well."

Wilson said she expects more from herself.

"I don't think anyone's going to give me a lot of room for (mistakes) even though I'm in eighth grade," she said.

Yet, as much as Wilson wants to excel at basketball, there is a bit of her that is trying to earn her place with the older girls.

But that is not necessary, Logan Ress said.

"All the work we've done, we've connected really well, and now we're more than teammates, and that puts us on the same level," Ress said.

With the playoffs beginning next week, the Highlanders are looking to go to the next level.

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