Bearcats trying to defeat State champs

Game 4  JAN 15 SAT 3:15 pm   Canton McKinley Bulldogs vs. Brookhaven Bearcats

By Dave Mast

What’s not to like about this contest? Pam and Willie Davis, coaches of the Bulldogs, bring back a Div. I State championship team that returns nearly the entire core of its team from a year ago. All they have to do to get a victory in the Classic is knock off head coach Reggie Lee, who has simply fashioned one of the great girls programs in Ohio girls basketball over the past 30 years at the helm.

According to Tom Jenkins, if you’re going to see one game at the Classic this year, this is the one to grab a ticket for — if you can find one.

“This one is going to be wild,” said Jenkins. “I’d come just to watch the coaches in action.

Reggie is an absolute legend, and Pam and Willie Davis are the most underrated coaches in the state. Plus, both these teams live and die with perimeter pressure, so it is going to be a quick paced pinball-type game.”

Jenkins has tabbed McKinley, which finished its championship year last year with a 25-3 mark, to repeat as Div. I champions this year, but it’s kind of tough to overlook a Brookhaven team that has what Jenkins describes as the best three-guard combo in the state.

That trio would include senior Travecia Franklin (11.5 ppg, 4.4 rebounds last season), who is headed to Indiana State, Briana Holmes (9.0 ppg), an exciting player moving on to Marist University next season, and junior Jasmine Johnson. Throw in senior post player Marah Morris, a sleek six-footer who Jenkins said can go coast-to-coast and averaged 10.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per contest last season, and has also committed to Indiana State, and you’ve got a team brimming with athleticism.

On the other side of the court, Pam and Willie Davis present a match-up problem themselves, boasting an incredible four-guard unit that features the top junior perimeter prospect in the state, Ameryst Alston, who averaged 19 points per contest last year, was one of 36 players invited to attend the USA National 16-U team this summer, and is nationally ranked as the fifth top junior guard in the nation. Coach Pam Davis said of Alston, “She is a slasher and a penetrator, and everything on offense revolves around her.” However, she is far from a one-woman show. She is joined out front by Aaliylah Dotson, a burner who is ranked in the top 10 junior guards in the state, talented senior Jasmine Neal and highly touted freshman Marquia Turner. “No team in the state has four guards that good,” said Jenkins.

What McKinley did lose last season was its height, and the chore of cleaning up inside now falls on the broad shoulders of 5-9 senior
Laneisha Lennon (8.8 ppg last year), 5-10 Gabby Kendall (6.5 ppg last year) and 5-10 Regina Ross, both juniors.

Defensively, the Bulldogs are quick and keep coming out above the arc with pressure, forcing turnovers galore. If you need any confirmation on how talented this team is, ask Africentric coach Will McKinney, whose Div. IV Final Four team was wiped out in last year’s Classic by the Bulldogs.

Perhaps the wild card in this contest might be Coach Lee, who will be making his farewell tour this year after 30 years as a coach and 35 in the classroom. Lee’s Bearcats (21-3 last year) have been to plenty of Classic contests, and he said of the venue, “This showcase is something that I tell the girls to circle on their calendars. It is such a top-notch weekend, and we get treated like royalty. We know that we have a big hill to climb against McKinley, but we are looking forward to the challenge, and to a fantastic weekend.”

Jenkins said that throughout his years in basketball, he has not met one person who has been classier than Lee.