March 9, 2013

Two from area earn basketball league’s highest honor

Devin Golden

— For local high school basketball players O’Shea Hill and Maddie Howell, the strength of their skills this season was that they didn’t have just one or two specific strengths.

And that’s why their coaches used the word valuable often when talking about them — because their talent went a long way when compared to other players.

Northwest Whitfield’s Hill and Dalton’s Howell, both seniors, have been selected by Region 7-4A coaches as the boys and girls players of the year, respectively, after leading their teams to more than 20 wins and the state tournament this season.

Each is joined by two other local players on the five-player All-Region 7-4A first teams, and one additional local star made each second team. Dalton’s Alex Bautista and Northwest’s Tanner Quarles — plus Gilmer’s Joe Bob Charles and River Ridge’s Stephen Spears — joined Hill on the boys first team. On the second team, Dalton’s Demond Rucker was the lone local player, joining Connor Webb (Gilmer), Jalen Smith (Ridgeland), Cody Sanders (Heritage-Catoosa) and Ty Suwalski (River Ridge).

For the girls, Northwest’s Autumn Blackwell and Southeast Whitfield’s Megan Collins — plus Pickens’ Sarah Smith and River Ridge’s Jordan Livesay — joined Howell on the first team. Dalton’s Brooke Thomas made the second team, along with Danielle Goss (Pickens), Bailey Charles (Gilmer), Jada Hubbard (Heritage) and Jessica Baker (River Ridge).

Hill averaged 14 points, 10 rebounds, four steals and three blocks per game. He led the Bruins to a 23-3 overall record — 10-0 in Sub-region 7B-4A — and helped them earn the program’s first region championship as well as their first state tournament game at home.

Despite being a post player, Northwest coach Ryan Richards said Hill could do anything from score inside to run fast breaks and nullify an opponent’s press. Hill — who stood out on the football field this season, too — also was the best player on the region’s best team, which Richards believes figured largely into why he earned the top player award.

“I always felt like the best player is on the No. 1 team,” said Richards, who saluted Hill’s “overall athleticism. You take that athleticism and combine it with good basketball skills. Not just the scoring and rebounding, but the blocked shots, kick-out assists and even the steals. ... Some kids are good on one end and some are good on others. I think he’s just all-around good on both ends, and that’s what made him so valuable.”

Hill was appreciative of his teammates.

“I couldn’t have done it without my team,” he said. “They made it happen for me and provided me the chance to stand out. I think (all the teams and players) were all equal, but we just worked harder.”

Dalton’s girls won 21 games, tied Northwest for the Sub-region 7B-4A title — with the Lady Bruins earning the No. 1 seed after a coin flip — and finished third in the region tournament.

Howell led the Lady Catamounts with 18.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, but her value wasn’t limited to the two most notable statistics for a forward, Lady Cats coach Jeff McKinney said.

“She was very valuable for us because she was our leading scorer, our leading rebounder, could handle the basketball and was a main part of our press,” McKinney said. “What a lot of people don’t know is she played hurt all year. She had a (left ankle) stress fracture. There were times when I could tell she was hurt and I tried to take her out, but she wanted to play.”

Howell said she never considered sitting out her senior year and excelled despite the pain. She said there were plenty of great players in the region — she noted River Ridge’s Livesay as one of the best — but believes she still stood out.

“I don’t want to sound cocky,” Howell said, “but I think I deserved it.”

All-Sub-region 7B4A teams were also selected by coaches.

Making the 7B-4A boys team with Hill, Quarles, Bautista and Rucker were Dalton’s Rico Mears and Northwest’s Caleb Storey. The Bruins’ Tanner Bailey and Kaleb King earned honorable mention.

Making the 7B-4A girls team with Howell, Blackwell, Collins and Thomas were Northwest’s Kaitlin Wade and Halle Ford. Dalton’s Taylor Behr, Northwest’s Macy Weeks and Southeast’s Tavi Paris earned honorable mention.