BASKETBALL PREVIEW: L.C. Bird

L.C. BIRD GIRLS

Departures: Two players graduated – Alexis Bane, who led L.C. Bird in three-point shots made and Tiara Washington, a strong inside player. Both started games last season.

Returning Players: Taja Cole, Monica Alexander, Quenswayla Story, Tyra Shelton and Jessica Taylor will all start or get significant minutes. At guard, Bird is very quick, and the Lady Skyhawks possess mobile post players who can run the floor.

Backcourt: Cole should be the star of the show for Bird. Monica Alexander is a quick left-handed guard, who is garnering interest from several junior colleges. The senior has been working on going to the right and penetrating to compliment a great shot. Senior Shaniya McLaughin played a big role in regions last year and returns. Taylor, a senior will contribute and Jade Hinkley will see time at small forward.

Frontcourt: Quenswayla Story, a 6-0 senior has developed other aspects of her game in the offseason. Known as a defender and great shot blocker, Story has added a jump shot and is able to pull the ball on the floor better. “She’s not just an inside player anymore,” said Waller. Story recently committed to North Carolina A&T. Tyra Shelton, a 6-2 junior is very long and plays big on the glass and will block shots.

X-Factor: Defense. Bird will look to press this year and get buckets in transition off turnovers.

Coaching: Waller is entering her 15th season at L.C. Bird and has been head coach for nine years. The head coach started as an assistant under the late Chuck Tester.

Next game: The ladies opened their season at George Wythe on Tuesday and will face Monacan on Monday, December 9 at L.C. Bird.

Key to success: Coaching and developing rapport with the girls. “I want to develop more rapport with my players,” stated Waller. “If you can do that, you’ll have a team that will play hard for you and that’s what we want.”

WHO TO WATCH

Taja Cole, junior guard: Cole has been an impact player since arriving at L.C. Bird. In the offseason, she’s worked to improved her ball handling and three-point shot. Head Coach Chevette Waller stated that as she play more, her basketball IQ will rise. Already a clear standout, Cole is being heavily recruited with schools such as Tennessee, Florida, West Virginia, Louisville and Texas having visited open gyms.

L.C. BIRD BOYS

Departures: The loss of Javonte Reddick and Ty Wallace will be felt. Reddick, a great shooter who knocked down some big shots now plays for Hampden Sydney. Manns said the team is still looking for someone to fill the shoes of Wallace, a team leader.

Returning Players: Bird was very “inexperienced” with eight sophomores on varsity last season, but is suddenly very experienced with most of those players returning this year.

Backcourt: Junior Kenny Williams is expected to have another standout season. C.J. Miles is what Manns called “under the radar,” but stated that his guard is one of the best shooters in the area. Point guard Malik Johnson is a good ball handler and playmaker, but is a defensive specialist. Seniors Trey Brown and Carlos Thrash along with freshman Mario Haskett will also get minutes.

Frontcourt: Center Thomas Taylor (6-7) has been phenomenal in the preseason. Taylor’s rebounding and defense hasn’t been in question, but now his offense appears to have caught up with the rest of his game. “The light bulb came on and he’s put it altogether,” said Manns. The junior is drawing Division I interest. Providing depth will be Devin Baber and Brandon Fultz.

Coaching: Manns has experienced success at both, the high school and college level, and is in his third year at Bird.

X-Factor: Chemistry. The Skyhawks have high expectations after winning 24 games with a young roster. Manns stressed the importance of chemistry to drive continuous improvement.

Next Game: Bird opened their season Tuesday vs. Highland Springs and play tonight at 7 p.m. vs. John Marshall at Hopewell.

Key to Success: “We talk a lot about making the team better,” said Manns. “If we’re putting our teammates first, we’re going to have success.”

WHO TO WATCH

Kenny Williams, junior guard: Head Coach Troy Manns called Williams “the most humble basketball player he’s been around in a long time.” The junior is lauded for his work on both the court and in the classroom and is considered to be a great teammate. “He’s a breath of fresh air,” stated Manns. Coachable and talented, Williams has a load of colleges interested, including VCU and several schools from the Colonial Athletic Association and Big South, in his services at the next level.

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