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Going from good to 'great'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Last year as a sophomore at St. Frances Academy, Mi-Khida Hankins researched the meaning of her first name for a class project.

She couldn't find an exact match for the name her mother, Mi-Anne Hankins, had created for her, but she came close with the Ethiopian version, Makeda.

It means "the great one."

Hankins laughs that the meaning gives her a lot to live up to, but she's well on her way as one of the area's best girls basketball players.

A slim, 6-foot-1 forward for the No. 1 Panthers, Hankins combines aggressive inside play with the quickness of a guard.

"We get an illusion about her," said Western forward Zhondria Benn. "She has size, but she's amazingly fast. She has speed and not the kind you have to build up. It's off the first step. Once she has you beat, she has you beat."

That combination of size and speed, as well as a smooth mid-range jumper and a strong defensive game, earned Hankins a spot on the All-Metro first team as a sophomore. She's even better this year - more confident and more of a leader - for the Panthers, who were ranked No. 24 in USA Today earlier this season.

"Mi-Khida, the way she plays, she makes a lot of things look easy," St. Frances coach Jerome Shelton said, "and I think that's because she's very confident. She just believes in herself and what she's capable of doing on the basketball court."

That confidence has grown over the past year, said Hankins, who admitted she wasn't all that confident as a freshman.

"I used to feel the pressure all the time. I used to choke," said Hankins, 16. "Me and pressure didn't mix, but I matured. I realized I was making it bigger than what it was. Now, I look at it as just another game or just another free throw. I just don't put that extra pressure on myself."

Hankins said her parents helped her with the mental side of the game.

"She just really got over that last year," said her father, Craig Hankins. "Just doing a lot of practicing. On Sundays, me and my wife would take her out to the basketball court and play against her. She started getting that confidence."

Last year was a transition year for Hankins. Not only did she step into the Panthers' starting lineup for the first time, but she inherited the go-to-girl role after former All-Metro Player of the Year Angel McCoughtry graduated. With a young but talented team last season, Hankins certainly had a lot of help, especially from 6-foot freshman Kandice Green, but she had to be more of a leader on the court.

She responded by averaging 14 points and nine rebounds while leading the Panthers to their third straight Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championship.

Playing behind and practicing against the 6-1 McCoughtry, now the third-leading scorer for Louisville, prepared Hankins for the quick step up.

"Angel's one of the most competitive girls that's ever played in this program," Shelton said, "so I think Angel took it as a personal challenge when she saw how good a player Mi-Khida was as a freshman. Mi-Khida also responded in a way that let me know that she was also going to be a future star in this program, because she and Angel would have a lot of battles in practice and, of course, it got very physical."

Shelton said Hankins has always "enjoyed the whole idea of listening and learning," and she soaked up all the lessons from those grueling practices.

"I loved it. I really did," Hankins said. "She took it to me every day in practice. It strengthened me and taught me not to step back from any challenge."

Last month at Riverdale Baptist, when the Panthers fell behind by 19 points, Hankins wasn't about to sit back. After the Crusaders took a 45-26 lead in the third quarter, the junior scored the next basket and rallied her team. She scored six of her 12 points and had two assists and two rebounds in less than four minutes as the Panthers climbed back within seven.

"She was not intimidated," Crusaders coach Diane Richardson said. "She's very athletic. She wanted to carry her team on her shoulders. I like that intensity in her. She kept scrapping."

Although the Panthers lost that game, 62-52, against one of the top teams in Washington, Hankins always believed they could win. She knew her teammates would follow her lead.

"When our back's against the wall, I think they look at me more," Hankins said, "just to see my reaction, to see, 'Has Khida given up yet? Is Khida going to keep on fighting, because if she's going to keep on fighting, then I'm going to keep on fighting.' "

While Hankins has been called a natural at basketball since she started playing in the fifth grade, Shelton said she is also a natural leader, although not always a vocal one.

"I want her to lead in her own way," Shelton said. "Mi-Khida's a person that can sometimes be reserved, but what I'm seeing now on the court is that she's assuming more responsibility for herself and how our team plays. I've asked her to be just a little more vocal, assume a little bit more responsibility, be inspirational, be encouraging on the court, and she's done that."

Hankins averages 19 points, eight rebounds and three assists as the Panthers head to St. Mary's tonight. They also will travel to Towson Catholic on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. for a rematch with the No. 2 Owls, as they prepare for the A Conference tournament, which culminates in the Feb. 19 title game at Villa Julie College.

An A/B student interested in criminology, Hankins has received hundreds of recruiting letters but hasn't thought too much about college yet. Selling herself isn't easy for Hankins, but her game and her work ethic do all the talking necessary.

"For me," Shelton said, "she's just a continuation of a long line of good players that we've had in this program, and it seems the continuity is not only in skills but in attitude, and for me, that's what makes her special."

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

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