PLAYER OF THE YEAR
The Sun's two-time All-Metro Player of the Year will end her high school career with a whirlwind week that few girls have experienced in the history of local basketball. The 6-foot guard, who is headed for Maryland, will play in the McDonald's All-American Game next Wednesday in Louisville and then move on to the Women's Basketball Coaches Association High School All-America Game March 31 at the NCAA Final Four in Cleveland. That will put the finishing touch on a career that includes 2,056 points during four years in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference - two at St. John's in Frederick and two at Towson Catholic. A versatile, athletic player, Strickland has NBA-range on her three-pointer, a quick first step on the drive and slippery moves that, along with her size, make her tough to contain. Trying to find the Owls senior's greatest strength or her biggest weakness can prove equally daunting tasks. Strickland does everything well and nothing poorly. "What she has to work on, I'm not sure," Seton Keough coach Jackie Boswell said. "She can score from inside. She can score from outside. That's what makes her so tough, because at this level, you don't have guards with that height to stop her inside and you don't have post players mature enough to be able to guard her from outside. Not to mention that she works really hard." In two years, Strickland led the Owls back to prominence for the first time since the mid-1980s. This season, she averaged 22.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, three assists and 2.4 steals in leading the No. 4 Owls to a 19-7 season against a tough schedule that included the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona the week before Christmas.
COACH OF THE YEAR
After the Raiders lost to Mount Hebron, 58-38, on Jan. 12, Shacreaw made them run 20 laps before every practice for three weeks. She also gave every player a plastic bracelet imprinted with, "COUNTY/REGION/STATE," so they could look down at their wrists while they ran and be reminded of their goals. Shacreaw's motivational strategy, along with a lot of conditioning and an emphasis on fundamentally sound basketball, guided the No. 6 Raiders to all three of their goals - the Howard County championship, the Class 2A South title and the first girls basketball state championship in school history. They finished 25-3 after beating Southern, 69-62, in the state final. "I'm really proud of them as a group," Shacreaw said. "They did all the things that I was on them all year for. It was all there. Somebody heard something." Returning four starters, including exceptional point guard Julie Taylor, made the Raiders the team to beat in the county from the start of the season, and that was a mixed blessing. "To be honest, this was the hardest season, I've ever had coaching. I think a lot of it was because the expectation was there and [the players] wanted to butt heads with me a lot and I refused to let them win in that sense. I said, 'This is what we want to do and we're going to do it.' There were different times when I challenged them to be better than they were, and sometimes they didn't like that," said Shacreaw, who is 94-69 in seven seasons with the Raiders. By the end of the season, especially during an impressive playoff run, everyone came together and the players put everything they had into their big finish.
Although just a sophomore, Bussie was called upon to take a leadership role on a young team and she responded. The 6-foot-3 center led the No. 3 Gators (22-7) with 15 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks per game. In her second season as a starter, she matured into a player who wanted the ball in the clutch. Bussie could dominate in the paint against most foes and she drew a lot of fouls. Once at the line, she converted 65 percent of her free throws. She also figured prominently in the heart of the Gators' game - their defense. They liked to press and trap. With Bussie towering in the middle, she often picked off the errant passes forced by her teammates. Bussie remained consistent throughout the season, contributing 17 points in a 58-57 loss to No. 1 St. Frances in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference semifinals.
Everything the No. 2 Eagles did ran through their junior point guard. Cox handled the ball on every possession and ran the offense with confidence and intelligence as McDonogh reached the IAAM A Conference final. In addition to her superb ball-handling skills and her keen eye for the cutters, Cox , 5 feet 8, was a consistent offensive threat. Able to hit the three-pointer or drive to the hoop, she averaged 12.9 points a game and shot 45 percent from the field. One of her best outings came when she scored 24 points in the conference tournament semifinal upset of then-No. 2 Towson Catholic. Cox, who often defended the opposition's top player, dished out 3.3 assists per game and averaged 2.7 steals. Perhaps her most impressive statistic, however, was her turnovers - only 49 all season. That's 1.88 per game, an exceptional number for a point guard.
A physically strong and mentally tough 6-foot-1 center, Green proved a tough matchup and was difficult even for taller players to handle under the basket. The junior, who averaged 15 points and 14 rebounds, gave the Panthers a dominating inside presence with her size, foot speed, balance and shooting touch around the basket. Opponents had trouble keeping Green off the boards. She often limited them to one shot and her second-chance points made a difference as the Panthers (25-6) remained the No. 1 team all season and finished off with a fifth straight IAAM A Conference crown. Green continued to dominate in the Bishop Walsh Tournament March 8-10, with 23 points and 17 rebounds in a win over St. John's of Washington, and 18 points and 13 rebounds in a win over Good Counsel.
A three-time All-Metro first-team pick, Hankins was the No. 1 Panthers' leader on and off the court in their run to a fifth straight IAAM A Conference title. Perhaps the best asset the 6-foot-1 senior forward showed was her composure under pressure. When the game was on the line, Hankins could come up with the play at either end. She contributed 16 points per game and doubled her rebound average from a year ago to 18. With her size and agility, the Providence-bound Hankins proved tough for teams to contain. She used her quick first step to drive to the hoop and her determination to post up strong, but she also showed off a solid mid-range jump shot. Hankins was also critical to the defense, especially the trapping press. Her presence at the top of the trap made it hard for teams to attack the press because of her height and quickness.
A three-time first-team All-Metro selection, Mallory led the No. 2 Eagles to the IAAM A Conference championship game for the first time since 1999. An exceptionally savvy and skilled all-around player, the 5-foot-10 senior guard finished her career with 1,825 points, second on the Eagles' all-time list. She averaged 18.1 points and hit 216 three pointers over four years. A multitalented offensive player, Mallory showed off a deadly three-point shot and quick moves to the hoop despite having suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament last summer. This season, Mallory, who is headed to Notre Dame, averaged 17.3 points, shooting 47 percent from the field and 82.8 percent from the free-throw line. She also contributed 6.1 rebounds. Equally strong on the defensive end, she could guard small opponents on the perimeter or taller ones in the post.
Name School Class Pos.
Tyra Breaux New Town Senior Guard
Corey Donohoe North Harford Senior Guard
Mischa Minor Western Senior Guard
LaShay Taft City Fresh. Guard
Candice Walker Towson Cath. Senior Guard
Jess Harlee Fallston Fresh. Forward
Sheree Ledbetter Southside Senior Forward
Miriam McKenzie Oakland Mills Junior Forward
Jaclyn Nucci South River Junior Forward
Kiara Thomas Old Mill Senior Center
Note -- Teams selected by Katherine Dunn after consultation with The Sun staff and area coaches.
No. School Record
1. St. Frances 25-6
2. McDonogh 21-5
3. Seton Keough 22-7
4. Towson Catholic 19-7
5. Western 23-5
6. Atholton 25-3 7. Dulaney 20-1
8. New Town 20-2 9. Old Mill 21-5 10. Arundel 21-5 11. St. Vincent Pallotti 20-5 12. Fallston 23-5 13. City 18-8 14. Catonsville 21-4 15. River Hill 17-7 Other teams considered -- Joppatowne (14-6), Mount Hebron (20-4), Severna Park (15-9), Southern (21-6).