There is no hiding the fact that the Lady Panther’s Basketball team is going to have to do some serious rebuilding this year after losing 4 senior guards who contributed greatly to the team's success last year. Fortunately for the team, they are returning two senior starters, Asia Ivy and Ashanti Smith, who both dominated in the post last season. Unfortunately, most of the other players were freshmen and sophomores last year and received little to no playing time with the exception of now-junior, Ashanti Berry. Alongside lacking experience and being a young team, the returning players also have to adjust to their previous assistant coach now taking on the role of head coach (Chelsea Garrett) and a new assistant coach (Shay Ashford).
I got a chance to interview some of the returning players and coaches and listen to how they plan on rebuilding this season. Senior post, Asia Ivy, is excited for her last year and is looking forward to taking on her role as a leader. Asia, who considers herself a defender, realizes that she will have to step up more this year on the scoring side. She completely understands that the team dynamic this year will not be like one ever before but is ready for the challenge. Asia had the privilege of moving up her 8th-grade year to play with the Amory High School Lady Panthers Basketball team. With that, she got to experience different dynamics and different coaching techniques that helped mold her into the player she is today. Although she is excited about all the possibilities, she realizes that they will not get done without hard work and dedication. Asia, knowing that the team is young this year, believes that the only way for them to reach their goals this season is if everybody buys into what the coaches are instructing them to do and never get discouraged even with the road gets tough. Asia’s biggest advice for her teammates is to let the hard times motivate them to return harder. When asked why this was her advice, she reminded me that was the same advice an older teammate had given to her when an ACL injury set her out her Sophomore year.
Senior post, Ashanti Smith, is also extremely excited about her last season as a Lady Panther. Ashanti hopes that this year she will be able to continue to make a huge impact on the defensive side and scoring at the rim. Although she feels as if this year has the potential to be something special, she is also worried about the team dynamic. While Asia thinks that buying into practice and being dedicated to getting better will be enough, Ashanti believes that the only way for the team to show tremendous promise is if everybody is willing to sacrifice and buy into the sport outside of practice. To her, that means wanting to have open gyms, taking every opportunity to get into the weight room, studying filming, and practicing on their own. Ashanti believes that even though the team is young the players have hidden talents that they just have to tap into. As a senior, she wants to help motivate them to dig deep and help them discover their full potential by making herself available to work out with them in her free time. The last question I asked senior, Ashanti, was what did the breakdown word, Together, mean to the team. She elaborated on how they break down the huddle with the word together to represent that they are a family and whenever they step out onto the court they will have each other's back. Ashanti also credited Coach G. and Coach A. for their help in transforming the locker room into a pleasurable atmosphere.
After interviewing both seniors, I also got a chance to interview head coach, Chelsea Garrett, and assistant coach, Shay Ashford. Coach G. explained to me in her interview that it has been a challenge taking on the role of a head coach but how it has also been the most rewarding. She is looking forward to watching her players grow not only as talented basketball players but as respectable women. Coach G. believes that although there are disadvantages that come with the team being young such as lack of experience and being able to handle pressure, she also believes that there are some advantages as well. With the team being young, it leads to more room for growth and improvement. Coach Garett wants her team to know that no matter how this season turns out if they buy in and work hard she will be extremely proud of them.
Assistant Coach, Shay Ashford, is looking forward to seeing her player's buy-in and learning how to play together. She believes that she brings a winning mentality to the team and hopes to help restore the old Amory traditions of winning hard work and dedication. Coach A. who of course knows that the team is young, said that this year is all about rebuilding. It is about her players gaining confidence and learning to play off each other. It is going to take some hard work, long hours, and dedication but she believes that they are headed in the right direction. Although the team has not found 3 set starting guards yet, a lot of girls have stepped up and shown that they are willing to put in the work to be great which allows their coaches to see the potential that the team holds.
The rebuilding year is never easy and a lot of times people get discouraged because games do not go the way they want them to. However, with a positive atmosphere, dedicated players, and understanding coaches the aftermath of the rebuild can be spontaneous. My advice for the team is to listen to the late Kobe Bryant’s quote, “ No matter how difficult the challenge is, always stay positive, and believe in yourself.” If they follow that mindset, the Lady Panthers will surprise us all with how far they go this season.