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Saturday Morning Quarterback
Mar 21, 2007 12:00 am
Watching Wilson Central face Riverdale last November in a TSSAA Hall of Champions game, an Oakland fan I went to college with asked who the best high school girls player I'd ever seen.
I might have hemmed and hawed over such a question a few years ago, but no more. The answer came quickly.
Watching her play for three years at Mt. Juliet High, I found no discernible weakness in her game. Though she dominated in the post, where she spent most of her time, she could do just about anything anywhere on the court when need be to help win a game. Whether handling the ball against a press or knocking down a three-pointer as the Lady Bears won a state championship, she was the ultimate money player.
But when it came time to choose a college, her size worked against her. Listed at 6-feet, or perhaps even 6-1, in high school, college coaches automatically took an inch or two off her size. The big-time schools wondered if she could survive against the 6-4 and 6-5 post players in the power programs. And she hadn't played enough guard to get a true assessment of her skills in the backcourt.
As I recall, Vanderbilt wanted her to wait until the spring of her senior year to possibly sign with the Commodores. But coming off a hip injury late in her junior season, she was understandably nervous about waiting on an opportunity which may not come again, especially if she got hurt again.
So she signed with Belmont, a Division-I school generally regarded as a mid-major. It may officially play with the big boys, but with 4,500 students, it's not really as strong as the power teams who represent schools who may boast enrollments four and five times larger.
As far as Belmont coach Tony Cross was concerned, he had a steal and he's been laughing all the way through the Atlantic Sun Conference, where Clark has been its Player of the Year both years and is practically retiring its Player of the Week honor. This season, she is fourth nationally in rebounds with 12.7 per game and fourth in shooting percentage at 58.7 percent, playing mostly against A-Sun competition.
Many around the Mt. Juliet program have long contended the big boys missed out on a great player and many of us have long wondered how she would fare against them. She and the Lady Bruins get their chance today in Minneapolis when they face one of the traditional power teams, Georgia.
It'll be interesting to see how she fares against the taller Lady Bulldogs. All but four of their players are over 6 feet while only four Lady Bruins, Clark not among them, are that big.
Back to the game at Central last November, that Oakland fan wanted me to say Riverdale's Anne Marie Lanning was the best prep player I had ever seen.
Having not seen her regularly, I thought she was a nice player who let the game come to her. She didn't seem the type to carry a team on her shoulders.
But others thought she was a D-I player. And who was I to question Rick Insell's judgment of a player when he signed her for MTSU?
Then came last week's Girls' State Tournament final in Murfreesboro. Facing an athletic Memphis Northside team, Lanning didn't wait for anything. Taking the ball to the basket, firing three-pointers, rebounding, defense – she dominated the game to win tourney MVP honors. She also beat out Wilson Central's Tierney Jenkins as Miss Basketball. And after watching her dominate Northside, I wasn't going to argue. She had made a believer out of me.
But as to the question posed four months ago, Alysha Clark's still my final answer.
Sports Editor Andy Reed can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 17 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.