Craig O'Connell was only a rookie coach at the time, but when he first laid eyes on Kristi Greer, O'Connell knew he was looking at someone special.
Here was a sophomore impersonating a senior. And doing quite a convincing job of it.
"I saw something in her (Greer) that compelled me to make her a captain," says O'Connell, the coach of Howard High School's girls basketball team. "She just impressed me early on with her desire to do well individually and the desire to make her team do well."
Greer has spent the past three seasons proving the accuracy of O'Connell's first impression. By virtue of her versatile skills and dogged hustle, Greer has remained a team captain, developed into one of the county'selite players, and might already be the best ever to wear a Howard uniform.
Along the way, she has also led Howard (3-1 in the county,8-4 overall) into contention for a county title and a Class 3A stateplayoff berth.
Nine days ago in a 72-22 victory over Wilde Lake, Greer had her most memorable night in her four-year varsity career.
She scored 31 points to become only the second girl in Howard history to break the 1,000-point career barrier. In the first quarter, after she took an outlet pass, drove the length of the floor, blew pasttwo Wilde Lake defenders along the baseline and scored a layup, Greer brought the game to a halt. She was honored in a minute-long ceremony.
Greer then made the evening count with an exclamation point. When it was over, she had made 12 of 17 shots from the floor (71 percent) to complete the best shooting performance of her life, and had pushed her career total to 1,023 points, just 93 shy of the school record of 1,116 held by Laurie Governor, a 1984 graduate.
"I don't feel as much pressure now that I've scored 1,000," says Greer, a 5-foot-6 point guard who can pretty much play any position on the floor, depending on the opposing defensive alignment and on where she catches the ball in the Lions' motion offense.
And Greer, who leads the team with an average of 19.5 points on 40 percent shooting, is much morethan a scorer. She's second on the team with an average of 8.5 rebounds and is the best guard on the boards in the county. Her averages of 6.5 assists and 3.9 steals -- both team leads -- are testaments to her ball handling skill and defensive tenacity.
"She made passes against Wilde Lake I couldn't believe," O'Connell says.
Then there are Greer's intangibles. Fiery competitor. Demanding leader. Prone toscolding herself and teammates for making a fundamental mistake or blowing an assignment. Coach on the floor.
O'Connell recalls the county opener against Glenelg two weeks ago fondly, and not just because the Lions erased an eight-point halftime deficit before beating Glenelg, 42-37. He is remembering a suggestion Greer made during intermission, a tip he says changed the game.
"We'd been playing a man-to-man and getting outrebounded," O'Connell says. "Kristi says 'We've got to go to a 2-1-2 (zone). We'll play them better on the boards and keep them from getting so many second shots.' I didn't want to at first, but I decided to try it."
Glenelg, forced to fire more from the outside against the Lions' packed-in defense, proceeded to shoot 20percent in the second half, aiding the Howard comeback.
"He givesme the opportunity to change what needs to be changed on the floor,"says Greer, whom O'Connell referred to as "Coach Greer" after the Glenelg victory. "He definitely gives me a chance to voice my opinion."
By all accounts, Greer has earned the right. She has garnered All-County First Team honors in soccer and basketball -- the past two seasons in soccer and last season in basketball. Greer took up soccer when she was eight and first played basketball at 12. Last year, she made basketball her top priority.
"I like to practice basketball more," she says. "I really had to make myself go to soccer practice. I think I outgrew soccer because I've been playing it for so long. I want to play basketball in college."
Greer, who has played Junior Olympic basketball since the eighth grade and has attended numerous camps and played in several summer leagues, has been a basketball starter at Howard since her sophomore season. But it was last year when shebegan to blossom, albeit under tough circumstances.
The Lions entered the season depending heavily on Greer and forward Krista Fulton.When Fulton suffered a neck injury in December of 1989 that forced her to miss the last two months of the season, the load fell on Greer,who was playing point guard for the first time. She went on to carryHoward by averaging 17.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 4.4 steals.
This year, Fulton is back and healthy, the Lions are more experienced overall, and Greer is playing even better. Hence, the contender status.
"I was real nervous last year, because I felt like I had better score or we'll never win. I got mad at myself a lot," Greer said. "This year I like the pressure."
Greer is also responding to the pressure with the most improved part of her game -- shooting accuracy. After hitting just 30 percent of her shots last year, Greer spent much of the summer working on her shooting technique and improving her range. She's now as deadly from 17 feet as she is in the paint.
She has also begun to draw serious interest from schools like Virginia Commonwealth and Radford University (Va.).