Wesley knows how to work the floor Southern's leader plays all positions

January 15, 1993|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Staff Writer

Southern girls basketball coach Linda Kilpatrick decided to tinker with her lineup before Tuesday's game against Meade.

She started 5-foot-4 sophomore Becky Archambo in the backcourt, along with four of the Bulldogs' tallest players. Included in this unusual mix was 5-11 junior Laekeka Wesley, who, for one game, would be introduced as a guard.

Most games this season have found Wesley at center. Last year, she mainly played at forward. At any given time, she can bring the ball up the floor and run the offense from the point.

"She's playing wherever I want her to play," said Kilpatrick, whose team defeated Meade, 59-21.

This versatility, perhaps more than anything else, is what separates Wesley, 17, from the majority of county players. Certainly, her scoring and rebounding have distanced her from the field.

Wesley entered the week averaging 20.0 points and 16.5 rebounds, both county highs. She had seven points and 11 rebounds against Meade, but she played only half the game.

A more typical showing was the season-opener against Arundel, when she amassed 27 points, 19 rebounds and nine steals in Southern's 52-44 victory.

"It's been amazing how much she's improved from last year to this year," Kilpatrick said.

Not that Wesley had much room for improvement. She averaged 13.6 points and 11.0 rebounds in being named first-team All-County as a sophomore and already was being touted as one of the county's top performers.

But she said she didn't feel she belonged among the area's elite players. Quiet and shy by nature, Wesley looked like someone who preferred to scoot around the attention as if she were avoiding a pick. But a weeklong basketball camp at the University of Maryland last summer and another year's maturation have brought about many changes.

"She's more confident in what she can do and what I want her to do and will allow her to do, which is anything," Kilpatrick said.

"At this point last year, I didn't really want her handling the ball as much. But her ball-handling has improved so much, she's now one of the best dribblers on the team, which is great as far as college coaches looking at her."

Wesley never intended for college coaches to be including her on their recruiting jaunts. She never expected to become involved in the sport, no matter how many times Kilpatrick pestered her.

The two met when Wesley was a sixth-grader, when Southern Middle School was undergoing renovations and its students had to be moved into the high school. Kilpatrick spotted Wesley, who already was drawing attention because of her height, and tried to initiate a conversation.

"She was the shyest thing in the world. If I went up to talk to her and said, 'Hey, how are you? Do you play basketball?' she would barely lift her head up to even make eye contact," Kilpatrick said.

And when she did, the answer always was the same. "I didn't want to play basketball. Most of my cousins played, but I didn't really think about basketball," Wesley said.

Undaunted, Kilpatrick took a different route. She talked to Wesley's cousin, Robin Wallace, a point guard at Southern for three seasons and a member of two state championship teams.

"I used to talk to Robin and say, 'Get her to play,' and she'd say, 'I'm working on it.' We finally got her to play rec league," said Kilpatrick, who attended high school at Southern with Wesley's mother, Betsy.

"I've been watching her for a long time."

What she has seen is a remarkable transformation, both in Wesley's desire to play and her personality.

"Now, she's the total opposite," Kilpatrick said. "She and [teammate Leketia Mullen] tease me that I'm their mother, and every day it's, 'Hi mom, how are we doing today?'

"Our relationship is so good. There's a lot of mutual respect."

Wesley said: "I consider her my second mother. I guess we understand each other."

North County coach Sally Entsminger understands how difficult it will be for the Knights to control Wesley in today's game at Southern.

"Any time a team has a strong player inside like her, you're going to have to make certain that she has a lot of pressure on her all the time. Don't let her catch the ball," Entsminger said.

Wesley said: "I feel better when I'm on the court now, and I know that I can do better if I keep working at it," she said. "If things don't go well, you've just got to go on to the next game, keep on working hard and learn from the mistakes you made."

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