County youths play up a storm

June 12, 1994|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Sun Staff Writer

At 13 years old, LaToya Hines already knows what she wants to devote herself to for the next nine years.

Her friends Terri Daniels, Crystal Driessen and Thandi Howell know, too.

These girls just want to play basketball.

"I always think of playing in high school," said Hines, a seventh-grader at Mayfield Woods Middle School. "And I do want to go to college and play basketball."

In fact, some college coaches already know about these Howard County girls even though they're only 12 or 13 years old.

They play for one of the best teams in the nation in their 12-and-under age group, the Chesapeake Bay Hurricanes, which also draws girls from Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.

Last summer, all but newcomer Daniels helped the Hurricanes turn in the best finish ever by a Maryland girls basketball team at the AAU Junior Olympics. The Hurricanes ended up fourth in that tournament in Terre Haute, Ind.

"Now we want to get first," said Howell as the Hurricanes prepare for the 1994 AAU Junior Olympics in New Orleans July 8-16.

The Hurricanes know something about winning a national title. They won one last summer at the Youth Basketball of America tournament in Orlando, Fla., but the competition there wasn't nearly as stiff as in Terre Haute.

To get ready for New Orleans, coach Chet Lipton drills the Hurricanes for two hours a couple times a week at North County High School. Much of the time, they work on intense defensive strategies.

"He's a maniac about defense," said Driessen, a seventh-grader at Harper's Choice Middle School. "No matter what, we press and we're just a scoring threat. Our defense is mostly it."

The Hurricanes have more speed and quickness than most opponents can handle. Few can stay within double figures. The Hurricanes won their third state championship last month by almost 30 points.

"You create offense with your defense -- that's our whole philosophy and that's what these girls are good at," said Lipton, whose daughter Emily plays on the team.

"They can go one-on-one individually, but that's not the way you win basketball games. It's to stop the other team and get easy baskets -- that's how you win. All of them are very good at that."

All of them play more like high school veterans than 12- and 13-year-olds.

They play an intense unselfish game. Each one has tremendous speed and natural athletic ability as well as skill and game sense well beyond her years.

What the Hurricanes don't have is great height. Hines is the "big girl," although she's just 5-7.

"At nationals everybody has a 6-footer except us," said Lipton. "But LaToya plays much taller than 5-7. I've seen her dominate 6-0 players under the board because she can jump so well."

Named an All-American at the AAU nationals last summer, Hines said competing against taller girls has made her a better player.

"It gets me to jump better so I get the rebound instead of them," said Hines, cousin of Hammond High's freshman sensation Rene Hines.

"It helps me shooting, too, because I know they can block my shot, so when it comes to practice I'll try to work on moves so I can get around the person."

Daniels, who honed her skills playing against three older brothers, is the tallest Hurricane at 5-9 and doubles as a forward/guard.

With her speed and ball-handling ability, Driessen plays point guard. Another speed demon, Howell is one of the team's best defenders.

To tune up for New Orleans, Lipton looks for nearby tournaments that draw other nationally competitive teams. This weekend, the Hurricanes are playing in New Jersey.

Last weekend, the Hurricanes finished second in a tournament in Morgantown, W.Va. They lost, 74-71, to the Virginia Vogues, which Lipton said may be the best 12-and-under team in the country right now.

"Basically, we bury teams in the second half, but we dug ourselves a big hole in that game," said Lipton. "We were down by 15, and even though we scored 49 points in the second half, we couldn't make it up."

But Lipton got what he wanted from playing the Vogues.

"We went up there to play them, to see how we matched up and to show the girls what we had to do to beat them," said Lipton.

If the Hurricanes learned that lesson -- and they say they did -- it could mean winning the AAU title a month from now.

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