Angel McCoughtry didn't have a lot of statistics to show for her first game in a St. Frances Academy uniform two years ago, but she left an unforgettable impression on coach Jerome Shelton.
"In the first quarter, she looked up at me and said, `Coach, I'm ready to go in the game now.' I've never had a player say that to me before, and we had a phenomenal team back then," Shelton said.
The Panthers coach had to turn away and smile, because that 2000-01 team, which went on to win the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference tournament and finish No. 1, included All-Metro Player of the Year LaTonya Blue and 2002 Parade All-American Keila Evans.
"She let me know right there that she was a player that needed to be on the floor," Shelton said, "that she could make a difference, and she's been that way ever since."
As a sophomore last season, the 6-foot-1 All-Metro center/forward took over when Evans, a 6-2 center now playing at Wake Forest, suffered a season-ending knee injury. McCoughtry filled the void and averaged 12.6 points and 13.0 rebounds.
This season, the No. 1 Panthers (16-2) have tremendous depth of talent, but McCoughtry still stands out. Her game combines the quickness of a guard with the presence of a center, creating a lot of matchup problems for opponents.
"If you put a guard on her, she'll post her up. If you put a post player on her, she'll go right by her," said Seton Keough coach Jackie Boswell. "She's the most athletic kid in the conference, if not in the state."
Averaging 14.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 4.0 steals, the junior has the Panthers in first place and unbeaten in the IAAM A Conference going into this afternoon's game at defending champ Archbishop Spalding.
Her resume includes two triple doubles, the most recent - 13 points, 10 rebounds and 11 steals - in a Jan. 10 win over No. 13 Seton Keough.
"She comes out of nowhere sometimes," said Bryn Mawr's Andrea Dodrill, a 6-0 junior center who has played against McCoughtry since they were 10 years old. "Physically, she's just exceptional. She jumps really high, and she's not afraid to make contact."
Even players who think they've beaten her often have to think again.
"She'll get the ball off the block and turn so quick and go to the rack that the girl is still standing in the same spot," said Tim Burroughs, her coach with the Amateur Athletic Union Baltimore Cougars.
That quickness makes McCoughtry an exceptional defensive player. Her rebounds and steals set off much of the Panthers' blitzing transition game.
"As a defensive player," Shelton said, "she has great anticipation and instincts. She reads the floor well, she's fundamentally sound and her ability to read situations quickly and have the athletic ability to make a play separates her from a lot of players her size."
McCoughtry inherited her athletic prowess from her father, Roy McCoughtry, a 6-5 center for Coppin State's 1976-77 team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation among small black colleges by Jet magazine. He saw his daughter's potential right away.
"When she started playing kiddie ball, other parents would come over to me and say she's going to be good," Roy McCoughtry said. "At the time, she didn't have any skills. It was all sheer athletic ability."
At Northwood Rec, coaches worked with McCoughtry to rid her of bad habits and develop proper mechanics. The transition kept her on the bench a lot, and she almost quit.
"I hated it, because I was no good at it and I never used to play," said McCoughtry, 16, who stuck with it at her mother Sharon McCoughtry's request. "I started dribbling a little more and making shots. After a couple years, I got good and I just started loving it."
McCoughtry began playing AAU ball at 10, and, for the past four years, has helped her team go to the national tournament. Last summer, her Cougars were ninth in the 15-and-under AAU national championships.
The same athletic ability that makes McCoughtry tough to handle on the court has turned her into a track star as well.
In her first season of track and field last spring, she won three gold medals at the IAAM championship meet, taking the high jump and long jump and helping the Panthers win the 400-meter relay. She registered 16 feet, 1 1/4 inches in the long jump and 5-2 in the high jump - both meet records.
McCoughtry, who also helped the Panthers' volleyball team to the IAAM C Conference final last fall, said track gets her in prime shape for the final stretch of the AAU season.
College basketball coaches have taken note of McCoughtry for years. Her first recruiting letter, from Fresno State, arrived in the ninth grade.
McCoughtry, a good student who might major in communications or sports medicine, could play anywhere from shooting guard to power forward in college, although her natural position is small forward.
In the meantime, she has a few things left to do at St. Frances. In three weeks she wants to help the Panthers reclaim the IAAM A Conference title they won two years ago.
She also wants to accomplish something no other Baltimore high school girl has.
"I want to dunk one of these games," said McCoughtry, who has slammed the ball in practice and is often egged on by the Panthers' boys players.
"It's important to me [to dunk in a game]," she said, "because people are always undermining women so much. They say, `Girls can't dunk. Girls can't dunk.' I just want to prove them wrong, and I'm going to do it one of these games. I'm going to show people I can dunk. I can do what Lisa Leslie did [in the WNBA]."
Now, that certainly would leave a lasting impression.