St. Frances' Shelton master of right mix

Coach: Jerome Shelton recognizes what it takes to blend an abundance of talent on a superior team.

Girls Basketball

High School Sports

Winter Preview

December 05, 2003|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

The coaches who faced Jerome Shelton and his St. Frances girls basketball team last season never questioned the Panthers' superior level of talent. The Panthers reigned at No. 1 all season, swept every game in the tough Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference and polished it all off with a second A Conference crown in three years.

What Shelton's peers still don't quite understand is how he manages to blend all that talent so smoothly.

"He's got a ton of kids and I don't know how he keeps them all happy. That's the mystery," said Roland Park coach Scott Buckley.

That's also the key to the East Baltimore Catholic school's girls basketball program emerging as the area's best over the last few years. The Panthers, the preseason No. 1, have so much talent in their 14 players that they probably have a Top 10 team on their bench.

For Shelton, last season's All-Metro Coach of the Year, the basic coaching philosophy is a simple one - putting the team above the individual.

"For me, what works is honesty," said Shelton. "There's an openness we have with all of the players about their situations here and they respect that.

"They know that if they play here, they're going to be playing with other good players and that affords them the opportunity to get better and minutes will come. I'm finding a lot of players are willing to make sacrifices in terms of points, minutes and other personal sacrifices to play here."

Senior Angel McCoughtry, last season's All-Metro Player of the Year, said she has not heard a single gripe about playing time during her four years at St. Frances.

"It comes with discipline," said McCoughtry. "He doesn't allow us to go the route where we would complain about playing time. It's just a matter of us winning. That's what we care about. And he's fair. He tries to get everybody in the game."

McCoughtry, who plays most of every game, isn't the only one buying into Shelton's philosophy.

Several players have transferred from programs where they would certainly have gotten more playing time.

"We just accept the fact that we might not play as much as we want. There's no arguments over time, because we're all looking forward to winning," said Shadae Swan, a senior who transferred from IND after her freshman season.

Winning has become a way of life for the St. Frances girls.

In their 13th season, with Shelton at the helm from the beginning, the Panthers have had only three losing seasons, including a 1-16 debut in 1990-91. In their third season, they won 20 games. In their fourth, they won the first of back-to-back Catholic League titles.

After that inaugural season, the talent started to flow into St. Frances, starting with Melba Chambers in the second season. Chambers set the benchmark by scoring 1,892 points and grabbing over 700 rebounds.

"Melba was the turning point in the program," said Shelton. "Other players followed."

Players such as Kristi and Kortni Webb, Jakia Ervin, LaTonya Blue, Brooke Campbell and Keila Evans, all of whom went on to play Division I basketball. The string of Division I players continues with McCoughtry (St. John's), Swan (Delaware State) and Camille Coleman (Appalachian State), who signed early.

Despite a few lean years after those Catholic League titles, the Panthers haven't had a losing season since 1997-98 and they have won 20 or more games in four of the last five seasons.

"Kids see the tradition they've built over the years," said Dunbar coach Wardell Selby, "and St. Frances started to get kids who would have gone someplace else. Any time kids are willing to go there and sit on JV when they could start on varsity somewhere else, you know he's doing something right."

Sophomore Denita Hill, whose sister Nikina Hill is a senior at Dunbar, was willing to take that chance. She started on the Panthers' JV last season and is now on the varsity.

"If I went to Dunbar, I would probably have started my first year, but I wasn't too impressed about the playing time," said Denita Hill. "In public schools, there's a lot of easy teams and just blowouts, so playing time doesn't mean as much as it does here."

While Shelton had built a program that drew the athletes, St. Frances in January 2002 christened its $5.5 million Community Center and Gymnasium, the first home court in the 174-year history of the school.

But to Shelton, who has a 228-115 career record, the appeal of playing for St. Frances doesn't all come from within . It also comes from the overall competitiveness of the IAAM A Conference.

"It's also the coaches and the players that we play against. It's our schedule because we're going against some of the best coaches," said Shelton. "I really respect the coaches in our league and their talent level is one that really challenges our players and really challenges me. I'm coaching against what could be college coaches. Their kids are always well prepared."

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