Her height catching opposition off-guard

Basketball: Six-foot senior Dani Kell stayed away from positions usually assigned to tall players, which is paying off for her and Roland Park.

January 23, 2004|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

Dani Kell never thought much about playing any basketball position other than guard.

Even as the Roland Park senior grew to be 6 feet tall, she spent almost all of her time in the backcourt through her recreation years. That experience turned Kell into a strong ballhandler who could drive to the hoop or hit from the perimeter, in addition to rebounding and posting up against smaller guards.

Today, Kell plays the same kind of game as an All-Metro guard for the No. 2 Reds (13-2), who play No. 12 IND tonight at 8:30 at Villa Julie College.

"Her quickness for her size makes all the difference and she gets her shot off quickly," said Institute of Notre Dame coach Herb Hoelter. "I like not having her inside, but if you put somebody small on her, she can move down and post up."

Kell's versatility and athleticism earned her notice during the Amateur Athletic Union season the past two years as a Street & Smith's preseason honorable mention All-American.

A year ago, she was picked up by the elite Philadelphia Belles AAU team and helped it win the 16-and-under AAU National Championship. In the fall, she signed with William and Mary.

Back on her first Lutherville-Timonium Recreation Council team, coach Phil Kelly saw her potential as a guard.

"She was lucky to have Phil Kelly as her coach," said Roland Park coach Scott Buckley. "A lot of rec coaches would have just put her on the blocks because she was the biggest kid."

A combination of factors kept Kell in the backcourt.

"It's always nice to have a tall guard," said Kelly, who coached Kell for five years. "Dani was always athletic and enjoyed the ballhandling, so we challenged her with that. She had good court vision and was able to make passes smaller people couldn't make."

Kelly had several other tall players on that rec team, including Andrea Dodrill, now 6-1 and an All-Metro forward at Bryn Mawr, as well as current Reds Audie Fugett, now 6 feet, and Breyana Hall, now 5-8.

"I was tall when I was younger, but I wasn't going to develop into that strong, physical player," said Kell, 17. "My coaches saw that and gave me the opportunity to be more of a ballhandler and a shooter."

Now with Fugett and Hall as well as 6-foot Barbara Seaman, Buckey doesn't need Kell in Roland Park's frontcourt either. And she has tall company in the backcourt in 5-8 Shannon Burke and 5-10 Amanda Hessinger.

Although Kell leads the team in scoring with 13.7 points a game, her teammates' capabilities have allowed her to be more versatile. She also averages 3.5 assists and 6.2 rebounds.

"She's basically a jack-of-all-trades," said Reds teammate and long-time friend Katharine Fox. "What we need to get done - she can do it."

In an earlier game, Kell scored only three points in the first half, but the Reds still led 31-19.

"Last year, if Dani didn't score 15 or 20, we weren't going to win," said Buckley. "We don't need that anymore. There are times when we need her to step up or take over, but we have other kids who can play."

Still, Kell, who got her 1,000th career point before Christmas, has had some high-scoring games, including 19 points in a December upset of defending Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference champion St. Frances.

Kell, an A student who has also played soccer, volleyball and softball for the Reds, said her experience with the Belles has improved her game.

"It was all girls who basketball was their No. 1 priority," she said. "Everyone was so focused and committed and driven."

Buckley said he has noticed a difference.

"Playing in the finals of the national championship against players of that caliber, you really need to step up your game," he said, "so she's used to performing at a high level now. The biggest change is that she is definitely more mentally tough than she has been in the past."

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