On their best guard

Defenders don't get the praise they deserve, but they play a vital role

Girls Basketball

November 29, 2006|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Sun Reporter

They don't grab the headlines. They don't even get their names in the paper much. But no basketball team can do without them.

Defensive players.

Some good defenders score a lot of points, too, but others specialize more in defense. They revel in the one-on-one challenge. To them, it's all about team. Winning takes precedence over personal accolades.

"Usually, they don't have big egos," said Joppatowne coach Michael Harris. "Kids with big egos worry about getting crossed up, but these kids don't care. When they get beat, they go back at it again and that makes them even more determined."

Mount Hebron senior Jackie Doherty said she has gotten used to living outside the limelight.

"You see someone do something great defensively and people look to who finished the play rather than who started it," said Doherty. "You kind of learn to live with it. Rather than getting your name in the paper, you know you shut down one of the top players, which is reward in itself."

To excel defensively, players need a combination of ability, skills and smarts, but coaches and players agree that the most important asset is heart.

"You've just got to want to get after it," said Towson Catholic coach Matt Fisher, "because you're not going to get any headlines or fill up the box score. You're not going to get the glory, but a lot of times that determines who's going to win the game -- the defensive player who shuts down the leading scorer."

River Hill coach Teresa Waters said: "You've got to have that instinct to work hard, that killer instinct. You find so many players that want to rest on the defensive end and all the sudden get a spurt of energy on offense. It's discipline, that deep-down burning desire."

Many top-notch defenders handle assignments that range from a big, powerful post player one day to a small, quick guard the next. They can adjust from playing the tall ones straight up to staying low on the smaller ones.

"I like playing different kinds of players," said Roland Park's Jasmine Barksdale. "I look forward to playing defense all the time. If they average 25 points and I hold them to 12, I feel like I did what I had to do."

Some players, such as St. Paul's 6-foot-3 Bailey Webster, who averaged 4.8 blocks per game last season, are more specialized, excelling in one area.

Still, all defensive-minded players have the same goal.

"You want to make the offensive player go where she doesn't want to go and do things she doesn't want to do," said Doherty.

Good defensive players know they can alter their opponent's game plan.

"You have to have an attitude," said North Harford's Johanna Gibson, "that attitude of `I'm better than you and you're not going to get past me. I'm going to shut you down.' It's all a mind-set."

St. Frances guard LaKisha Walker likes the mental game she plays with the girl she's guarding.

"I like frustrating my opponent. I really love to get my person out of her game."

On the other hand, Walker said, she has to keep the offensive player from getting to her.

"You've got to keep your composure and not get frustrated and if you get beat, you have to hustle. It's all about hustle and it's a mind thing. The crowd gets all hyped up when you get crossed up, but you can't get out of your game. You've got to keep working hard."

While many coaches build their teams on defense and coach it every day, the best players often learned young.

"I started with defense," said Arundel's Ayanna Randolph. "I wasn't a very good basketball player when I was around 10, so I asked my dad, `What do I need to do?' He said, `Defense will keep you on the floor,' so that's where I started."

For most stellar defenders, their game is a combination of natural quickness and court sense along with learning how to be patient and read the offense.

"You look at all these kids and they have a quick first step," said Seton Keough coach Jackie Boswell. "The other thing it takes is being smart and anticipating what is going to happen next. LaKisha Walker is really good at that. She's in help-side defense and she sees the ball as it's coming around and anticipates when the steal, for her, is coming.

"It takes a smart player to make adjustments, to realize if I'm guarding someone not as quick as I am, that I can get up close. If I'm smart enough to know and admit that she's quicker, I'm going to back off and pick another opportunity to try to get the ball away from her. Being able to jump like Bailey [Webster] or being quick like Kisha [Walker] doesn't hurt," added Boswell.

Boswell has one of the best defenders in her own fold, All-Metro junior guard B.J. Williams.

In last season's Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference semifinal, Williams held Towson Catholic's Player of the Year Marah Strickland to 12 points -- well below her 23.2 average. That helped the Gators upset Towson Catholic, 72-48.

After that game, Boswell couldn't say enough about Williams' defensive efforts.

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