At 5 feet 3 inches, Nichelle Groom is the driving force behind No. 7 Digital Harbor's offense. The junior point guard averages six assists to go along with nine points and five steals for the Rams (22-3), who are headed to tomorrow night's state Class 1A semifinals for the second year in a row. Groom, who has a 3.5 grade-point average, wants to play basketball in college.
How did you get started in basketball?
I watched my brothers, and my father coached. That kind of got me started playing, because I always wanted to get out there with my father and my brothers.
What's the earliest thing you can remember about basketball?
I remember when one day I came for practice with the Lady Lions and no one showed up for practice and my coach, Tully [Sullivan], worked with me for two hours by myself in the gym. I think I was 10.
What makes your team so good?
Our coach is so motivating. He always motivates us and we motivate each other. We just work real hard.
Coach [Patrick] McDonald has a lot of motivational tactics. Do you have a favorite?
When we're playing, he says, "If you don't play 'D,' you come sit with me." Nobody wants to sit on the bench, so we all play hard.
What do you think is the best part of your game as a team this year?
We're just very scrappy. We like the physicalness. You can't be soft in the paint, and you have to hustle.
What did it mean to get to states last year?
It was our first time, so it really meant a lot, and since we didn't win it, it makes us want to go back.
After losing that semifinal game last year - it was so close - did that motivate you guys right from that moment?
Yes. Before the season even started, we all got together and we were talking about it. We were excited.
What did you guys learn last year from that experience?
Take no plays off.
What are you looking forward to about going back this year?
The energy from everyone, and I think because we work hard, we can take it.
What is going to be the key to that title?
We're going to have to play defense, communicate ... rebound and box out.
What's different about playing in the state tournament?
It was a big atmosphere. ... It made you nervous, so you just had to calm down and relax. We're going to be pretty hyped this year, but I think we'll do OK since we've been there.
As point guard, what is your role? I just control the team and I get the energy. I'm very energetic, so everyone picks up off my energy.
Which would you rather have: a basket or an assist?
An assist makes me happy. Every time I get an assist, I get pumped up. The plays just look so pretty and it gets the crowd going.
What does it say about the city to have seven teams in the state tournament?
We've got a competitive city. We're trying to take everything.
What do you want to major in in college?
Business. I want to own my own hair salon. I want to do hair, too.
If you had one wish guaranteed to come true, what would you wish for?
I would wish to meet Candace Parker, because I watch her play and she has a lot of energy. I like a lot of energy. One thing that really caught my eye about her was when she popped her shoulder out, she never stopped. She came back to play. She never gave up.
Have you ever played through any kind of injury like that?
Yes. My father doesn't like it, though, but if I get hurt, I try to suck it up. I don't tell anybody, so my father always yells at me and says I need to speak up.
What's the best advice anybody ever gave you?
When I do something wrong on the floor, I get a turnover or something, my team, they just tell me, keep my head up and it's OK. They pat me on the back and say, "Let's go. We'll get it back on 'D.' "