After leading Belleville East to an 11-17 record a year ago, second-year coach Amanda Kemezys is anxious to debut the 2015-16 Lancers on Thursday night against host Salem at the Salem Thanksgiving Tournament and maybe indulge her sweet tooth.
The Lancers themselves are looking forward to a couple of victory celebrations at Pizza Man and its world famous Oreo Fluff dessert.
“Pizza Man in Salem has become very popular with the Lady Lancers over the last few years. The girls really like the Oreo Fluff dessert,’’ Kemezys said laughing. “They have yet to get me to try it, but this might be the year. We’ll have to wait and see.”
What Kemezys is really anxious about is watching an athletic East squad improve as the season goes on. The Lancers return one of the Southwestern Conference’s most athletic and top solid point guards in the league in Ellisha Davis and three solid post players in Tamar Mosby, Morgan St. James and Chermaine King and a solid guard Danielle Hawthorne.
Belleville East also will feature transfer Rachel Collins, who was one of the top guards in the South Seven Conference a year ago while playing at Althoff and several other talented but unproven players looking for their chance to prove themselves early this season.
And what better place to start than at the week-long Salem Tournament?
“I really enjoy playing at Salem. For one reason it gives us chance to play teams we normally don’t see,” Kemezys said. “Salem is strong and then Highland and Civic Memorial are also here. It’s a strong event. It gives us a chance to see where we stack up against some very good programs.”
In the 5-foot-7 Davis and 5-11 Mosby, East returns two players who combined for nearly 20 points a year ago. More importantly is that both Davis and Mosby has assumed leadership roles as two of five seniors on the Lancers varsity roster.
Davis, who led East in scoring last season at 11.6 points per game, is a lightning quick player who can penetrate, has a nice shooting touch and can really pass the basketball.
“Ellisha has a great summer. She’s gotten much stronger and I think she’s grown a little bit as well,” Kemezys said. “But what I really like about Ellisha is that she’s really stepped up in a leadership role. In fact all five of our seniors have done that.
“We’ve had one-on-one meetings with each of the players and every one of they has told us they want to be held accountable for the way they play. They really want us to keep pushing them to make them better and us as a team better. On top of being good basketball players and athletes, this is a great group of kids. They’re a lot of fun to be around and to coach.”
Mosby, a potential NCAA Division I track and field athlete, averaged 7.2 points last year, and will combine with a very much improved St. James to help clog up the middle while also adding offense.
“If I had to say, Tamar is more of a stretch (power) forward because she has the ability to step out and hit the outside jumper,” Kemezyss aid. “(Morgan) St. James had a great summer and she’s really improved. She’s more of as No. 5 (center) who can play the No. 4 spot.”
Juniors Camille Riley and Destiny Johnson are also good athletes who will see playing time while the 5-6 Collins could combine with Davis to give the Lancers one of the premier guard combinations in the rugged SWC.
Collins averaged five points while playing 26 games at Althoff during her sophomore season a year ago.
“In watching Ellisha and Rachel so far they compliment each other very well and actually they are pretty interchangeable,” Kemezys said. “I told Rachel recently that in watching her play last year I knew she was an excellent player but in getting to know her better now, she’s even a better kid.
“But like I said earlier, this is a group of great kids. They’ve come in, worked hard and don everything we’ve asked.”
Hawthorne saw considerable playing last year and is a very solid perimeter shooter while King is a versatile athlete who can run the floor well.
Sophomore Myriah Haywood is an athletic forward with good leaping abilty who could see a lot of playing time early while guards Brittney Nitz and Jailyn McClenny will be valuable contributors off the bench.
Also expected to play this season at East are highly touted freshmen Kaylah Rainey and Jaila Parker. This will be the second time both have players under Kemezys, who coached both players at Wolf Branch two years ago as seventh-grade players.
“They were mad at me when I left Wolf Branch two years ago to take the job here (Belleville East). Now they’ll be with us four more years,” Kemezys said. “Kaylah (Rainey) is player who has already seperated herself from the pack. She’s a 5-6 off-guard and small forward type player.”