The transition from being an assistant boys basketball coach to a head a girls coach couldn’t have gone much better for Belleville West coach Seth Garrett.
Led by senior Erika Harvey and a group of athletic underclassmen, the Maroons won 18 games and placed third in the Southwestern Conference. With four starters back, including heralded point guard Chamya Darough, this season Garrett is hopeful his 2016-17 Maroons squad will be among the elite teams in southern Illinois.
“We have some girls who can play. There is no doubt about that. And we’ve got a few girls back who played a lot of minutes for us last year, but we’re still a young basketball team,” Garrett said. “We’re going to start two sophomores and two juniors and five of our top six are underclassmen.
“I think we’ve got a chance to be a very good basketball team. But how are our young girls going react late in games when making a play here and there will be the difference between winning and losing? Are we ready for that? That’s what we’ll see once we get going here. But I think we will have some growing pains.”
West, which finished 8-6 in the SWC a year ago, opens its season on Saturday at the O’Fallon Thanksgiving Tournament. The Maroons will play both Chatham-Glenwood and Breese Central on Saturday.
In the 5-foot-6 Darough, the Maroons have one of the elite players in the St. Louis area. A first team All-Southwestern Conference player a year ago as a freshman, she averaged 12 points and three assists per game.
Garrett has been pressing his sophomore point guard to be even better in the early going.
“As a first team all-conference player as a freshman a year ago, it’s sometimes easy for a player maybe to not work as hard. Chamya is not like that but I’m not cutting her much slack either. I’ve been on her pretty good,” Garrett said. “When it comes to scrimmages and games and when she is in the open court, that is where Chamya shines.
“Right now I’m trying to get her to learn things like screens, blocking out on defense ... things like that. Those things are equally important in the game of basketball and the more she does them and becomes better at them, the better player she will become.”
The lone senior in the starting lineup — Anjanice Jones — and sophomore B’Aunce Carter, are 5-11 inside players who will be counted for rebounding, scoring and playing defense against the other post players in a talent-rich Southwestern Conference.
Jones averaged 4.3 points and four rebounds. A gifted rebounder and a force on the defensive end of the court, Jones is coming off an injury, but has improved her offensive skills.
Carter takes the place of Harvey, who graduated after averaging right at 10 points per game. Carter, a gifted athlete who showed flashes of brilliance a year ago as a freshman, will play in the post with junior Sydney Thurwalker moving out to the small forward.
‘Anjanice has improved her shot and is a strong player inside for us,’’ Garrett said. “B’Aunce will take the place of Erika (Harvey) who had a good season for us. I think she’s ready to make that move.’’
Carter averaged seven points per game.
Another key to the success of the Maroons will depend on the play of junior Sydney Thurwalker. Now in her third season of being a major factor on both ends of the court for West the 5-10 Thurwalker is a tough, hard nosed defender with the ability to be a difference-maker on both ends of the floor.
But Thurwalker is making the switch from being an inside player to one who will play more on the perimeter this season.
“Sydney has played a lot of minutes at the varsity level during her first years and is a player with a very good basketball background,’’ Garrett said. “She’s worked on her perimeter game and has increased her game. Her ability to handle the basketball has also improved. ‘’
Junior sharpshooter Kaylee Hanger (5-9) rounds out the Maroons starting lineup. Second on the team a year in 3-point field goals with 26, Hanger will be counted to add scoring and stability in the Maroons backcourt.
Junior Kwanisha Quarles will also see time in the Maroons starting lineup, while junior Brittney Walker also returns. Rounding out the Maroons roster will be sophomores Myana Lampley, Mikayla Chapman, Lamadj Milton and freshman Sydney Valerius.