Lady Panthers look to mature young talent with busy summer schedule

Published 1:26 pm Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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Lanett’s girls basketball team has been one of the busiest teams in the county throughout the summer. The Panthers have played in three playdates over the past week with two more playdates scheduled in June. 

Basketball season is miles away, but the summer is an important part of the maturation process for every high school program. Lanett coach Charlie Williams has put his girls to the test this summer with his focus being on fine-tuning the fundamentals. 

“That’s when you get better, in the summertime,” Williams said. “That’s when you work on all those little flaws and deficiencies that you want to fix for your players individually. I stress fundamental things more than team concepts. When the season comes around, you don’t really have time to work on fundamentals because you’re so busy scheming for the game. You have three games a week.” 

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The Panthers graduated several key players from last season, with Laila Lancaster leaving the biggest hole. Lanett will be bringing back its top scorer and playmaker in rising junior Nakeriona Heard. 

Heard was Lanett’s leader last season, but she still has room to improve. Heard’s quick first step and acceleration into the lane made her dominant as a sophomore. She is now looking to add perimeter scoring to her repertoire leading into her junior season. 

“She’s really worked hard this summer on her outside shooting,” Williams said. “She’s gotten so much better as a perimeter shooter. She can get to the goal just about any time she wants to, but the deeper you go in the season with better teams, you see a lot of packed-in zones and packed man-to-man defenses. They’re trying to keep her out of the paint. Her pull-up jumper is looking really nice right now.” 

Heard was the team’s leader last season from a statistical perspective, but now she is also taking another step as the team’s vocal leader on the floor. 

“At times, she would get frustrated about things that she couldn’t control,” Williams said. “She would let it affect her whole game. She’s completely done a 360 on that. She’s become a great leader, especially to our younger girls.” 

The summer has also been a good opportunity for Lanett to find young talent and begin developing those girls. Early on, Jailyn White stands out as an athlete with loads of potential for the Panthers in the coming years. 

White is the daughter of Point VP of Intercollegiate Athletics Jaunelle White and the sister of one of Lanett’s star players, MaKiah White. Jailyn is just a seventh grader, but she already towers over varsity players. Her willingness to learn also makes Jailyn one to watch in the future. 

“I hate to put labels on kids at such a young age because they’re really just stepping into their own. They don’t know what’s in front of them. In rec ball they were superstars because they’re taller, faster or could jump higher than the kids they played against,” Williams said. “They get to junior high and kids can do all the same things and some at a higher clip.” 

“Just her eagerness to learn has been the most impressive thing,” Williams added. “She comes in, she’s always asking questions and always trying to find the next way to advance her game. She’s a basketball junkie. She wants to play basketball… A lot of the young kids that come from rec think they know a lot, and they really don’t know as much as they think they do. Jailyn has been a pleasant surprise.” 

Seniors Cameron Boozer and Lancaster manned the paint for Lanett throughout the late stretches of last season. The Panthers will have to replace their production, but there are already several experienced girls who can take on the role.
MaKiah White was a starter last year before missing the back half of the season with an injury. White will be expected to be the team’s leader in the paint this season along with Trinity Abner and Tyra Jackson. 

“MaKiah White is back. That’s a big thing,” Williams said. “She and Laila had built a rapport with one another about where they were going to be. She and Cameron had built a rapport with each other. When she wasn’t there it was a huge void. I think Trinity Abner has taken some huge steps this summer. Trinity came in this summer and really wanted to be a better basketball player. Tyra Jackson is having a good summer.” 

The Panthers have just two playdates scheduled for the rest of the summer. Lanett will travel to Auburn University on Friday and will wrap up its summer schedule with a playdate at home on June 27.