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Youthful Gators work to win under Adams

By TIM LEIBLE
tim@theitem.com
Posted 12/7/19

It was a busy offseason for the Lakewood High School girls basketball program. First came the graduation of a bulk of the team's offensive production from the 2018-19 season. After the summer, August brought a coaching change, as Stephen Adams came …

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Youthful Gators work to win under Adams

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It was a busy offseason for the Lakewood High School girls basketball program. First came the graduation of a bulk of the team's offensive production from the 2018-19 season. After the summer, August brought a coaching change, as Stephen Adams came in to replace Demetress Adams-Ludd, who decided to pursue other interests. The last change could be the hardest to deal with, as the team received news a few weeks ago that it would be without last season's leading scorer, Stevye Sinkler, due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Despite the bevy of changes, Adams - who comes to Lakewood after coaching junior high basketball at Dreher - thinks this team can make an impact. The Lady Gators have a young squad with four sophomores, not including the injured Sinkler, but still have leadership from five seniors.

Adams said his transition has been smooth so far because of his desire to build a strong relationship with his team.

"It did put us behind the 8-ball, because we had no team camps, no offseason programs," said Adams on taking over so late. "We've bonded very well and very quickly. We do a lot of stuff together outside of basketball, because I try to preach to them that we're a family and to try to bring that family culture to everything we do on and off the court."

Experience will be Lakewood's biggest issue to overcome early this season, as the Lady Gators only have two players that scored at least a basket per game last season in senior forwards Treasure Smalls and Maliasa Rhodes. Adams has particularly liked what he's seen out of Smalls thus far.

"She's going to be big for us," said the Lakewood head coach. "She does everything; she rebounds, gives us a little bit of scoring."

Without an experienced group of seniors, Lakewood will likely lean heavily on their sophomores this season. The Lady Gators are boosted by a pair of sophomore transfers, as Quanayzha Pearson jumped over to Lakewood from Sumter and Quawnteona Billups moved over from Manning. They have made a big impact on Adams.

"Those two have really stood out to me. My sophomores are eager to step in, accept the role and experience, and my core, I really believe, for the next three years I believe we'll be able to make a run," said Adams. "This year will be trial and error, but I think we'll be able to make a little bit of noise."

Billups in particular has been impressive early in Adams' tenure. Billups played junior varsity football this season for Lakewood and has brought that intensity to the court. Pearson didn't take the gridiron this fall, but she shares that aggressive attitude as well.

"(Billups) is very aggressive. She actually played JV football for Lakewood this year. That was the first thing that stood out to me before I met her. Before I even saw her on the court, I saw her out there playing football," said Adams. "She's very aggressive, she can score. Quanayzha Pearson is the same way. A left-handed girl, aggressive, always looking to attack. She doesn't fear anything and that mentality is what I love about them."Another sophomore that will make a splash early is Tanaijah Wright. After not playing basketball at all as a freshman, Wright exploded onto the scene in her varsity debut against Gray Collegiate on Thursday. She recorded a double-double with 28 points and 10 rebounds, while also blocking a pair of shots and two steals.

These games before the new year will be crucial for the Lady Gators, as they'll get to gauge where they are at before opening Region IV-4A play in January. Adams is looking forward to seeing how his team handles some early tests, such as Saturday's matchup with crosstown rival Sumter.

"The thing I want to take away from these games is improvement. Effort, improvement and continuing to get better," said Adams. "We've got a lot off stiff competition, because 4A Region 4, for both the boys and the girls, has always been one of the toughest regions in the state."

Adams is planning on building for long-term success at Lakewood and that starts with setting a tone this season. Despite the hurdles the Lady Gators have to climb, Adams believes his team will be able to succeed this season.

"My expectations are to have a winning record and to make the playoffs," said the Lakewood head coach. "We're going to build from there and move forward, because even though we lost Stevye for this season, I still have a good balance, good mixture and enough talent. We should still be able to be a playoff team. We're going to do it in numbers and we're going to do it as a family and as a team."