George Scott sees where the Enterprise High varsity girls basketball team is headed, but the Wildcats didn’t come with a fast forward button.
The young Cats — with just two seniors on their roster — lost 60 percent of last year’s offense. Key departures Gwen Mitchell and Korynn Hill not only provided points, but experience in tough situations this team is still acquiring through a 1-3 start to the season.
“Those girls were very seasoned, a lot of experience,” Scott said. “That’s understanding how to play defense, understanding being in tough situations and knowing how to fight through those things. We’re growing and learning as a team on the fly.”
The season is very young. Scott said he’s looking for three things right now.
“I want them to work hard, I want them to play smart and I want them to play consistently,” said Scott, who is in his third year as head coach of the varsity. “We’re working hard. We’ve got to get the smart and consistent part down. We’re young, so it’s going to take some time for us to get there.
“A lot of times they make good plays, smart plays. They know what to do, but a lot of times it doesn’t transfer into the game. We’re going to focus more on helping them to understand the smart play, the smart thing to do in a game situation.”
This team has shown flashes of its potential. He was “overjoyed” when the team held off a talented Headland squad on the road for its first victory last week. The Rams chopped a 15-point lead to five in the closing minutes, but Enterprise hung on.
“That was one of the first games that we persevered through a super hostile environment. Those girls play hard, they’re physical, the crowd was in it. There was a lot going on in that game,” Scott noted. “They stayed focused enough to finish the game and win it.
“That’s the sign of a team that could be good. When you can do that, when it looks like everything’s against you but you stay together, you can win these games.”
It’s another reason Scott remains positive on his team’s outlook.
“Another thing I really love about this team is they cheer for one another, they encourage one another, they support one another — even when it doesn’t look good and even if they’re not in the game,” Scott said. “They’re fighting for their teammates. That’s something that, once we get the experience, will make us better in the end.”
Of course, there are growing pains this team must fight through. More specific than the “we’re just young” problem, turnovers have been a problem in the team’s losses.
“Sometimes the game is going too fast for us,” the coach said. “We’ll make a play that we shouldn’t have made. Or I’m a second late on that pass I should have made. We’ve got to learn to play at game speed, be under control, be patient.
“It’s not like college. There’s no shot clock. You don’t have to be in a hurry, you don’t have to take a bad shot. You don’t have to take any shot. Trying to teach patience when things are chaotic around you, that’s hard for younger players.
“They’re pressing, running, pushing, but you have to stay under control. You have to tell yourself, ‘I’ve practiced this, I know what to do.’ We have to be under control and play through those things.”
Alehzia “Lay Lay” McClain, one of the Cats’ two seniors along with Kate Price, leads the team offensively. McClain scored a career-high 23 points against Headland.
“She did an excellent job being aggressive and attacking the basket. Really, everybody did,” Scott said. “She was shooting shots, playing defense, running the floor. Last night (loss at Fort Walton Beach High) was a little different story. She was still our leading scorer, but she missed some shots she knows she should have made.”
Two juniors can make a real impact this season, Riley McCollough and Jadyn Williams.
“Riley played basketball in junior high and took two years off,” Scott said. “But she is an athlete, man. That girl plays hard, runs hard. She’s trying to get her rhythm back as far as shooting and things like that. But once that happens she’s phenomenal.
“Jadyn Williams, that’s my best defensive player. If I put her on somebody, she’ll lock them down. Against Fort Walton Beach we were having problems with one of their girls and I put her on that girl and that girl didn’t do anything the rest of the night.
“She stays down in stance, she moves her feet, she hustles, she gets back on defense. I wish she would score a little bit more, but she’s a defensive weapon. If everybody played defense the way she does, nobody would score on us. She has a special talent.”
Two sophomore guards — Dashia’ Nelson and Alayna Dean — are improving rapidly, Scott said.
The team’s biggest surprise at this point is sophomore Jayde Pena, whose improvement this summer left Scott shaking his head.
“She improved exponentially, to the point where she was not on the varsity to where she’s my starting point guard,” he said. “This is a player that does exactly what I ask her to do, the way I ask her to do it, as hard as she can and as long as she can.
“She really plays like you would want a point guard to play. She just needs some experience. Last year she didn’t play any varsity at all. She just started playing varsity this summer.”
Asked how Pena was able to improve that rapidly in a short period of time, Scott said, “She just put in the work.”
“One thing about basketball is it’s a lot easier if you understand the game,” he said. “I don’t know if she studies the game, but I know she listens to what we tell her and she sees these things. When she makes a mistake she sees it and tries to correct it. That’s huge there. She just wants to be good and she works hard to get there.”
The coach sees the potential, but he also sees the inexperience.
“It’s really difficult to be patient. From the outside looking in, it’s like, ‘Oh, they’re getting beat bad’ and ‘This team is not that good.’ But we’re going to be,” Scott said.
His pre-area schedule is designed to challenge his team. He said there are no at-large bids in high school basketball, so the early season is about preparing for area play.
“If you play 7A basketball, you’re going to see some good teams and big teams and fast teams and strong teams,” the coach said. “I don’t want it to be a surprise in January when we start playing 7A basketball. They’ve seen it. They’re going to be able to weather that storm, hopefully.”