As a freshman, Jasmine Parker was so timid and afraid of physical contact that she could barely muster a couple of points a game.
Always one of the taller players on the court, Parker, now a senior, has grown into her 6-foot-2 body and commands a lot more respect. Recently signed with N.C. A&T State University, Parker is one of a group of seniors who have led the Kannapolis Brown girls basketball team's resurgence.
After years of struggles and losing records, the Wonders improved to 15-11 overall last year, 9-7 in the South Piedmont 3A. They finished fourth in the conference and made the state playoffs.
When Parker arrived at A.L. Brown, she had played only a couple of years of organized basketball. With a court sense that was still developing, Parker used to hurry shots and avoided physical play in the post position.
She averaged two points a game in her first varsity season. But fifth-year coach Tosha Robinson said court time and a strong work ethic have paid off for Parker.
"Now she understands that she's one of the biggest players on the floor," Robinson said, "... so she can take her time. She's starting to rebound more. She has improved her shot because she can step outside and shoot as well."
As a junior, Parker averaged 10.8 points, 1.8 blocks and 5.5 rebounds on her way to an all-conference season. Some of her classmates are also beginning to arrive.
Jayana Lott, Zebresha Blakeney, and Briana McGuine are all four-year varsity players. Kaylia Forrest is a senior playing her third season with the varsity. Additionally, Aaliyah Spears (8.5 ppg., 2.2 apg) is an up-and-comer.
Brown will be one of the teams chasing Concord (24-6, 14-0), winner of the last three SPC championships. Senior guards Jasmine DeBerry (8 ppg., 7 apg., 4 spg.) and Jhemelia Edwards (13 ppg., 6 rpg., 5 apg.) and forward Mariah Black (8 ppg., 10 rpg., 3 spg.) were all-conference last year.
Alleson Briggs (6 ppg., 2.8 apg.) is one of the conference's best juniors, as is Hickory Ridge guard Jordan Strode (12 ppg., 2.5 apg., 3.5 rpg.). Senior Monique Robson (4.7 ppg., 2.5 rpg.) will join her in the Ragin' Bulls' (21-8, 11-3) backcourt as the team's only returning starters.
Senior Kelsee Cheek, last year's conference player of the year, helped Concord Robinson (21-5, 9-3) tie for second place last year. Junior guard Isabel Bernal led the Bulldogs in assists and steals in 2009-10.
Northwest Cabarrus (9-16, 6-8) lost seven seniors from last year's team. Taylor Allen and Erica Merriman are the only full-time varsity players returning. Newcomers Neisha Spears, Sabra Jordan, and Jasmine Davis will be expected to help fill the void.
Mount Pleasant (6-15, 4-10) also lost a large group to graduation. First year coach Neil Pifer will look to senior post player Katie Suther (4 ppg., 3 rpg.) and junior guard Bethany Harrison (4 ppg., 3 apg.) to plug some holes.
Things are likely to be better for second year Concord Cox Mill (1-22, 0-14). Seniors Ivy Aarrington, Jennelle Felton and Cherise Baker and junior Jessica Stafford are returning starters. Four freshmen are expected to see significant playing time.
First Assembly (18-5, 13-4) will have to wait until late December for the return of Paris Johnson. The Eagles' only returning starter is out with a broken ankle. A slew of transfers - Chaylia Coleman (from East Mecklenburg), TaShe Miller (Hopewell), and Cassidy Crawfored and Katlyn Payne (both Hickory Ridge) - will help First Assembly compete for a private/independent schools Metrolina Athletic 2A Conference championship.
Olivia Osborne (6 ppg., 4 rpg.) and Julie Harriss (6 ppg., 4 rpg.) lead six returning players at Cannon School (8-20, 1-7) as the Cougars try to hang in the tough Charlotte Independent Schools Athletic Association.
Covenant Classical's (13-15) chance of competing in the Piedmont Athletic Conference 8 is dependent on replacing all five starters. Guard Kim Williams (3 ppg., 2 apg.) and forward Kristi Wantanbe (4 ppg., 8 rpg.) are key returnees, and Hannah Stapleton, a First Assembly transfer, will be a key addition.