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Knight sees a bright future on the court

Maurice Shembo wanted his daughter to be a tennis player, but she kept her options open. Growing up, Christelle Shembo played tennis, took karate and ice skating lessons and played basketball.

When she got to sixth grade, she made up her mind.

"Once I got into middle school, my main focus was basketball," she said.

Now the 6-foot junior forward is starring on the court, leading an Ardrey Kell squad with no seniors to a 7-2 record (through Dec. 26) and grabbing a team-high 8.8 rebounds a game for the Knights.

Shembo said she's much happier on the basketball court than she was on the tennis court.

"I like a team sport," she said. "The energy, it is fun.

"I enjoyed it more than I did with tennis. ... I could see a future with basketball."

Averaging just fewer than 14 points per game, Shembo likely will have a future with basketball. She's already received interest letters from Wake Forest, N.C. State, George Washington, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, where her older brother, Prince, is a freshman linebacker.

Prince was a defensive end for Ardrey Kell and also played forward on the basketball team last year. Standing 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Prince was an intimidating figure on the court.

That's what Christelle hopes to bring into her game. "His toughness, and the energy he brings to the floor," she said. "It affects the rest of the team."

Second-year coach Tina Lawrence said Shembo, 16, is an important part of the team, especially running the offense. Even though she's a post player, Lawrence trusts her to take the ball down the floor in Ardrey Kell's fast-paced offense.

"The whole dynamic of the team changes when she's on the floor," said Lawrence.

Shembo isn't just a scorer. With solid three-point shooters in juniors Oceania Anderson (17.4 ppg) and Katelyn White (11.1 ppg), Shembo has learned to kick the ball back outside and averages 3.3 assists per game.

"Christelle is probably the best forward in the county," said Lawrence.

Shembo played varsity as a freshman and also was on last year's team that started 12-2. But after an injury to senior guard Amanda Tyson midway through the season, Shembo and Anderson were forced to step up as sophomores; the team struggled to a 15-12 finish.

"They were young," said Lawrence. "(Asking) sophomores to step up is a tough transition."

Shembo averaged just 10.6 points per game last year. She hopes that number is higher this year.

"I want to be more of a scorer," she said, and get a "double-double every game."

She had her best game of the year in the Knights' biggest game so far this season, scoring 25 points and grabbing 16 rebounds in a 73-56 win against Southwestern 4A rival Myers Park.

"We had been practicing for that game the whole week," said Shembo. "It meant a lot to us.

"I didn't realize I had scored that much. It felt good."

Lawrence said she hopes that game will help Ardrey Kell earn respect in the SW4A. The Knights have circled Jan. 4 on their calendar: the first time they play defending state champion Butler at home.

A win against the Bulldogs would make the Knights favorites to win the conference.

Lawrence said she thinks the team will match well with the Bulldogs. The Knights lost to Butler by only nine the second time the two played last year, and she said this team is more experienced and more mature.

"We just got to play our hearts out," said Shembo. "I feel like we can beat Butler. They're overrated."

After that, she wants to make a playoff run. Shembo said she thought last year's team could have gone deeper in the playoffs if Tyson wasn't injured.

Before she graduates though, she's got a bigger goal: She wants to win Ardrey Kell's first state basketball championship.