Four years ago, when Vance High girls basketball coach Tim Fields met Ahlana Smith, it didn’t take him long to figure out that Smith had the potential to become a great player.
Last year, when Smith played for him as a freshman, she averaged 21 points, despite facing constant double and triple teams, and set an early career high of 36. Fields watched Smith get college scholarship offers Charlotte, N.C. State, South Carolina and Winthrop and watched her draw interest from Auburn, California, Kentucky and St. John’s.
He knew, for sure, that he had a special talent.
“It’s her ability to score,” said Fields, whose team begins the season at No. 16 in the Observer’s Sweet 16 poll. “She can score in bunches and she’s an extremely long athlete. And she just continues to improve. Last year, teams ran two or three players at her constantly. She still managed to average 21 and that’s pretty much coming in as a freshman and taking on a big roll.”
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Now, Smith, a 5-foot-9 combo guard, is back for her sophomore season. She’s one of three starters back from a team that was 3-20 last season. And Fields is expecting a big turnaround. Junior Imani Payne, a 5-5 guard, has committed to Hampton and 5-9 senior Dionna Turner-Kiser also returns. Joining them is Smith’s half-sister, Dezia Lawrence, a 5-7 freshman. Fields said, “She is the best freshman in the city. By far.”
Lawrence already has serious college attention, Fields said, from Charlotte, Tennessee, UNC-Wilmington, Wake Forest and Western Carolina.
Fields said his team will have many more scoring options than last season, though Smith will still be his primary option.
“We’ve definitely made some changes,” he said. “I think we can make a pretty nice run this year. But I’m not going to jump the gun. We’re focused and we’re dedicated and we should be able to make a nice run in the playoffs.”
Like her coach, Smith, 14, thinks her team is ready to take a big jump.
“We have three D1 guards,” she said. “We can be better than last year. Yeah, we were 3 and 20 last year, but we didn’t get blown out. We were in games, but couldn’t pull them out. Now, I feel like we can win our conference (the MECKA) and go far in the playoffs.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; @langstonwertzjr
Coming Sunday: The Sweet 16 countdown continues with the No. 15 boys and girls teams being announced, also find a chart with key dates for the upcoming season and the story of a local county that is producing a wealth of basketball talent