Mavs coach Rick Carlisle praises each Southwest Division team on making playoffs

SOUTHWEST SUCCESS --- Dallas Mavericks coach Carlisle’s most memorable campaign as an NBA coach came four years ago when he led Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs to their first world championship in franchise history, a six-game upset of the Miami Heat in their best-of-7 NBA Finals series. That year, three teams from the NBA’s Southwest Division (Dallas, San Antonio, and Memphis) had clinched playoff berths. This year, however, each of the division’s five teams have advanced to the postseason, a feat that was effectively decided on the regular season’s final day when the New Orleans Pelicans clinched a berth with a 108-103 win against the Spurs. (Joe Murphy/Getty Images Photo)

SOUTHWEST SUCCESS — Dallas Mavericks coach Carlisle’s most memorable campaign as an NBA coach came four years ago when he led Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs to their first world championship in franchise history, a six-game upset of the Miami Heat in their best-of-7 NBA Finals series. That year, three teams from the NBA’s Southwest Division (Dallas, San Antonio, and Memphis) had clinched playoff berths. This year, however, each of the division’s five teams have advanced to the postseason, a feat that was effectively decided on the regular season’s final day when the New Orleans Pelicans clinched a berth with a 108-103 win against the Spurs. (Joe Murphy/Getty Images Photo)

DALLAS — First team to 16 wins…

“The first one to 16 will have a pretty nice piece for their jewelry cabinet,” Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said while addressing reporters Thursday afternoon at American Airlines Center.

Carlisle was alluding to the 16 teams that have punched tickets to this year’s NBA playoffs, a nearly two-month-long marathon that will culminate with one franchise hoisting the covenant Larry O’Brien trophy.

Now in his seventh season as the Mavericks’ head man, arguably Carlisle’s most memorable campaign as an NBA coach came four years ago when he led Dallas to its first world championship in franchise history, a six-game upset of the Miami Heat in their best-of-7 NBA Finals series.

That year, three teams from the NBA’s Southwest Division (Dallas, San Antonio, and Memphis) had clinched playoff berths.

This year, however, each of the division’s five teams have advanced to the postseason, a feat that was effectively decided on the regular season’s final day when the New Orleans Pelicans clinched a berth with a 108-103 win against the Spurs.

HOT HANDED HARDEN --- The Southwest Division champion Rockets (56-26) are led by NBA Most Valuable Player candidate James Harden, the league’s second-leading scorer. Winners of three straight, the Rockets are in the postseason for a third consecutive year. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

HOT HANDED HARDEN — The Southwest Division champion Rockets (56-26) are led by NBA Most Valuable Player candidate James Harden, the league’s second-leading scorer.
Winners of three straight, the Rockets are in the postseason for a third consecutive year. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

“I think this is the toughest division in all of (professional) sports,” Carlisle said. “It has been for the last several years.”

Among the reasons is the Spurs (55-27) undoubtedly have been the division’s most consistent and dominant team. Making their franchise-best 18 consecutive postseason appearance when they open defense of their NBA title Sunday night at the No. 3 seed Los Angeles Clippers (56-26), the six-seeded Spurs have won five world titles during this stretch.

As for the Mavs, erasing the memory of last year’s seven-game opening-round defeat to San Antonio certainly will be a brutal task, considering seventh-seeded Dallas (50-32) will face the No. 2 seed Houston Rockets Saturday at 8:30 p.m. CST in Game 1 of their best-of-7 opening-round series.

BLOCK PARTY --- Marc Gasol (left) and the fifth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies (55-27), whose 9-7 division record was the best among the other four teams, is making their franchise-record fifth consecutive playoff appearance and will open postseason play Sunday night at 7 CST against the fourth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in FedExForum. (Photo by Jerome Miron/Getty Images)

BLOCK PARTY — Marc Gasol (left) and the fifth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies (55-27), whose 9-7 division record was the best among the other four teams, is making their franchise-record fifth consecutive playoff appearance and will open postseason play Sunday night at 7 CST against the fourth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in FedExForum. (Photo by Jerome Miron/Getty Images)

The Rockets (56-26) are led by NBA Most Valuable Player candidate James Harden, the league’s second-leading scorer.

Winners of three straight, the Rockets are in the postseason for a third consecutive year. Dallas is making its second straight playoff appearance.

The fifth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies (55-27), whose 9-7 division record was the best among the other four teams, is making their franchise-record fifth consecutive playoff appearance and will open postseason play Sunday night at 7 CST against the fourth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers (51-31) in FedExForum.

Memphis’ best postseason outing during this span took place two years ago when the Grizzlies manufactured their highest winning percentage and advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in team history.

Arguably the surprise Southwest Division team to make the playoffs is New Orleans.

The NBA’s fourth youngest team with an average age of 24.9 years, the Pelicans (45-37) played arguably their most complete game of the season, which couldn’t have come at a better time, considering New Orleans controlled its own destiny.

Led by Anthony Davis’ 31 points and 13 rebounds, the Pelicans withstood a furious late rally by the defending champs to solidify the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot in the regular season finale, thus ending a four-year postseason drought.

Next up for upset-minded Pelicans is an opening-round date with the top-seeded Golden State Warriors, starting with Saturday’s Game 1 at 2:30 p.m. CST.

Led by Stephen Curry, whom many consider the frontrunner for league MVP, the high-octane Warriors enter the postseason with the NBA’s best record at 67-15.

Come Saturday, the race to 16 wins begins.

Which, of course, begs the question: Will the Larry O’Brien trophy remain in the Southwest Division for a second consecutive year?

As far as Carlisle is concerned, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if it does.

“It’s just quality teams from top to bottom,” Carlisle said of the Southwest Division. “During the battles of the division opponents during the year, I mean those were slugfest games. They were extremely meaningful. There’s a lot of wear and tear. (Games) were very physical. They’re emotional. But when you get a division like this, that’s the way it’s supposed to be, and it gets everybody primed for this time of year.”

Let the nearly two-month-long marathon begin.

First team to 16 wins…

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Mid-South-area gymnast Caela Flake making her presence felt across the nation

Flake2As far as Caela Flake is concerned, no one has to give her a pep talk on what it means to persevere through life’s toughest of obstacles.

By and large, this 17-year-old Arlington High gymnast had learned the significance of weathering what she described as seemingly insurmountable challenges a little more than two years ago.

For instance, Caela’s father, Derek Flake, was the breadwinner of their family and, along with his wife, Sherita, had done a masterful job of seeing that their children lived comfortably in their Northeast Shelby County home and made wise decisions.

Unfortunately for Caela, her father’s job was eliminated in December 2012, news that ultimately gave way to assortment of challenges for the rising young gymnast.

For starters, Caela, unlike in previous years, wasn’t able to train consistently for nearly a two-year stretch because of the financial adversities that had plagued her family during the time. But just as she had done in the various competitions in gymnasiums throughout the country, she deemed it necessary to, as she tells it, “make lemonade out of lemons.”

“I trained at home on my balance beam that my great grandmother bought me for my ninth birthday and I did some bar drills on the floor bar that my parents bought me,” Caela told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “I conditioned by running outside, stretching at home, and doing other exercises at home.”

GOLDEN OPPORTUNITIES --- According to Sherita Flake, her daughter, Caela Flake, first gained an admiration for gymnastics when she was six years old at the recommendation of her dance teacher, who said Caela had routinely become bored in dance class and, instead, began tumbling around on the canvas.  “We sought the best training she could get,” Sherita said. “We tried to make sure she was exposed to the best coaching possible.” To the Flake’s credit, “the best” is what they ultimately acquired, considering they sent their daughter to Maryland to train with former Olympian Dominique Dawes, Caela’s grandest mentor. (Photos submitted by S. Flake)

GOLDEN OPPORTUNITIES — According to Sherita Flake, her daughter, Caela Flake, first gained an admiration for gymnastics when she was six years old at the recommendation of her dance teacher, who said Caela had routinely become bored in dance class and, instead, began tumbling around on the canvas.
“We sought the best training she could get,” Sherita said. “We tried to make sure she was exposed to the best coaching possible.”
To the Flake’s credit, “the best” is what they ultimately acquired, considering they sent their daughter to Maryland to train with former Olympian Dominique Dawes, Caela’s grandest mentor. (Photos submitted by S. Flake)

That’s not all this vibrant, think-outside-the-box athlete had done to upgrade her mechanics.

“I even made a vault table out of the couch,” Caela explained. “I was determined not to lose skills. When my parents could finally afford to send me back to gymnastics, I had not lost that many skills. Therefore, the colleges would be gaining an athlete who knows how to train independently in under ideal circumstances.”

ALL NOT LOST --- “I trained at home on my balance beam that my great grandmother bought me for my ninth birthday and I did some bar drills on the floor bar that my parents bought me,” Caela told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “I conditioned by running outside, stretching at home, and doing other exercises at home.  That’s not all this vibrant, innovative athlete had done to upgrade her mechanics. “I even made a vault table out of the couch,” Caela explained. “I was determined not to lose skills. When my parents could finally afford to send me back to gymnastics, I had not lost that many skills. Therefore, the colleges would be gaining an athlete who knows how to train independently in under ideal circumstances.”

ALL NOT LOST — “I trained at home on my balance beam that my great grandmother bought me for my ninth birthday and I did some bar drills on the floor bar that my parents bought me,” Caela told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “I conditioned by running outside, stretching at home, and doing other exercises at home.
That’s not all this vibrant, innovative athlete had done to upgrade her mechanics.
“I even made a vault table out of the couch,” Caela explained. “I was determined not to lose skills. When my parents could finally afford to send me back to gymnastics, I had not lost that many skills. Therefore, the colleges would be gaining an athlete who knows how to train independently in under ideal circumstances.”

Now a junior campaign at Arlington, Caela doesn’t shy away from the notion that because she has trained just as intensely as many of her peers on the gymnastics circuit, she is destined to fulfill her dream of earning an athletic scholarship in the sport.

“I would like (college recruiters) to know that I am one of the most determined and dedicated kids they’ll ever meet,” Caela said. “I believe that whichever school I go to, I’ll make a good name for the school athletically and academically.”

To get a thorough understanding of why Caela is primed to seize a full-ride scholarship, look no further than how she’s going about emerging as one of the Mid-South finest young gymnast, who was christened the 2012 state champion in Tennessee after placing first in bars competition for the entire season?

According to Sherita Flake, her daughter first gained an admiration for gymnastics when she was six years old at the recommendation of her dance teacher, who said Caela had routinely become bored in dance class and, instead, began tumbling around on the canvas.
“We sought the best training she could get,” Sherita said. “We tried to make sure she was exposed to the best coaching possible.”

To the Flake’s credit, “the best” is what they ultimately acquired, considering they sent their daughter to Maryland to train with former Olympian Dominique Dawes, Caela’s grandest mentor.

The now-retired Dawes is widely remembered for being the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic medal in artistic gymnastics and the first black person of any nationality or gender to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics. She is also one of only three female American gymnasts, along with Muriel Grossfeld and Linda Metheny-Mulvihill, to compete in three Olympics and was part of three Olympic medal-winning teams: Barcelona 1992 (bronze), Atlanta 1996 (gold), and Sydney 2000 (bronze).

Besides training with Dawes, Caela has met renowned Romanian gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi and has competed in various venues across the country, most notably Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, Alabama, Texas, and California.  In addition, this rising gymnast has participated in gymnastics camps at the University of Kentucky and the University of Alabama.

Besides training with Dawes, Caela has met renowned Romanian gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi and has competed in various venues across the country, most notably Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, Alabama, Texas, and California.
In addition, this rising gymnast has participated in gymnastics camps at the University of Kentucky and the University of Alabama.

Besides training with Dawes, Caela has met renowned Romanian gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi and has competed in various venues across the country, most notably Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, Alabama, Texas, and California.

In addition, this rising gymnast has participated in gymnastics camps at the University of Kentucky and the University of Alabama.

“We were on vacation in California and she met a coach and got him to open the gym for her so she could work out,” said Sherita, assessing her daughter’s intense work ethic on the circuit.

BRIGHT FUTURE --- “I believe that these were signs from God that gymnastics is the sport for me because I am one in a million,” Caela said. I believe that whichever (college) I go to, God will help me blossom and carry me through and allow me to be a blessing wherever I go.”

BRIGHT FUTURE — “I believe that these were signs from God that gymnastics is the sport for me because I am one in a million,” Caela said. I believe that whichever (college) I go to, God will help me blossom and carry me through and allow me to be a blessing wherever I go.”

Not bad for a thriving athlete, who was born three weeks premature and was diagnosed with what doctors described as severe strabismus, a condition in which the eyes are not properly aligned with each other. Because of her unfavorable vision, she was delayed talking, walking, siting up alone, and crawling, among other things, her mother recalled.

“When she was six months old, we found out that her vision was bad and she began wearing glasses,” Sherita said. She had to go to physical therapy and occupational therapy. At that point, her doctors told us that she would be quirky walking and doing things that required gross motor skills. They also told us that she would not be able to run, tumble, or skip. We prayed about it and she has fully overcome that battle. Gymnastics is proof. Her gymnastics victories are proof.”

All of which is why Caela has learn the significance of what it means to persevere.

“I believe that these were signs from God that gymnastics is the sport for me because I am one in a million,” Caela said. I believe that whichever (college) I go to, God will help me blossom and carry me through and allow me to be a blessing wherever I go.”

That’s because she learned a valuable life lesson long ago — the lesson on how to make lemonade out of lemons.

DreAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

OKC rival Memphis Grizzlies respond to Kevin Durant’s latest injury development

DALLAS — In three of their last four playoff appearances, the Memphis Grizzlies went to battle against the Oklahoma City Thunder, including the last two seasons.

THUNDER STORM WARNING --- If the Grizzlies wound up squaring off against the Oklahoma City Thunder for a third consecutive year in the postseason, the possibility exists that they will do so without facing Kevin Durant, the NBA’s reining MVP. That’s because Thunder general manager Sam Presti on Friday announced that Durant has been "removed from basketball activities" and could be shut down for the season. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

THUNDER STORM WARNING — If the Grizzlies wound up squaring off against the Oklahoma City Thunder for a third consecutive year in the postseason, the possibility exists that they will do so without facing Kevin Durant, the NBA’s reining MVP. That’s because Thunder general manager Sam Presti on Friday announced that Durant has been “removed from basketball activities” and could be shut down for the season. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

If the Grizzlies wound up squaring off against the Thunder for a third consecutive year in the postseason, the possibility exists that they will do so without facing the NBA’s reining MVP.

That’s because Thunder general manager Sam Presti on Friday announced that Durant has been “removed from basketball activities” and could be shut down for the season.

The news of Durant’s latest setback surrounding a right foot injury came as a shock to a Thunder team that is clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. According to team officials, Durant’s foot reportedly has caused him more pain after he underwent surgery Feb. 23.

Durant, who traveled with the team to Dallas for Monday’s outing and underwent treatment before that game, told MemphiSport.com, “I’m feeling better. I’ll be re-evaluated in a few days and will be ready to go soon.”

However, as early as Friday, Durant’s injury apparently had taken a turn for the worst, a development team officials believe will likely sideline the seven-year veteran for the remainder of the season.

That OKC will likely be without Durant, its best player, if it clinches a playoff berth for a sixth consecutive year came as a surprise to the Grizzlies, who have faced the Thunder in the postseason in three of the last four years. (Photo by Bill Waugh/Reuters)

That OKC will likely be without Durant, its best player, if it clinches a playoff berth for a sixth consecutive year came as a surprise to the Grizzlies, who have faced the Thunder in the postseason in three of the last four years. (Photo by Bill Waugh/Reuters)

“He’s not making the progress we’d hoped or expected,” Presti said.

That OKC will likely be without its best player if it clinches a playoff berth for a sixth consecutive year came as a surprise to the Grizzlies, who have faced the Thunder in the postseason in three of the last four years.

Memphis made its first Western Conference Finals appearance in franchise history in 2013 after eliminating the Thunder in five games. That year, the Thunder were without point guard Russell Westbrook, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in the playoffs’ opening round.

“I feel bad for him,” Grizzlies center Marc Gasol said of Durant’s injury following Friday morning’s shoot around in American Airlines Center. “Great player. Special guy. Special player. I got to know him a little bit during the All-Star weekend. But I feel bad for him. I know how much he loves the game and how much he wants to be out there. And I feel bad for him.”

Like Gasol, Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley said the news of Durant likely being shut down the rest of the year came as a shock, considering he had been hearing that Durant was recouping comfortably from the foot injury.

Since Durant underwent surgery last month in attempt to alleviate soreness and discomfort in his right foot that was being caused by a screw inserted in October during a procedure to repair a Jones fracture, Russell Westbrook has played arguably the best basketball of his seven-year career. Currently the NBA’s leading scorer, averaging 27.8 points per game, Westbrook has been nothing short of remarkable of late, having recorded a league-best nine triple doubles, his latest of which came in OKC’s 123–115 home win Friday night over Atlanta. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Since Durant underwent surgery last month in attempt to alleviate soreness and discomfort in his right foot that was being caused by a screw inserted in October during a procedure to repair a Jones fracture, Russell Westbrook has played arguably the best basketball of his seven-year career. Currently the NBA’s leading scorer, averaging 27.8 points per game, Westbrook has been nothing short of remarkable of late, having recorded a league-best nine triple doubles, his latest of which came in OKC’s 123–115 home win Friday night over Atlanta. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

“I have not heard about it. That’s news to me right now,” Conley said.

Since Durant underwent surgery last month in attempt to alleviate soreness and discomfort in his right foot that was being caused by a screw inserted in October during a procedure to repair a Jones fracture, Westbrook has played arguably the best basketball of his seven-year career.

Currently the NBA’s leading scorer, averaging 27.8 points per game, Westbrook has been nothing short of remarkable of late, having recorded a league-best nine triple doubles, his latest of which came in OKC’s 123–115 home win Friday night over the Atlanta Hawks (36 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds).

So resilient Westbrook has been after what was an injury-ridden season last year for the former UCLA star that he has emerged as a legitimate candidate for league’s Most Valuable Player.

However, earlier this week, Westbrook reiterated that individual accolades are the least of his concerns, especially considering the Thunder are battling for their playoff lives during the season’s stretch run. At 39-30, OKC owns a two-game lead over ninth-place New Orleans for the pivotal eighth spot in the West.

“I don’t know,” said Westbrook, when asked if he’s playing the best basketball of his career. I take it one day at a time, man, and keep doing what I’m doing. I have no take (on the MVP race). My job is to come out and play at a high level every single night.”

But whether Westbrook and Co. will have Durant back for what figures to be an intense postseason in the always rugged Western Conference remains unclear.

As of Friday, team officials hinted that a Thunder playoff run this year likely will take place without arguably their best player.

“You know, it sucks to have any kind of injury,” Conley said. “And the situation (Durant) is going through, I know he wants to be back on the court. So that’s tough for him and the organization. But I’m sure they’re doing whatever’s best for him and the team.”

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

 

Former Kentucky Christian DL JeR’yl Christian aiming to impress pro football scouts

DALLAS — The countdown has begun for JeR’yl Christian to witness the chance of lifetime.

“It’s really a big dream to me because I’ve been playing (football) since the age of five,” Christian, a former Kentucky Christian University defensive lineman, said during a recent interview. “I love the passion of the game and can’t anyone hold me back. I’ve work hard each and every day. I’ve dreamed about this day.”

After auditioning for various CFL teams in the coming days at California University of Pennsylvania, for Kentucky Christian University defensive lineman Jer'yl Christian is scheduled to try out for the CFL’s British Columbia Lions in Seattle on May 17.  For the 24-year-old Christian, a native of Steubenville, Ohio, that he will be afforded the golden opportunity of putting his football skills on display before pro scouts is something he said he will relish for the rest of his life. (Photos courtesy of KCU Athletics)

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’ — After auditioning for various CFL teams in the coming days at California University of Pennsylvania, for Kentucky Christian University defensive lineman Jer’yl Christian (No. 49) is scheduled to try out for the CFL’s British Columbia Lions in Seattle on May 17.
For the 24-year-old Christian, a native of Steubenville, Ohio, that he will be afforded the golden opportunity of putting his football skills on display before pro scouts is something he said he will relish for the rest of his life.
(Photos courtesy of KCU Athletics)

The day Christian is alluding to is an organized Canadian Football League tryout at California University of Pennsylvania. Located on 294 acres in the rural establishment of California, Pennsylvania, the school known as “Cal U” is just 35 miles south of Pittsburgh on the banks of the Monongahela River.

According to many who have observed his maturation process on the field, particularly during his collegiate stint, they believe the 6-foot-2, 265-pound defensive lineman is worthy of a shot of playing at the professional level, even the NFL. “There is no doubt to me the JeR’yl should get a shot at becoming an NFL player,” said Christian’s longtime mentor Michael McIntyre. “The positive attributes that JeR’yl possesses are what is needed in professional football. His character is one of his strengths that are equaled by his perseverance, talent, and dependability.”

According to many who have observed his maturation process on the field, particularly during his collegiate stint, they believe the 6-foot-2, 265-pound defensive lineman is worthy of a shot of playing at the professional level, even the NFL.
“There is no doubt to me the JeR’yl should get a shot at becoming an NFL player,” said Christian’s longtime mentor Michael McIntyre. “The positive attributes that JeR’yl possesses are what is needed in professional football. His character is one of his strengths that are equaled by his perseverance, talent, and dependability.”

After auditioning in the coming days at Cal U, Christian is scheduled to try out for the CFL’s British Columbia Lions in Seattle on May 17.

For the 24-year-old Christian, a native of Steubenville, Ohio, that he will be afforded the golden opportunity of putting his football skills on display before pro scouts is something he said he will relish for the rest of his life.

According to many who have observed his maturation process on the field, particularly during his collegiate stint, they believe the 6-foot-2, 265-pound defensive lineman is worthy of a shot of playing at the professional level, even the NFL.

“There is no doubt to me the JeR’yl should get a shot at becoming an NFL player,” said Christian’s longtime mentor Michael McIntyre. “The positive attributes that JeR’yl possesses are what is needed in professional football. His character is one of his strengths that are equaled by his perseverance, talent, and dependability.”

After a stellar high school career in which he had drawn interests from a host of Division 1 colleges, Christian ultimately decided to take his football talents to Akron University. However, following a red shirt year and the subsequent firing of Akron’s coaching staff, Christian transferred to Kentucky Christian, where he enjoyed three efficient seasons for the NAIA member Knights.

To his credit, Christian helped propelled the Knights to a 5-6 mark this past season, a two-game improvement from the previous year.

Arguably his most productive season at KCU was his junior campaign, which was a coming out party, of sorts, for Christian. That’s because he emerged as a catalyst of the Knights’ defensive unit, having recorded a team-best 57 tackles, including 13 ½ of which was for lost yardage.

LEAST HE FORGET --- As he prepares for what undoubtedly is the biggest opportunity of his young life, Christian credits a majority of success to his late grandmother, Barbara June Gardner, who looked after him since birth.  Gardner, who was legally blind, died of a heart attack last year on March 18.

LEAST HE FORGET — As he prepares for what undoubtedly is the biggest opportunity of his young life, Christian credits a majority of success to his late grandmother, Barbara June Gardner, who looked after him since birth.
Gardner, who was legally blind, died of a heart attack last year on March 18.

Add to the fact that this rugged defensive lineman — who garnered preseason All-American honors — recorded 5 ½ sacks and had three forced fumbles, and it’s no wonder the possibility exists that many believe his best playing days are ahead of him.

As he prepares for what undoubtedly is the biggest opportunity of his young life, Christian credits a majority of success to his late grandmother, Barbara June Gardner, who looked after him since birth.

Gardner, who was legally blind, died of a heart attack last year on March 18.

REMEMBERING BARB --- Christian's current Facebook profile photo features artwork of him and his late grandmother.

REMEMBERING BARB — Christian’s current Facebook profile photo features artwork of him and his late grandmother.

“It really broke my heart,” Christian said of his grandmother’s death. “But I know she’s here with me throughout everything. I just want a chance to prove that I can play at any level.”

His golden opportunity will take place in the coming days which, according to him, is a chance of a lifetime that is.

Let the countdown begin.

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson also covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

 

Former prep baseball standout Kali Payton III thriving as a motivational speaker

KaliLike a number of his peers, Kali Payton III would be the first to tell you he has endured his share of hardships and turmoil.

For starters, Payton was raised in what he describes as one of America’s most dangerous, poverty-stricken establishments, the John DeShields housing projects in East St, Louis, Illinois.

And, as a youngster — eight years old to be exact — he and his family wound up on the wrong side of some horrific news when word spread that his father was murdered.

Fast forward to a few years later, Payton still found himself having to weather an assortment of tumultuous encounters — occurrences that given how much this vibrant 33-year-old ex-military veteran has flourished in recent years, is valid proof why he has steadfastly taken on a newfound disposition on life.

“I have failed in business nine times and lost two homes to foreclosure. I celebrated my 21st birthday in Afghanistan in 2002,” said Payton, an Air Force veteran, said during a recent interview.

Fortunately for Payton, a former East St. Louis High baseball standout, his slew of obstacles are what ultimately inspired him to assume yet another venture, one that undoubtedly will enhance and aid others to maximize their potential.

A resident of Fayetteville, North Carolina, Payton is a Motivational Speaker and Life/Business Coach for Kali Is Speaking, an endeavor that has benefited him mightily, considering he has emerged as a fixture in various establishments across the country.

To his credit, Payton has spoken and his put his motivational skills on display in places such as his native home state of Illinois, North Carolina, and Florida, among others — a list that figures to expand in the foreseeable future.

A former East St. Louis All-Star catcher who wore former Major Leaguer Mike Piazza’s jersey number, Payton acknowledges that his competitive drive through baseball essentially fueled his desire to become a motivational speaker and life coach.

Among the reasons is that in spite of the array of curve balls life has often dealt him, he says that isn’t a reason for individuals — especially those from downtrodden communities like him — to live beneath their privileges.

“I had raw talent as a power hitter,” Payton explains. “But as the competition increased, my effectiveness decreased. I just couldn’t figure out why. Then my high school coach, Mr. Brown, taught me that I didn’t need to lead the team in home runs but in RBI’s. I batted clean up, so it was my job to make enough contact to make sure other players advance and either score or get in position to score.

“What I do in my business today is the exact same thing,” Payton continued. “I use my life experiences to help others advance or position themselves to reach their destinations. What I love most is knowing that I was chosen to impact the lives of others in a positive way. It blows my mind each time I think about it.”

Arguably Payton’s single, most underlying objective as a motivational speaker and life coach is to empower others to connect with their life’s work — or their purpose, of sorts — a life-changing attribute that was instilled in him by his godfather, Lee Coleman II.

“He inspired me to live out my full potential and serve humanity with my whole heart,” Payton said.

Fortunately for Payton, he’s savoring the purpose for which he was created, considering his latest endeavor is starting to come full circle, thus embraced by countless individuals in the Fayetteville area and other portions of the country.

Among the reasons is that Payton conducts a weekly class at nearby Jesus Peace Ministries in Fayetteville, which is an economic empowerment session for people who aspire to become entrepreneurs.

As for his itinerary, he is scheduled to teach youths on how to overcome the fear of public speaking as part of a Spring Break camp that is scheduled for April 6-10.

Given the success he has enjoyed in recent years, it’s safe to assume that Payton has adjusted comfortably as a motivational speaker and life coach, in large part because he has functioned in such a commendable role for two years. Aside from that, he has been an accomplished licensed minster for nearly nine years, an accolade that has contributed greatly to his latest endeavor.

In other words, Payton doesn’t shy away from the notion that he welcomes putting his skills on display before sizable crowds. Given the adversities he has managed to conquer during his life, he’d be the first to admit that he was built to handle such work.

“I just don’t believe any person should live a life that they are not happy with,” Payton said. “We are all created for the same thing…to serve humanity. Serve with our gifts, talents, and abilities with the sole purpose of gaining resources that will expand our platform. Ultimately, we must press repeat and do it all over again…a simple reason of why we all exist.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on Kali Is Speaking or to contact him for a speaking engagement, check out Kali Payton III at:

www.regeneratemypurpose.com

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson also covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Dallas-area youth hoopster Kaelen Jackson excelling despite mom’s long work hours

KAELENDALLAS — Cosha Jackson customarily goes above and beyond to ensure her family is well taken care of.

So much, in fact, that in many instances, Jackson works as many as six days a week.

Still, although working consumes much of her time, Jackson makes certain she bolts her job in time to attend games for her son, Dallas-area amateur basketball player, Kaelen Damon Jackson.

“He started playing in his mama’s backyard at the age of three,” Cosha said during a recent interview. “Not until the age of five he began playing with his first team, (the Beckley Bears).”

Despite being mostly an undersized player ever since he began playing competitive basketball, Kaelen still has proven to hold his own on the court as a marquee player for Dallas’ NorthStars 10-and-under team.

Nicknamed “K-Man,” Kaelon’s key contributions helped steer the NorthStars to an impressive 13-3 mark that was culminated recently with an elusive championship.

“I knew he could do it despite his height. I was and still am a proud mother,” Cosha said her son’s display this past season for the NorthStars.

In assessing her son’s success as a rising athlete, Cosha credits the NorthStars coaching staff for aiding her in ensuring her son goes full throttle, particularly when her job often conflicts with getting him to and from practice.

“I work six days a week,” Cosha said. “Kaelen has great coaches that make sure he gets to practices and to games when I am unable to get him there. But I make sure that I leave work, because I never miss a game. I am my child’s No. 1 fan.”

And never mind that amid the long hours in the workplace, Cosha’s has to swiftly assume another hat — that of the proverbial basketball mom.KAELEN2

“But when I see the enjoyment that my son has when he is on the court, being tired goes out the window,” Cosha said. “I’d do anything for his happiness. That’s what makes me excited. I am overjoyed as a parent. You try to put your kids into activities to keep them busy, and it’s a plus when they excel in that activity.”

A 10-year-old fifth grader at Gateway Charter School, Kaelen assumes the point guard position for a NorthStars team who harbors the  motto: “Hard work beat talent if talent fails to work hard.”

For this vibrant, speedy amateur athlete, without question his immense talents on the court have gone virtually unnoticed, a trend he says hopes will afford him to someday repay his mother for the tireless efforts she has invested in him, on and away from the hardwood.

“Because I am good at it,” said Kaelen, when asked why does he love basketball so much. “And I like the feeling I get when I’m on the court. I get excited.”

More than anything, Kaelen acknowledges, looking out into the stands and seeing his mother’s presence is what ultimately fuels his desire to help his peers be successful.

“My mom says I can be anything I want to be,” said Kaelen, explaining the best advice his mother frequently gives him. “I want to play in the NBA when I get older, so she told me to work hard and it will come true.”

However, landing on basketball grandest stage won’t merely come easily, Cosha says often tells her son.

“I always tell Kaelen nothing in life is going to be giving to him,” Cosha said. “You have to work hard to get what you want. The sky’s the limit (for him) because he has dedication. His dream is to play professional basketball. As long as he never gives up on himself, his dream will become a reality. I tell Kaelen, ‘Never put limits on yourself.’ Whatever he set his mind to do, I know Kaelen will achieve it.”

Among the reasons is that his mom demonstrates that daily.

So much for being so exhausted after working long hours.

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson also covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

 

Dallas-area dual-sport athlete Demonte Greene thriving with help of dad

HUGE ASSIST --- To get a thoroughly understanding of why Lamont Green partakes in customary pregame rituals while preparing to witness his son play the game he’s come to embrace, look no further than the strides little Demonte has made in his brief time on the amateur hoops circuit.  For starters, Demonte played integral role in helping propel the Dallas NorthStars 10-and-under AAU squad to a recent championship. While assuming the shooting guard position, Demonte has gone to great lengths to demonstrate why good sportsmanship and fine-tuning his fundamentals are essential with regards to flourishing as a young athlete.  (Photos submitted by L. Greene)

HUGE ASSIST — To get a thoroughly understanding of why Lamont Green partakes in customary pregame rituals while preparing to witness his son play the game he’s come to embrace, look no further than the strides little Demonte has made in his brief time on the amateur hoops circuit.
For starters, Demonte played integral role in helping propel the Dallas NorthStars 10-and-under AAU squad to a recent championship. While assuming the shooting guard position, Demonte has gone to great lengths to demonstrate why good sportsmanship and fine-tuning his fundamentals are essential with regards to flourishing as a young athlete. (Photos submitted by L. Greene)

DALLAS — Oftentimes, Lamont Greene admittedly has to listen to music while preparing to watch his son, 10-year-old amateur basketball player, Demonte Greene, in action.

That’s not all he does.

“Well game day usually consists of breakfast, music to get the mind right while getting dressed, and prepared for the game with a small prayer too bless the game, and a moment of silence to regroup and focus on the task at hand,” Lamont Greene said during a recent interview.

To get a thoroughly understanding of why Lamont Green partakes in customary pregame rituals while preparing to witness his son play the game he’s come to embrace, look no further than the strides little Demonte has made in his brief time on the amateur hoops circuit.

A student at nearby Birdie Alexander Elementary, Demonte says his favorite basketball player is LeBron James while his top football player of Dez Bryant. According this thriving, vibrant athlete, it is the continuous success of these two professional athletes that essentially has fueled his desire to broaden his horizon as a youth athlete.

A student at nearby Birdie Alexander Elementary, Demonte says his favorite basketball player is LeBron James while his top football player of Dez Bryant. According this thriving, vibrant athlete, it is the continuous success of these two professional athletes that essentially has fueled his desire to broaden his horizon as a youth athlete.

For starters, Demonte played integral role in helping propel the Dallas NorthStars 10-and-under AAU squad to a recent championship. While assuming the shooting guard position, Demonte has gone to great lengths to demonstrate why good sportsmanship and fine-tuning his fundamentals are essential with regards to flourishing as a young athlete.

A dual-sport athlete that is.

Two-time NBA champion and four-time league MVP LeBron James is Demonte's favorite basketball player.

Two-time NBA champion and four-time league MVP LeBron James is Demonte’s favorite basketball player.

“I’m so thrilled that Monte has be playing with (the NorthStars) for couple years now,” Lamont said. “That’s why their team is so special. The play football together as well. They are all on the same team, winning the championships in both basketball and football.”

A student at nearby Birdie Alexander Elementary, Demonte says his favorite basketball player is LeBron James while his top football player of Dez Bryant. According this thriving, vibrant athlete, it is the continuous success of these two professional athletes that essentially has fueled his desire to broaden his horizon as a youth athlete.

“He tells me all the time to do things right the first time all the time,” said, Demonte, when asked what is the most advice given him by his father. “He tells me that, ‘If you live like that eventually it becomes natural to you.”

Demonte relishes the fact that when he suits up for competition, his father is a few yards away in the stands cheering him on, steadfastly proving yet again that he undoubtedly is his grandest supporter.

“My dad comes to every game and pushes me to get better,” Demonte said. “He makes me workout on my own time, makes me take part in all type of drills.”

Like his father, Demonte also acknowledges that among the reasons he’s enjoying success as a rising accomplished athlete is that his coaches have done the necessary strategies to ensure he and his teammates demonstrate solid sportsmanship, let alone a resilient work ethic as a unit whether on the hardwood or gridiron.

Dallas Cowboys star wide receiver Dez Bryant is Demonte's No. 1 football player.

Dallas Cowboys star wide receiver Dez Bryant is Demonte’s No. 1 football player.

“Coach West and Coach Delone are great coaches and motivators,” Lamont said. “They bring the best out of Monte.”

As for the pivotal life lessons he routinely instills in his son, well, such trends undoubtedly begin in the home, Lamonte said.

“Life lessons…well I teach him to be a man, be respectful, honest, a man of God, be a leader, develop good work, and develop study habits,” Lamonte said. “That means grades first and student athlete second. There’s plenty of room to grow being so young and talented. He also has a great family base and support to keep his head right mentally and spiritually.”

All of which of course, is why his beloved father look forward to his customary pregame rituals on game day for little Demonte.

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson also covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Duncanville High sprinter Anterius Brown building solid resume for college scouts

DUNCANVILLE, Texas — During the past two years of competing in high school varsity track and field, Anterius Brown’s skills have afforded him to run at a number of major colleges in Texas, most notably Texas Christian, University of Texas at Arlington, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, and the University of Texas, among others.

STOCK RISING --- During the past two years of competing in high school varsity track and field, Anterius Brown’s skills have afforded him to run at a number of major colleges in Texas, most notably, Texas Christian, University of Texas at Arlington, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, and the University of Texas, among others.  Given the continuous strides this Duncanville High sprinter has made in recent, it’s safe to assume that he’s making a strong case to earning a much-anticipated scholarship to one of these schools. (Photos submitted by L. Brown)

STOCK RISING — During the past two years of competing in high school varsity track and field, Anterius Brown’s skills have afforded him to run at a number of major colleges in Texas, most notably, Texas Christian, University of Texas at Arlington, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, and the University of Texas, among others.
Given the continuous strides this Duncanville High sprinter has made in recent, it’s safe to assume that he’s making a strong case to earning a much-anticipated scholarship to one of these schools. (Photos submitted by L. Brown)

Given the continuous strides this Duncanville High sprinter has made in recent years, it’s safe to assume that he’s making a strong case for earning a much-anticipated scholarship to one of these schools.

“If given the chance to compete in college track and field, I would take the advantage of the opportunity, giving the best I have to bringing success to that school,” Brown said during a recent interview.

Through nearly two full seasons as a varsity sprinter, Brown has no official offers but, according to his mother, La Toni Brown, the junior standout had begun generating interests from schools as early as last week.

Chances are such interest is expected to increase, in large part because Anterius Brown currently participates in four events for the Panthers, up from the two he ran last year.

TRUE TALENT --- Aside from producing what is shaping up to be an impressive resume for college scouts for Duncanville, Anterius has been nothing short of impressive while in recent years on the AAU circuit for DeSoto Swift.  To his credit, his skills and contributions for this team has gone virtually unnoticed, considering Anterius has compiled a slew of awards and accolades --- trends that will only add to what is already an impressive athletic resume.

TRUE TALENT — Aside from producing what is shaping up to be an impressive resume for college scouts for Duncanville, Anterius has been nothing short of impressive while in recent years on the AAU circuit for DeSoto Swift.
To his credit, his skills and contributions for this team has gone virtually unnoticed, considering Anterius has compiled a slew of awards and accolades — trends that will only add to what is already an impressive athletic resume.

Last year, for instance, Anterius Brown was a fixture in the 400-meter dash and 4×400-meter relay. This year, though, the speedy, 6-foot-1, 170-pound Dallas native has added 200-meter dash and 4×200-meter relay to his sprinting repertoire.

In assessing his display since he joined Duncanville’s tradition-rich track and field program, Arterius Brown said this year essentially has set the tone for what figures to be an intriguing senior campaign, one that will likely include colleges inquiring about his services.

“I would say this season (has been great), because we had our first meet (in mid-February) and I ran the 4×400 and 4×200,” Anterius said. “I ran my personal best split on the 4×400 relay. I honestly believe our 4×400 will go to state this year. Adding the 4×200 will also give be an opportunity to gain another event under my belt.”

Aside from producing what is shaping up to be an impressive resume at Duncanville for college scouts, Anterius also has been nothing short of impressive in recent years on the AAU circuit for DeSoto Swift.

MUCH KUDOS --- Anterius has earned several AAU national medals, particularly when he appeared in the 2013 AAU National Club Championship as part of the sprint medley relay. Consequently, he took part in the 4x400-meter relay at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando that same year, as well as having earned a medal in completing at the 2013 AAU Jr. Olympics in the 4x400-meter relay.

MUCH KUDOS — Anterius has earned several AAU national medals, particularly when he appeared in the 2013 AAU National Club Championship as part of the sprint medley relay. Consequently, he took part in the 4×400-meter relay at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando that same year, as well as having earned a medal in completing at the 2013 AAU Jr. Olympics in the 4×400-meter relay.

To his credit, his skills and contributions for this team has gone virtually unnoticed, considering Anterius has compiled a slew of awards and accolades, trends that will only add to what is already an impressive athletic resume.

For instance, Anterius has earned several AAU national medals, particularly when he appeared in the 2013 AAU National Club Championship as part of the sprint medley relay. Consequently, he took part in the 4×400-meter relay at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando that same year, as well as having earned a medal in completing at the 2013 AAU Jr. Olympics in the 4×400-meter relay.

Since entering the high school ranks, he has earned first-place honors in district competition, third in an area meet, and placed sixth overall in regional competition — all in his first full season at the varsity ranks.

“He improves more and more each season,” La Toni Brown said of her son’s constant progress. “He came from just running because he loves it to running to create personal best records. His overall skills entail him to being versatile, competitive, and a self-motivator. He has everything it takes to be successful with the many possibilities in front of him. I am very optimistic he will take advantage of his intelligence, dedication and passion as an athlete.”

Stay tuned.

Chances are the recruiting process likely will become very intriguing for dazzling La Toni’s son, this dazzling sprinter who has been nothing short of impressive in recent years.

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

 

Despite birth of baby, Okla. prep RB Orrin Walker drawing interests from colleges

CAMBREE'S FINEST --- According to Ardmore (Okla.) High's star running back Orrin Walker, days after the recent birth of his daughter, he was peppered with an assortment of questions --- questions from whether he plans to finish high school to whether he will continue playing football beyond what has been a remarkable prep career for the talented for the 5-foot-7, 150-pound running back. Today, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Kansas State, Michigan, Penn State, Navy, Southern Arkansas, Northern Arizona, Southwestern Oklahoma State, Oklahoma Baptist, Tulsa, North Texas, and the University of Texas all have expressed interest in him. (Photos courtesy of Ardmore Athletics)

CAMBREE’S FINEST — According to Ardmore (Okla.) High’s star running back Orrin Walker, days after the recent birth of his daughter, he was peppered with an assortment of questions — questions from whether he plans to finish high school to whether he will continue playing football beyond what has been a remarkable prep career for the talented for the 5-foot-7, 150-pound running back. Today, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Kansas State, Michigan, Penn State, Navy, Southern Arkansas, Northern Arizona, Southwestern Oklahoma State, Oklahoma Baptist, Tulsa, North Texas, and the University of Texas all have expressed interest in him. (Photos courtesy of Ardmore Athletics)

Orrin Walker Jr. has a forthright message to those who deemed it necessary to doubt him.

“I have come too far now to turn around,” Walker, a junior running back for Ardmore (Okla.) High said during a recent interview.

Armed with what various recruiting analysts say is a wealth of blazing speed and resilience, Walker is alluding to the backlash he took after the birth of his daughter, Cambree, who was born September 16, 2014.

According to Walker, days after the birth of his daughter, he was peppered with an assortment of questions — questions from whether he plans to finish high school to whether he will continue playing football beyond what has been a remarkable prep career for the talented 5-foot-7, 150-pound running back.

“Alot of people thought that I would start slacking and some even thought I would quit (football),” Walker said. “But I have been able to maintain going to school, working two jobs, playing football, and taking care of my daughter.”

HUGE INSPIRATION --- Like Orrin’s mother, Ardmore head coach Doug Wendel also contends that his star running back hasn’t missed a beat since the birth of Cambree. If nothing Cambree has become his grandest cheerleader.

HUGE INSPIRATION — Like Orrin’s mother, Ardmore head coach Doug Wendel also contends that his star running back hasn’t missed a beat since the birth of Cambree. If nothing Cambree has become his grandest cheerleader.

And in the wake of what undoubtedly has been a brutally hectic year for this football standout, his solid play on Friday nights has given way to a slew of major colleges inquiring about his services once his high school stint concludes.

According to Walker, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Kansas State, Michigan, Penn State, Navy, Southern Arkansas, Northern Arizona, Southwestern Oklahoma State, Oklahoma Baptist, Tulsa, North Texas, and the University of Texas all have expressed interest in him.

To get a thorough understanding of why the recruiting process for Walker — known to many as “OJ” — has been nothing short of impressive, look no further than the remarkable numbers he registered this past season.

In leading Ardmore to a 12-2 finish that included a Oklahoma District 1-5A championship and lengthy postseason run, Walker amassed 1,462 yards rushing on just 102 carries and scored a team-best rushing 17 touchdowns. In addition, he had eight receptions for 147 yards and two scores and was just as efficient on special teams, where he generated 377 yards (47.1 average yards per kickoff) on just eight returns and three scores.

So much for the negative backlash he witnessed upon the birth of his child.

“I know OJ has already spoken on this subject, but when I first learned that my son was going to be a father, I was crushed,” said Orrin’s mother, Anquanett Walker. “Different things began to run through my mind, but I never thought at any time that it would stop him from reaching the goals he had set as a child. Today our precious Cambree is (six) months old and I believe that she has added inspiration and motivation to his life.”

PURE TALENT --- In leading Ardmore to a 12-2 finish that included a District 1-5A championship and lengthy postseason run, Walker amassed 1,462 yards rushing on just 102 carries and scored a team-best rushing 17 touchdowns.

PURE TALENT — In leading Ardmore to a 12-2 finish that included a District 1-5A championship and lengthy postseason run, Walker amassed 1,462 yards rushing on just 102 carries and scored a team-best rushing 17 touchdowns.

Like Orrin’s mother, Ardmore head coach Doug Wendel also contends that his star running back hasn’t missed a beat since the birth of Cambree. If nothing Cambree has become his grandest cheerleader.

And vice versa.

“OJ has a tremendous upside,” Wendel said. “He continues to improve in his overall body strength. His speed is exceptional. His drive is second to none.”

Conversely, Wendel said there are a few mechanics Orrin must fine tune as he look prepares for what figures to be a record-setting senior season. Scouts and recruiters will get another glimpse of his Orrin when he attends a number of camps and combines this summer.

“One area that he has improved the most is in his leadership ability,” Wendel said. “He has the skills to make the people around him better. OJ will excel his senior season and at the next level.”

Something about which Cambree, his biggest — but smallest — fan will savor.

“Cambree have been big part of my motivation to continue to go forward,” Orrin said.

A forthright message those who deemed it necessary to doubt this true talent ought to take into account as well.

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Univ. of Southwest basketball standout Anitria Flowers aiming to attract pro scouts

BLOSSOMING FLOWER --- Anitria Flowers, a junior college transfer and the University of Southwest's second-tallest player, was the catalyst of a team that made continuous stride this season. (Photos courtesy of USW Athletics)

BLOSSOMING FLOWER — Anitria Flowers, a junior college transfer and the University of Southwest’s second-tallest player, was the catalyst of a team that made continuous stride this season. (Photos courtesy of USW Athletics)

DALLAS — When logging on to the University of Southwest’s women’s basketball website, the first photo you’ll see is that of Anitria Flowers.

Flowers, a junior college transfer and the Lady Mustangs’ second-tallest player, is the catalyst of a team that made continuous strides this season.

Southwest’s season ended in Red River Athletic Conference loss to nationally-ranked Our Lady Of The Lake University April 28. While the Lady Mustangs’ 6-26 campaign suggests, among other things that they struggled considerably this year, in essence, it was a season in which Southwest first-year coach Jamene Caldwell’s team is building for the future.

That future, by all accounts, will surely involve Flowers, a 5-foot-11 combo guard who figures to help steer the team in the right direction for what she pledges will be a memorable senior campaign next.

A player whose favorite quote — at least according to Southwest’s website — is, “Talent is God given. Be humble, fame is manmade. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful,” Flowers doesn’t shy away from the notion that she’s destined to not only help propel the Lady Mustangs from years of futility, but she’s also vows to attract the attention of WNBA scouts and general managers by the time she finishes her collegiate hoops career.

Having transferred to Southwest in Hobbs, New Mexico after a stellar two-year stint at Howard Junior College, Flowers wasted little time making her presence for a Lady Mustang team that finished the season on a favorable note when it won two of its final three outings.

Having transferred to Southwest in Hobbs, New Mexico after a stellar two-year stint at Howard Junior College, Flowers wasted little time making her presence for a Lady Mustang team that finished the season on a favorable note when it won two of its final three outings.

Having transferred to USW in Hobbs, New Mexico after a stellar two-year stint at Howard Junior College in nearby Big Spring, Texas, Flowers wasted little time making her presence felt for a Lady Mustang team that finished the season on a favorable note when it won two of its final three outings.

A speedy two-way guard, Flowers was aggressive on both ends of the floor for USW, especially on the offensive end, where even as the team’s floor general and facilitator, she appeared assertive against elite talent, penetrating hard to the basket much like she did during her days of running the show as a prep standout for Sundown High in Texas.

“I love basketball because it’s a sport that you can control the outcome and it is structured but you have freedom to show what you can do,” Flowers said during a recent interview. “I have always loved basketball and always will. When I’m on the court whether in practice or a game or just shooting around nothing else matters and it’s just peaceful.”

Because she often presented match-up problems for the opposition, Flowers evolved as one of USW’s most efficient defenders, often hustling her way for block shots and steals — key attributes Caldwell’s believes undoubtedly will be signs of things to come next year.

“Anitria has progressed tremendously during the course of just this season alone,” Caldwell said. “I cannot attest to her work previously to my arriving at USW since this is my first year. However, in the short amount of time that I have been privilege to coach Anitria, she has developed into an aggressive offensive player that can really score at will. She is also one of the best shot blockers I have had the opportunity to coach. She is what I call a quiet assassin on the court. At the end of it, you don’t even realize how her stat line completely changed the game. I know she will (work hard) throughout the summer and into next season and she will be ready for an unforgettable senior year.”

A speedy two-way guard, Flowers was aggressive on both ends of the floor for Southwest, especially on the offensive end, where even as the team’s floor general and facilitator, she appeared assertive against elite talent, penetrating hard to the basket much like she did during her days of running the show as a prep standout for Sundown High in Texas.

A speedy two-way guard, Flowers was aggressive on both ends of the floor for Southwest, especially on the offensive end, where even as the team’s floor general and facilitator, she appeared assertive against elite talent, penetrating hard to the basket much like she did during her days of running the show as a prep standout for Sundown High in Texas.

Among Flowers’ grandest supporters has been her mother, Michelle Flowers. A current resident of Sundown, Texas who often travels hundreds of miles to witness her daughter in action.

“The first time she picked up the basketball, it’s like she had a built in naturalness for the sport and I knew then she would do great things in basketball,” Michelle Flowers said. “When it’s game day I wake up pumped and ready to go, I’m anxious all day because I’m ready to see her play. I love every minute watching her play as a child. Her senior year (of high school) I went to every game. When I found out she was going to play college ball, I smiled from ear to ear and told her she deserved it because she worked so hard to get there. She lives in the gym even when she comes home for weekend and holiday visits. I’m beyond happy for her. I want to see her excel in life.”

As she prepares for what figures to be a memorable senior season, Anitria Flowers’ primary objective, she said, will remain the same.

That is, she pledges to leave it all out on the floor, thus make her mother proud, just as she’s done since she first reached for a basketball at five years of age.

PRO HOOPS MATERIAL? A player whose favorite quote --- at least according to Southwest’s website --- is, "Talent is God given. Be humble, fame is manmade.  Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful," Flowers doesn’t shy away from the notion that she’s destined to not only help propel the Lady Mustangs from years of futility, but she’s also vows to attract the attention of WNBA scouts and general managers by the time she finishes her collegiate career.

PRO HOOPS MATERIAL? A player whose favorite quote — at least according to Southwest’s website — is, “Talent is God given. Be humble, fame is manmade. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful,” Flowers doesn’t shy away from the notion that she’s destined to not only help propel the Lady Mustangs from years of futility, but she’s also vows to attract the attention of WNBA scouts and general managers by the time she finishes her collegiate career.

“I will graduate college with my criminal Justice Degree and continue to work hard in the gym to better myself so I have a chance to play at the professional level,” Anitria Flowers said. “My mother has very proud of my grades all throughout school and I’ll continue to keep them up and make her happy. I always keep in touch with my family and that is something that is a must. Family is so important to me. Without them it’s difficult to accomplish all that I already have.”

Stay tuned. Chances are the college basketball world hasn’t seen the last of this kid.

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.