Thursday, November 24, 2011
Lady Lions going to next level
By BARRY BURLESON
Coach Jason Thompson referred to Kyra Gulledge and Alexis Hardaway as “pillars of our program.”
The two H.W. Byers seniors signed Division I college basketball scholarships Thursday in the school library. Hardaway will play for Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn., and Gulledge for Furman University in Greenville, S.C.
“They’ve excelled from day one as freshmen,” Thompson said. “Their hard work, effort and resilience have paid off. They’re great students, too.
“I’m happy they’re going to the next level, but sad to lose them from our program.”
At the same time, Thompson knows they will stay in touch as former Lady Lions like Rachel Jones (Jackson State) and Kourtney Coleman (Troy State, Ala.) have done.
“We’re all family,” he said. “It’s a family-oriented group.”
Hardaway and Gulledge were part of state championships as freshmen and juniors.
Last year, Gulledge averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds a game. Hardaway, after returning from a knee injury, averaged 13 points and eight boards a game.
In the playoff run all the way to a Class 1A crown, Gulledge averaged 19 points and 14 rebounds, Hardaway 16 points and nine boards.
Hardaway was named the most valuable player of the state tournament and the two made first team all-state.
Gulledge said her first goal is winning another gold ball.
“We have to,” she said.
She said she is not ready to leave home for college but at the same time, she is excited about the opportunity.
“It will be a big step for me in basketball and life,” she said. “It will be like starting over – meeting all new people.”
Gulledge tried basketball in the sixth grade and liked it. She started practicing with the high school at the end of her eighth grade year.
“Listening to Coach Thompson talk to Rachel (Jones) about college and push my other teammates, I said, ‘Hey, I can do this, too.’ That’s where it started.
“Coach Thompson puts a lot of work in with us. He pushes us. He motivates us a lot.”
Her visit to Furman was special.
“I liked the campus and the coaches and the team,” she said. “They showed a lot of love and caring. The size of the campus, too, is a fit for me.”
Coach Jackie Carson at Furman said Gulledge’s size and athleticism will fill a void in her program.
“My staff saw her in our July evaluation period and they kept bragging about this post player they had seen,” said Carson, who was pregnant at the time. “I got film and loved her immediately.
“She just has a bunch of intangibles that I love – being able to run the floor because of our up-tempo style and she’s a great shot blocker.”
Carson, a Furman alum, is in her second season as head coach. She’s also a new mom – a daughter.
“Being an alum, it means so much to have good kids in this program,” she said. “Kyra is an awesome person. I want young ladies who will be a great role model for my daughter, and she’s definitely one of those. She takes academics and athletics seriously, and she’s a winner. She comes from a winning program.”
Hardaway, who has played basketball since the fourth grade, said signing day means it’s time to step up and start playing “like a Division I athlete.”
“This is my senior year – never let up,” she said. “I have to prepare myself for the next level and win another state championship.”
She said she believes Austin Peay is where she belongs.
“I just felt my heart was there,” Hardaway said. “That’s the reason I chose it over other scholarship offers. That’s where I belong.”
Coach Carrie Daniels at Austin Peay said Hardaway is a terrific blend of versatility with athleticism.
“There are so many things she will be able to do at the next level,” Daniels said. “I don’t think she knows her true potential and capabilities.
“It’s exciting – so much size out on the wing and her ability to post up underneath. She can be a dominant player in our league. The competitiveness she has, it’s something you can’t teach.”
Daniels, like Carson at Furman, said coming from a winning program is so very important.
“When you have a player who knows how to win, who has won state championships, losing is not an option,” Daniels said. “That is what it is with Alexis. She’s a true winner.”
She is excited about Hardaway and her family joining the Austin Peay family.
“We’re not just bringing in Alexis, it’s her entire family,” she said. “We have a family atmosphere here.”
Daniels is in her sixth year as head coach. She also said student comes first in student athlete.
“My job is winning basketball games, but it’s so much more than that,” she said. “Getting that degree is what makes them successful in life.”
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