Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Crossland tandem makes use of its abilities

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Brenda Ahearn⁄The Gazette
Crossland 6-foot-2 senior Shequita Manning (left) and 4-foot-9 sophomore point guard Jaleesa Honesty are leading the Cavaliers to their best season in eight years.
The Crossland High School girls’ basketball team is on track for its first winning season in eight years, but Jaleesa Honesty can’t celebrate with a high-five for teammate Shequita Manning.

At least not without a giant leap.

Seventeen inches separate the two players, but they have played equally important roles for the Cavaliers, as the former County 3A⁄2A⁄1A League pushovers have turned into a formidable squad at 10-7 and 8-5 in the conference.

Honesty, a sophomore point guard, is 4-foot-9, and Manning, a senior forward, is 6-2. Manning is nicknamed ‘‘6-9” and has played like a prototypical power forward who stands that tall, with eight double-doubles while averaging 12 points and 14 rebounds. Honesty has done her job at the point, averaging eight points and eight assists and has a few nicknames herself.

‘‘‘Shorty or ‘Mini Me,’” she said. Then she went on. ‘‘‘Little One.’ ‘Mini Mite.’”

Honesty said she’s proud of her height, which has held steady since middle school.

‘‘My mom told me I wasn’t going to grow anymore,” Honesty said. ‘‘She said she stopped growing in middle school. And then [I reached] ninth grade, and then I got to the 10th-grade year and I was still this height, so I figured I wasn’t growing anymore.”

Second-year coach Chris Williams, who used to work in Charles County, said Honesty only is the second high school player he has ever coached not to crack 5 feet. At practice, the one person Honesty can look down to is Williams’ 8-year-old daughter, but only by a few inches.

‘‘There’s kids almost my height,” Honesty said. ‘‘Probably by next year they will have all outgrown me.”

Honesty has to shop at the same place as Williams’ daughter, too, turning to Kids Foot Locker for shoes. Ordering team uniforms was problematic because it was hard to find everything in her size, she said.

But that’s the extent of her complications for the Cavaliers, who won just one game two years ago and three last year. They run a three-guard offense, with senior Jodi Cue and sophomore Monet Edwards joining Honesty in the starting backcourt. Manning and senior Cheyenne Bailey, who is 6-1, pack a strong punch under the basket.

Being small has its benefits, Honesty said. She uses speed to exploit mismatches on the perimeter to create her own shot or open up chances for her team. Her taller teammates give the Cavaliers good balance.

‘‘Without Cheyenne and Shequita, we probably wouldn’t be here,” Honesty said. ‘‘We need their 15 or 20 points a night to actually win games. Going inside out, that helps because that frees us guards up to be able to make the shots that we make.”

Manning said she also reached her current height by the end of middle school. But it was the diminutive Honesty who gravitated to basketball first. Manning didn’t start playing until she was a sophomore, when the former coach, a security officer at Crossland, pulled her aside in the hall and told her to join the team.

Her size was the allure, although it took her time to warm up to the game and become the reliable post player she is this year.

‘‘I was making my way up there,” Manning said. ‘‘I didn’t really think I was going to be playing basketball because I didn’t really like it. I just started my 10th-grade year because somebody forced me to, but now I like it.”

Williams said Manning improved greatly over the summer playing AAU basketball with more experienced players.

‘‘She could always play, she just didn’t know it,” he said. ‘‘It was always a confidence thing.”

Crossland started this season with confidence after playing well in preseason scrimmages, Williams said. That energized the Cavaliers before their opener against Potomac and although they lost, 53-50, the score gave them reason to stay optimistic, he said. They won the rematch, 53-52, last month, bringing Crossland’s season of progress full circle.

‘‘Last year, [practices] were grueling and it looked like we were just beating ourselves up to end up nowhere, We’d just run into brick walls for no reason,” Williams said. ‘‘But this year, that first game opened their eyes up.”

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