Kai James leads Dwyer's bid for girls state basketball title
Saturday, November 10, 2012
by Matt Porter
Dwyer senior Kai James was the most dominant force on the court. Then she tangled with the best from Spain, Brazil, Canada and Australia. In training camp, her Team USA teammates were an even tougher test.
She was almost in over her head. It was the best thing that could have happened to the basketball career she's building.
James won a gold medal with the U.S. team at the FIBA Under-17 Women's World Championships in August, but her international debut was an eye-opener.
"It let her know how much more work she has to do," Dwyer coach Jeryl Akins said. "She didn't know what level she was on until she met the best in the country."
Now returning for her senior season at Dwyer High, James won't settle for anything less than the Panthers' first state championship. Knowing what it takes to handle Team USA players like 6-foot-6 Mercedes Russell, the nation's No. 1 player, James is on a mission to fine-tune her already impressive game.
"I grew up a lot," said James, who led Dwyer to the regional semifinals last year. "Playing against the best of the best from every country, it focused on my weaknesses. I learned that I'm not as strong as I could be. I was born with the strength I have."
James, who stands 6-foot-5, was already 6-2 in seventh grade. Like her brother, University of North Carolina freshman Joel James, she didn't play hoops until high school -- she wanted to be a neurosurgeon. But she was naturally coordinated enough to dominate pickup games against a few of her 10 siblings.
"Joel was very clumsy," Kai James said. "I was killing him at the park."
That changed in Joel's sophomore year, when Dwyer boys coach Fred Ross sought to make him a star. Now 6-foot-10 and 260 pounds, Joel is earning playing time at UNC.
When they play one-on-one now, Joel always wins - "by a couple of points, but never more than that," Kai said. And like her brother was last year, she's on the verge of reaching her massive potential.
James, a four-star recruit, is now the No. 22 player in the nation and the third-ranked post. Last week she committed to Florida State, choosing the Seminoles over Florida, Oklahoma and Georgia Tech.
She was a role player in Amsterdam, chipping in eight minutes per game for Team USA, which beat Spain 75-62 in the final. She averaged 2.9 points and 2.5 rebounds.
"The players were so much faster and stronger," James said. "This pace is slower. It's still strong, though."
As the centerpiece of a Dwyer squad that includes Georgia-commit forward Sam Glodis, star junior wing Keyanna Harris and her sister, sophomore Emporess James, James wants to share a state title with the players who have grown with her.
"I've come so far with these girls since freshman year," James said. "I've grown to love them on and off the court. I couldn't be more excited to try to win a state championship."
Another 8A slugfest
Palm Beach County has an argument for the best 8A basketball in the state. Dwyer believes it has the team to capture its first state title, but first, the Panthers will have to handle defending District 9-8A champion Palm Beach Central. District 10-8A could be a battle between defending champ Boca Raton, runner-up Park Vista, always-tough Seminole Ridge or Spanish River -- which returns nine rotation players. Come regional time, all will have to deal with Miami-Dr. Krop, which beat Central in the state semifinals last season.
Which school will make the leap?
Atlantic, with sophomore shooting guards Kayla Thigpen and Deandra Akins, thinks it can earn a spot among The Post's top 10. So does Lake Worth, which received a big transfer in sophomore guard Jonika Garvin, formerly of Grandview Prep. Pahokee, which played travel ball together all summer, has a strong core. Then there's rebuilding Santaluces, fast-improving Jupiter and young, super-talented Wellington. Any one of those teams has a shot at joining the club.
Who's best among small schools?
The clear early favorite is Grandview Prep, which made a run to the 2A final four with stars like Neydja Pettithomme and Vionise Pierre-Louis. They're back, but watch for Benjamin with junior Riley Burke, the area's leading scorer last season, and American Heritage with its two juniors, guard Deanna Bradley and forward Sarah Cooper. King's Academy, Trinity Christian and St. Andrew's can't be counted out.
PRESEASON SUPER SIX
Kai James, Dwyer, C, 6-5, Sr.
Florida State-bound post is even better after summer's international play.
Samantha Glodis, Dwyer, F, 6-3, Sr.
Can crash the boards or spot up with a sweet jumper. Headed to Georgia.
Keyanna Harris, Dwyer, W, 6-0, Jr.
Highly recruited wing is smooth with the handle and can score from anywhere.
Crystal Primm, Palm Beach Central, W, 5-11, Soph.
Averaged 11.3 points per game, but was instrumental in Broncos' 8A final four run.
Shakoa Edwards, Boynton Beach, G, 5-4, Jr.
Quick and tough, she loves to shoot. It's game over if she gets hot.
Shanovia Dove, Palm Beach Lakes, G, 5-6, Sr.
Large Schools Player of the Year averaged 22 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals.