Prep girls basketball: Hamilton optimistic about returning talent

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Prep girls basketball: Hamilton optimistic about returning talent

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Lakota West’s Sarah Jones and Hamilton’s Cici Riggins (right) battle for a loose ball during the inaugural All-Butler County All-Star girls basketball game at the Hamilton Athletic Center on Apr. 15, 2017. JOURNAL-NEWS FILE PHOTO

When it comes to women’s basketball, few players are better point-guard examples than Kelsey Mitchell.

Hamilton High School sophomore Anna Cardwell got an up-close look this summer at the Ohio State All-American and former Princeton star, an experience Big Blue coach Harry Phillips hopes will pay off this season.

“Anna Cardwell is our most improved player by far,” Phillips said. “She had a weekend or a couple of weekends with Kelsey Mitchell that helped her. That showed her what a point guard is supposed to look like. She’s showing maturity in her game. She’s taking on the role of floor-leader mentality and proving she can handle.”

GIRLS BASKETBALL SEASON PREVIEWS

Cardwell is one of the top six scorers who return for Hamilton from last season’s team that finished 7-16 overall and eighth in the Greater Miami Conference with a 5-11 record before losing in the first round of the Division I sectional.

Junior forward Cici Riggins led the Big Blue in scoring (16.5) and rebounding (8.8) on her way to being named first-team All-GMC.

“Cici’s been working on her individual game,” Phillips said. “You can’t coach a kid’s instinct to steal and instinct to be in places a normal person wouldn’t be. I don’t consider her to be normal. She’s been on varsity since she was a freshman. She’s growing up right before our eyes.”

Senior guard DeSuela Rodriguez earned second-team All-GMC honors, and Rodriguez and sophomore guard Kira Ash, both averaged about 7 points per game. Cardwell, junior forward Sam Fuller and junior center Mikayla Rodgers all scored less than 5 points a contest.

Fuller won’t be available after undergoing surgery to repair an injury she suffered during volleyball season, Phillips said, but the return of so much production has him feeling good.

“We’re very optimistic,” Phillips said. “We have a couple of little firecrackers in our sophomore class. Andrea Green is going to be pretty much of a defensive specialist. That’s what we’ve been focusing on over the summer and the early part of the season — defense and passing.

“We’re young, but I believe we’re a better team than last year. We’re maturing. We’ve grown up. We had a good summer. We got away from Hamilton a little bit. We went over to Lafayette, Ind., and we played in the Lakota East summer league. For the most part, we’ve developed chemistry that you normally wouldn’t get until your junior or senior year. They developed pretty fast over the summer. We played a lot of basketball.

“We play in a high-impact league. We’ve got to try to keep teams under 50 points. We just have to be able to score more than 50.”

Phillips’ primary concern as the season opener against nonconference rival Lebanon on Nov. 27 looms is depth.

“We’re going to play eight kids,” said the coach, whose team is due to open GMC action against Middletown on Nov. 29. “We might have to dig down in the (junior varsity) roster a little bit to see where we are. If we can stay healthy, maybe we can knock somebody off along the way that will bring some confidence to us.”

GIRLS BASKETBALL SEASON PREVIEWS

Even though the opener is against a nonconference opponent, Phillips and his staff are looking at it as a crucial game after the Big Blue lost 65-61 at Lebanon in the second game of last season. That was part of a season-opening eight-game losing streak.

“We’re just focusing on preparing the kids for Lebanon,” he said. “Everything is geared toward that game. We went at it hot and heavy last season. They got a big lead, we came back, and if we make free throws, we win that thing. That stuck in our craw and took away some motivation going into the rest of the season.

“It was a road game, my first year — we wanted to win that, especially after we came back from all the way across the water and took the lead. It’s a motivating factor, but we’re not overwhelmed by the fact that the 27th is soon.”

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