The girls' side of the sixth Times Free Press Best of Preps high school basketball tournament, which starts this morning at 10, again will feature a load of talent. For some, at least a double load.
Defending champion GPS went from winning the tournament title a year ago to ending its season with Tennessee's Division II-AA championship. The bulk of the players from that team return this season, including the guard-forward tandem of Chadarryl Clay and Simone Busby.
"They've been playing together since they were little kids," GPS coach Susan Crownover said of longtime AAU teammates Clay and Busby, who first played together for the 10-under Tennessee Xtreme and have been Bruisers teammates since sixth grade. "Really, they're best friends. They know what each other is going to do, almost like twins. Chadarryl can be making a pass and you don't know where it's going; then Simone will be there on the other end of it. It's like they're telepathic."
Clay and Busby are among the Times Free Press's recommended five girls to watch in this year's Best of Preps tournament.
n Simone Busby, senior forward, GPS: She's compact, as inside players go, but she produces. She entered this week with averages of 13.2 points, seven rebounds, three steals and three assists per game. She made the winning shot in overtime in last year's Best of Preps final and was selected most valuable player when the Bruisers won the Division II-AA state championship last season.
"First of all, she's a leader," Clay said of the soccer goalkeeper. "She can catch any pass I throw. Her hands are amazing. Any pass I throw her way, I know it's going to get caught."
n Chadarryl Clay, senior point guard, GPS: She averaged 18.3 points, six assists, five rebounds and four steals per game before the Bruisers' game Monday, and ball-handling may be her greatest asset. She was chosen Miss Basketball in Division II-AA last year and has signed with Auburn.
"Any pass you think is impossible is possible with Chadarryl," Busby said. "It could be behind the back, between the legs, over the head, eyes closed, anything. The ball will get there. She sees the court real well. Things other people can't see, she sees right away."
n Amber Howard, senior guard, Baylor: Megan Ausdran is the Lady Raiders' leading scorer and rebounder, but Howard is a streak shooter who's fun to watch when she's on. She was sizzling in last year's Best of Preps final against GPS when she scored 30 points, including eight 3-point goals.
"She can do so much," Crownover said of Howard. "She's really good off the dribble and she can drain it, not just from the 3-point line, but from deep. She can be real hot real fast."
n Tiffany Lewis, junior guard, East Hamilton: She had a 23-point game recently that included six 3s. She's shooting 32.9 percent from behind the arc this season and is averaging 13.9 points, three rebounds, 2.5 steals and 2.2 assists per game.
"She's starting to find a good mix between between getting her teammates involved while continuing to look for hers," East Hamilton coach Derek Morris said. "Her 3-point shot has definitely become more consistent over the years, and she's extremely quick in the open court."
n Jessica White, senior forward, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe: Like Baylor's Howard, she's not her team's top scorer. She is a near-6-footer who's averaging 15 points and is a preeminent rebounder at 12 per game.
"She's been playing post most of her entire career, but we've got her playing on the wing now," LFO coach Dewayne Watkins said. "She can shoot the ball from outside, plus she has a post-up game. She scores a lot on midrange jump shots and crashing the boards."
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.