DALTON, Ga. - Meet Quaneisha McCurty, team leader.
That might shock some people who view the Dalton High School senior center as a bit of a pariah. McCurty knows when a star player transfers from one bitter rival to another, things will be said, rumors will be rampant and reputations can be tarnished.
Instead of lashing out at her critics after leaving Northwest Whitfield for the Lady Catamounts following what she called a "falling out," McCurty has been steadfast in letting her play do the talking for the 32-0 team. Having led her new team to Georgia's Class AAA state semifinals today in Macon against Crisp County (4 p.m. start) with averages of 16.5 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.9 blocked shots, that play has said plenty.
"Since she got here she's been a model player," Dalton coach Jeff McKinney said. "It's always, 'Yes, sir' and 'No, sir,' and she's never questioned anything we've asked of her. I wasn't sure what to expect, to he honest, but she's fit right in without any issues. It's easy for people to make judgments on things they hear."
Not only has she fit in, but McCurty has taken over as the team's main offensive option and has become someone other players seek out for advice. According to former Dalton star post and current assistant coach Christen Brown, the emotional maturation has been the biggest reason for McCurty's breakout season.
"She's improved her game by working extremely hard, but she's also become a leader," Brown said. "She knew she had to step up, and by working as hard as she did in the summer, the other girls just took her right in. Now they're all like sisters. The big thing I've noticed with Quaneisha is she's smiling a lot, having a lot of fun. That wasn't her reputation when she got here, but she's proven to be a great kid."
Brown's on-court work with her new pupil began in the summer when the two began working on the fundamentals of getting the most out of McCurty's 6-foot-5 frame. That meant playing to her strength.
"You can't coach 6-5, but she needed to learn how to play big and use her size to her advantage," Brown said. "Now she's shooting better and is able to create more when she has to."
McCurty, whose thin frame can tend to get pushed around some inside, tended to rush things offensively in the past. Now when she gets the ball in the lane, instead of hoisting a quick shot, she's adept at making small moves that result in easier, and more accurate, shots. Brown had a big hand in this improvement.
"She reminds me to just play big and stay strong," McCurty said. "She's always giving me words of encouragement, so I listen to her all the time. I do get in a rush sometimes, so I try so hard to stay calm now. If I rush things, nothing goes right."
Her leadership will be tested this weekend as the only Dalton player who has played in this round, something she did the previous two seasons with the Lady Bruins. She remembers being very nervous as a sophomore, as her teammates likely will be today.
"I've told them to just stay as calm as possible," McCurty said. "We have to treat this as just another game, because if we don't we'll go in there all nervous. We just need to play like we've been playing."