Gulf Coast going big with incoming class

News Herald Assistant Sports Editor

Posted Aug 15, 2017 at 7:56 PM Updated Aug 15, 2017 at 7:56 PM


PANAMA CITY — The Gulf Coast women’s basketball team that coach Roonie Scovel led to a second straight national title in March was notable for many things: experience, athleticism, skill, chemistry. One thing the Lady Commodores weren’t known for was size, with only two rotation players by season’s end measuring at 6-foot or taller.


That will certainly not be the case for next year’s Gulf Coast team when Scovel’s new recruiting class gets to campus, with seven of the nine signees standing 6-1 or taller. With rising sophomore 6-3 center Jhileiya Dunlap returning, that makes eight such players on next season’s roster. While the added size could make a big impact on the court for the Lady Commodores, Scovel said it wasn’t by design.


“You just try to go after the best players available and I feel like we got some nice players,” she said. “But we’ve had nice players in the past who didn’t work hard or got hurt or had something happen. But I like our roster. It is a little unique (having so many player taller than 6-foot). Our (wing players) are long and wiry and they can shoot, so we’ll see if this is something that will be an advantage for us.”


The biggest of the incoming players is 6-5 Dominique Banks out of Jackson High School in Atlanta, who averaged a double-double with almost seven blocked shots per game in her senior season.


“She’s real long and wiry, so we’re kind of excited about her ability,” Scovel said. “She appears to be a nice shot blocker. She’s got some work to do to get some strength and muscle and get a little bigger to bang in the post, but the sky is the limit for her talent. She’s really got a lot of great potential.”


Gulf Coast adds more size with a trio of French players in 6-2 Astou Gaye, 6-1 Diene Diane, and 6-3 Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi. Gaye, a post player, and Diane, a wing, played together on France’s gold medal winning 3-on-3 team at the FIBU U18 World Cup in

Kazakhstan in the summer of 2016. Djaldi-Tabdi, a post player, is a former Syracuse signee and comes in as the most highly-touted member of the class, ranked the 27th overall prospect in the 2017 class by ESPN. She averaged 12 points and seven rebounds for the French national team at the FIBA U20 Women’s European Championship in Portugal this summer.


″(Gaye) is a very skilled post player who can shoot the three and is a very skilled player on the block,” Scovel said. ”(Djaldi-Tabdi) is kind of the same as Astou but probably a little more athletic. She’s a nice post player, strong, and with a great athletic body. (Diane) is a perimeter player who can shoot the three and has got some length. Our defense wasn’t so wonderful last year, so hopefully all of this length can help us improve defensively.”


That’s an area Scovel said she expected former Mosley star Jasmine Patterson to help as well. The 6-1 Patterson averaged 3.9 blocks per game for the Dolphins last season, and Scovel said her length and versatility will be valuable for the Lady Commodores.


“She’s a nice-sized guard who can shoot the long ball,” she said. “She’s very versatile and her length is such an advantage on the perimeter at the (wing) spots. To have that length defensively I think will be a great asset for us.”


Gulf Coast adds more size with a pair of 6-1 combo forwards, Keshawn Johnson of Leesburg, who averaged 18.7 points and 13.2 rebounds in her senior year, and Alexus Dye of Birmingham, Ala., who averaged 15.2 points and 9.3 rebounds for a Wenonah program that won its fourth straight state title.


The Lady Commodores add another player with championship experience with 5-6 Shay Collins, a point guard from Winter Haven who helped lead the Blue Devils to their third straight state crown last season. Nakia Kincey, another 5-6 point guard from Abbeville (Ala.) High School, adds to the backcourt and provides a stylistic contrast to Collins.


“Nakia is kind of an offensive player, a nice long-range shooter,” Scovel said. “Shay is a great defender who comes from a great system with a lot of winning. Nakia, Shay, and Kionna (Jeter) are great assets that can all three play the point.”


Jeter isn’t technically new after enrolling in January, but the 5-7 combo guard will be making her Gulf Coast debut in the fall after wowing teammates and coaches in practices last season.


“She’s pretty special,” Scovel said of Jeter, who scored 3,088 points in a six-year varsity career at Spartanburg High School before transferring after just one semester at Coastal Carolina. “There were days (at Gulf Coast) when Kionna was the best player on the floor at practice. I hope she can transfer that to real games, but it’s a lot different when you can relax and there’s not that much pressure because you’re not playing. It will be a different expectation of her now.”


Jeter will join Dunlap, All Panhandle Conference guard Shayla Bennett, and Janesha Green as the only returning players from last year’s roster. It’s a far change from last season when the Lady Commodores had nine sophomores and a wealth of college experience.


Gulf Coast will have to be much more reliant on freshmen next season, with Scovel saying that puts an even bigger onus on the four returners to take on bigger leadership roles.


“By the time (the freshmen) get here, they’ll play about six weeks later in a jamboree, so we’ll have to go to work quickly,” she said. “We don’t have that veteran experience. We were spoiled the last two years with having experienced players with a tremendous work ethic. We didn’t really have to teach anything new or teach expectations. This year, we’re kind of starting all over and the sophomores will be crucial to that. We’ll see how much more mature they are from last year and see who steps up.”


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