BHS girls get to know their coach

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, June 13, 2006

WESSON — Extra-large electric fans suck warm air through opendoors in the Wesson High School Gymnasium. The summer sun glares onthe metal roof, raising the indoor temperature several degrees.

On the court, 10 girls are playing basketball, 5 from Brookhavenand 5 from Ocean Springs. Players bump and grunt for position underthe backboards. Guards dribble the perimeter, looking for an openteammate as the opponents apply aggressive defensive pressure.

Steals and turnovers are abundant. The referees allow the gameto be physical, which is to Brookhaven’s advantage.

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On the sidelines, Freda Craft, Brookhaven’s new head coach,shouts encouragement to her Lady Panthers. She is animated as dropsof sweat bead on her brow and trickle down her cheeks.

“Get your man! Somebody doesn’t have their man!” shouts Craft.Her voice echoes off the walls of the near-empty gym.

Craft pulls a player to the side after making a substitution.”What are you doing wrong?”

The veteran coach continues to prowl the sidelines. “Don’t passthe ball to her. Pass it where she’s going,” on a fast-break.”Nikki, go up strong with it,” on an offensive rebound.

Craft claps her hands with encouragement as her team rallies inthe second half. Her players on the bench join the chorus ofappreciation.

“Camp is a learning experience for both me and the girls,”explains Craft. “We came to camp so we could get to know eachother.”

Besides preaching offense, she encourages the shooters. “Youhave got to make that shot when it’s open. Georgia Rae (Rainer),put more arch on it.”

Ole Brook senior guard Jermecia Jones exhibited somesharpshooting skills from 3-point distance. She was part of theBilly Holmes-coached team that reached the Class 4A statetournament in March; the first time since 1997.

“I’ll probably shoot it more this year,” said Jones. “Camp isgreat for me. I get to know my players and my coach more.”

Asked about Craft’s coaching style, Jones said, “She works usharder and she’s louder, too. She keeps everybody involved.”

Nikki Byrd, a 6-foot-1, all-state center, is back for her juniorcampaign at BHS. She is learning what her new coach expects,too.

“Camp is all right,” said Byrd, taking a break between games.”I’m getting to know the new coach.

“It’s a big difference (coaching styles),” Byrd continued. “Wehave to adjust.”

Craft’s non-stop dialogue keeps the players focused on the game.On one occasion, an inbounds play is derailed by a full-courtpressure defense. The referee whistles a 5-second violation.

Craft turns to her bench and asks, “Why didn’t you saysomething?”

Pausing for a moment before boarding the team bus, Craft wipessweat from her forehead and explains her goal. “Hopefully, we cangel before the season starts.”