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BHS is good move for Craft

Freda Craft realized what she was doing when she accepted thegirls basketball coaching job at Brookhaven last spring. She wasinheriting a state title contender, led by 6-footers Swayze Blackand Nikki Byrd.

Craft guided the Lady Panthers to a 32-6 record and a runners-upfinish in the Class 4A State Tournament earlier this month. For herefforts, she has been selected The DAILY LEADER’s Coach of the Yearin Lincoln County for the 2006-07 season.

“I had high hopes when I came to Brookhaven but I knew I didn’thave any guards,” said Craft. “We had played them three times in mylast season at Hazlehurst.”

As luck would have it, playmaker Monte’ Wilson transferred fromNorthwest Rankin to BHS and provided an immediate impact. Returningas No. 2 guards were Jermecia Jones and Kayla Harris as shooters.Whitley Shannon filled a key spot in the front court.

“It was very important that our guards developed,” said Craft.”Nikki and Swayze improved a lot this year.”

Craft said her post players worked hard to improve their skills.”Nikki became a better all-around player, especially on theoffensive boards. Swayze began developing her talents and shebecame a much better defensive player. She was able to develop herskills at the guard position, too.”

She gave credit to assistant coach Chastity Sandifer withhelping improve the post players. Sandifer played the post positionat Co-Lin and Mississippi College.

“Chastity is an asset to our staff,” said Craft. “She’s shortfor a post player but she knows how to move inside. She showed ourplayers they didn’t have to be tall to be effective.”

Craft said her first season at BHS has been enjoyable. “I enjoycoaching at Brookhaven.” She teaches physical education at BHS.

Craft, 51, is a native of Hazlehurst and a 1973 Hazlehurst HighSchool graduate. She played for Coach Ed Nixon at MississippiCollege where she majored in physical education and math.

Craft credited her high school coach, the late Mason Denham; andCoach Nixon with shaping her coaching philosophy. “I loved thestyle we played at Mississippi College. We tried to score 100points a game.”

She started her coaching career at Biloxi High School and spentfour years coaching the Lady Indians.

Craft decided to make a career change and step outside ofcoaching. She joined the Air Force and spent 11.5 years in thearmed forces. She was in computer maintenance.

After her discharge from the Air Force, Craft returned toHazlehurst and began coaching alma mater for three years, takingthe Lady Indians to the state tournament. She moved to South Pikein Magnolia and coached the Lady Eagles for three years. Then shereturned to Hazlehurst and coached six years before coming toBrookhaven.

The Lady Panthers should be a powerhouse in the 2007-08 seasonif the younger players can replace the three senior starters atguard.

“We have to develop my guards and keep my big girls focused,”said Craft.

Byrd and Black received plenty of attention from college coachesbefore the season started. They should be two of the top talents inMississippi next season.

Craft is married to Brian Miles, also a teacher. Her husbandcoaches football and track at Hazlehurst. They have two children.Their daughter Aiesha Collins, is attending Mississippi College.Son Damien Collins played football at Mississippi Valley StateUniversity before he graduated.

When Craft isn’t coaching and teaching, she enjoys familytime.