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Hillsborough: Girls basketball season preview

Sickles guard Bre Crum, center, will be the focal point of the Gryphons offense now that star forward Amber Henson is gone.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Sickles guard Bre Crum, center, will be the focal point of the Gryphons offense now that star forward Amber Henson is gone.

TAMPA

After leading Sickles to its first state tournament appearance in program history, former Gryphons All-American center Amber Henson is now a freshman at Duke.

But as this year's girls basketball season commences this week, Sickles is determined to build on last year's success with a young, promising group.

Senior guard Bre Crum, a dynamic scorer who signed with North Florida last week, carried the load early last year when Henson was injured, averaging 30.6 points in the first eight games.

But Gyrphons coach Mark Key is confident his supporting cast, even without Henson, will compete deep into the postseason.

"I think they know the expectations are still high," Key said. "I do think that they're a young group of kids who don't really know what they accomplished sometimes. They realize it's there for them. We want them to know they can play. We've got young kids, but a lot of them played in the final four last year."

Junior Sara Hartman, a smooth-shooting guard who hit 42 percent from 3-point range, was the team's only other player besides Henson and Crum whose scoring average was in double figures (10.3 points).

Key is high on junior forward Diasha Whiten, who provided rebounding and solid defense at the end of last season. Sophomore Ty Thomas also showed flashes of promise, scoring in double digits in three of Sickles' six postseason games, including a career-high 12 in a region final win over Clearwater.

Then there's the next Henson, freshman forward Jana Henson, who doesn't have the size of her sister or brother, North Carolina standout John Henson, but might be the most athletic player in the bunch.

This season's path back to the postseason will be slightly more difficult. Sickles' new district includes Jefferson, which has averaged 28 wins over the last three seasons, and an improving Strawberry Crest team.

"Bre is going to take a lot of the load," Key said. "We know that, but one thing we really hope that happens is that the other kids really develop. That's what we really concentrated on in the offseason and in preseason practice. We're a little young. But Bre is a great leader and that's still there. We're anxious to see how we do."

Players to watch

G Bre Crum, Sickles, Sr.: With the departure of All-American Amber Henson, Crum will have to score and score some more.

G/F Tesha Hanson, Riverview, Jr.: The Seffner Christian transfer led her team to the 1A state tournament last year and is at her third school in as many years.

F Kai Jones, Tampa Catholic, Sr.: A critical member of the back-to-back 3A state champions, she averaged 12.2 points, 10.0 rebounds a game last year.

G Micah Kroll, Tampa Catholic, Sr.: The county's top sharpshooter, she shoots 51 percent (48-for-94) from behind the 3-point line.

F Tatiana Manuel, Brooks-DeBartolo, Jr.: The 6-foot-3 junior can change games with her defense. She averages 12.5 points, 9.2 rebounds and 5.4 blocks a game.

G Shayla Upshaw, Jefferson, Sr.: The athletic guard will push the ball up court. She will be key to the Dragons as they try to maintain the success of years past.

G Chelsea White, Brooks-DeBartolo, Sr.: The 5-foot-5 Spoto transfer averaged 15.6 points, 4.6 assists, 2.6 steals a game.

F Shayla Wilson, Jefferson, Sr.: Often went unnoticed beside Dragons' other starters, but she has averaged a double double for the past two years. That says something.

G/F Faith Woodard, Riverview, Jr.: A preseason player of the year frontrunner, she is electric with the ball in her hands.

C Erica Young, Tampa Bay Tech, Jr.: Arguably the county's top post player, the 6-foot-3 Young has great inside moves and is a rebounding machine.

Teams to watch

Brooks-DeBartolo: The Phoenix's athleticism will be superior in its district. We'll see if that translates into wins.

Freedom: Even though they lost their top two scorers, the Patriots can build on their first district title last year.

Jefferson: The Dragons have averaged 28 wins the last three years, but Natanya Miller is Jefferson's third coach in as many years.

Riverview: The Sharks' personnel will be slightly different, but they might be able to improve on last year's 27-3 season and trip to the region final.

Sickles: Gryphons coach Mark Key had the luxury of All-American Amber Henson for three years. This year, he will need to rely on role players to get back to state.

Tampa Bay Tech: Always talented, this year's Titans team has seven seniors and a lot of hunger to make good on its promise.

Tampa Catholic: Even though they lost the St. Petersburg Times' county player of the year Meghan Keough, you can't count out the back-to-back 3A state champion Crusaders.

Hillsborough: Girls basketball season preview 11/13/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 14, 2011 12:20am]

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