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ALL-SUNCOAST BASKETBALL TEAMS // Pugh overcame more than just opponents

@@2 Inside the four lines of the basketball court, Jackie Pugh finds her comfort zone.

It is there, where players are moving, coaches are screaming and nerves are firing at a feverish pace, that Pugh remains calm and controlled.

The court provides the 6-foot guard/forward with a dose of escapism that she tries so hard to attain off the court.

But at no time has that been more the case than through the 1996-97 season.

Pugh, the heart and soul of the Pasco High girls basketball program, entered the season running from a demon no 16-year-old should have to face.

On Sept. 8, just as the school year began, the body of Beverly Diann Barker, Pugh's mother, was found in the driveway of a Tampa home. Barker, who had not been in contact with the family for a number of months, was shot in the head.

The tragedy shocked the family and left a permanent impression on Pugh.

"Sure, I miss my mother," she said. "There were times when I was on the court and she would pop in my mind and then I would quickly refocus on what I had to do. In a way, basketball helped me keep my mind off of her."

"I think Jackie was more focused this year than before," said Joyce Hambrick, Jackie's aunt and the person with whom Pugh has lived for a number of years. "She grew up a lot over the past few months. She has dealt with this situation better than we thought. In fact, she handled it better than any of us. She became more serious."

That was bad news for Pasco opponents. On the court, Pugh was dominating and relentless.

"She was able to convert her pain into energy on the basketball court," Pasco coach J. C. Arauz said. "She changed the experience into something positive."

In leading the unheralded Pirates to a 22-5 record, a district title and a spot in the regional final, Pugh averaged 22.6 points, 11.7 rebounds, 6 assists and 3.5 steals per game. She is the Times

All-Suncoast Girls Player of the Year.

"Undoubtedly, she is the one that set the standards for rest of our players," Arauz said. "I have taken a long look at a lot of players and talked to a lot of coaches and I think Jackie has the chance to be considered one of the best players in the state, and one of the top in the country."

Pugh feels the accolades are nice, but there's room to improve.

"I think I am blessed because not a lot of people can do what I can do," Pugh said. "But I have to get better at shooting, rebounding, handling, passing, everything. I can't sit back on these accomplishments."

Pugh is joined on the first team by an all-star list of the top players in the five-county area.

Academy of the Holy Names star point guard Sherisha Hills (Times Hillsborough County MVP), Clearwater High sophomore sensation Shinikki Whiting (Pinellas County MVP) and teammate Alicia Evans, Brandon forward Deanna Graham and Hernando High center Mable Brown round off the first team.

Academy of the Holy Names coach Scott Keeler, who took his team to the state final, is the All-Suncoast Coach of the Year.

Pugh, Hills and Whiting are members of the AAU Team Florida squad which is playing in the 17-and-under AAU tournament in Hampton, Va., this weekend.

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