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Pinellas girls basketball growing tall, talented

Molly Worrall never wanted to be tall.

When she hit 6 feet in the seventh grade, she heard it all _ Jolly Green Giant, Bean Pole, Stilt Legs. And everyone assumed, of course, that she'd play basketball.

"I really wanted to be shorter," Clearwater's senior center said.

On the flip side, Tia Miller never minded her size. When she hit 6 feet at age 14, she smiled. If she heard the taunts, she never paid any attention. And everyone knew she'd play basketball.

"I was glad to be tall," Boca Ciega's sophomore post player said, laughing. "Everyone looked up to me . . . and no one ever messed with me."

No one likes to mess with either of them now. Especially on the court.

Worrall and Miller now stand (confidently) at 6-2 and are post players on rival teams that finished one-two in the county last season. They stand out as the top two big girls in this season's crop of Pinellas County 6-footers.

The county has 15 6-footers, , ranging from Shorecrest's Nicole Straub, who will play point guard at an even 6 feet, to Lakewood's 6-9} Alana Renaud, who still is pondering whether to switch to the hardwood after volleyball.

"Wish I had one," said Gibbs coach Eileen Boozy, whose tallest player is 5-11.

So do a lot of coaches.

Girls 6 feet-plus used to be considered gangly and slow. Sure, they were an asset at times because they were closer to the basket than anyone else, but their skills often were equated with their reach instead of their ability.

"That's really not the case anymore," said Northside Christian's Alison Mathews, a 6-footer who was second in the county in scoring last year with 18.3 points per game. "There are so many tall girls around now . . . really quick, talented tall girls, that I think people look beyond their height."

Tom Shaneyfelt, who coaches Worrall at Clearwater, said, "I really hope all of the big-girl stereotypes have been thrown out the window by now. There really are some great tall athletes around."

And they start with Worrall and Miller, who each averaged about 14 points last season. Although Miller is two years younger, she has about 10 pounds more of muscle because of the weight-training regimen she began last year. This year she'll hit the court (and other post players) at a slimmed-down 178 and already is getting looks from the top colleges.

Worrall, a high-jumper during track season, orally committed to Austin Peay two weeks ago.

Neither girl started out as a college prospect. Both were tall and gravitated to the basketball court, but it took awhile for their games to catch up to their size.

"I was horrible in the eighth grade," Worrall said. "I was so clumsy . . . I used to throw balls over the hoop. Everybody just assumed I could play because I was tall . . . but I didn't even know what posting up was."

That changed during her first year at Clearwater. As a freshman, she had to sit out of games because she was a transfer. But during practice, Shaneyfelt and assistant Joe Best taught her the power moves of a post player, and she learned how to use both her athleticism and height to her advantage.

Miller went through a gangly stage, too, but she came out of it as a quick, intelligent player with moves that rival some of the county's speediest small forwards.

"When I get on the court, everything changes. I'm different," Miller said. "I'm just like _ Eeerrrrrrr! Give me the ball!"

Confidence is an important component to being a successful big girl on the high school court. It has to be _ not only is a 6-footer the most visible part of the team, she often is the most integral.

"Tia's gifted, and she knows she's good . . . and she uses that confidence to her advantage. But Alison (Lamb)," said Bogie coach Harry Elifson, referring to Miller's 6-2 teammate, "is just beginning to realize she's good."

Lamb, a senior, never imagined four years ago she'd be able to play basketball in college. After an all-county honorable-mention performance last season, she's getting some looks.

"With some big people _ both girls and boys _ the biggest problem isn't their talent . . . but confidence in their self-image," Shaneyfelt said. "But I think the 6-foot (girls) around here are very confident. I've never seen Molly slinking around with her shoulders hunched . . . or worried about wearing flat shoes."

Indeed, times have changed. Athletic, 6-foot girls are no longer a rarity in high schools, or Pinellas County.

And that translates to some key post matchups, beginning with the Worrall versus Miller (and Clearwater at Boca Ciega) rematch Nov. 25.

"Actually, it doesn't matter how tall a player is . . . it's her athletic ability that matters," said Elifson, the man with two 6-footers in his starting lineup.

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