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Parallel paths

Tonight in Brooksville, Wesley Chapel's Sthefany Thomas is expected to break Jackie Pugh's all-time scoring record for Pasco County. She needs nine points, or about a third of what she is averaging this season.

The record

Pugh, a three-time player of the year, scored 1,869 points in her career and really never thought much about the record. In fact, her final two points came on a putback at the buzzer as her high school ended in the region final.

After her final game, Baker County star guard Becky Brock chased Pugh down to congratulate her on a great game. Oh, and to get an autograph.

Pugh never had to score much. She was quiet her first two seasons, surrounded by a better supporting cast than Thomas has had. Adrienne Adams, Shannon Fennell and Shantelle Coleman were all scorers as Pugh deferred more than she shot. Pugh also played with Ebony Adams her senior season.

Thomas is at 1,861 points, and is set to obliterate the record. By the end of the season, she is likely to tack another 400 points to it.

Thomas joined a team that had won 10 games in three seasons, and immediately became the Wildcats' best player, averaging more than 20 points as a freshman.

Unselfish stars

Is there such a thing? In the case of Pugh and Thomas, absolutely.

Both players' career paths remind some of Michael Jordan, starting as scorers and eventually concentrating on making those around them better. Both realized that while they could score more, it wasn't going to lead to any state titles. "I was never point-driven,'' Pugh said. "Scoring a lot of points was never on my agenda.''

In the 1994 region championship against Baker County, Pugh wasn't the one that took the biggest shot, it was Lindsay Elliot. Pugh had three defenders draped on her and was content to let the open Elliot try to tie the score from 3-point range.

A similar moment may come for Thomas. The Pugh-led Pirates were ready for it, as Elliott had been an effective scorer from long range all season thanks to Pugh's defender-drawing drives to the hoop.

Scoring

Pugh had a great handle, killed presses and could score at will, but she was never a dead-eye shooter like Thomas. Instead she dominated people with sheer force.

Pasco coach John Edwards had to cajole Pugh into scoring at times and that often involved Pugh pushing the opposition around.

"Jackie would catch the ball on the wing, walk you down to the block, and then you were done,'' Edwards said.

Thomas, however, can shoot from anywhere on the court and has more of a scorer's mentality. Her 3-point shot is one of the best in the county, and she can drop jumpshots from the wing with remarkable consistency.

Like Pugh, when Thomas wants to, she can slash inside for a hoop.

At Auburn, it was clear Pugh would not develop into a big scorer, but few who watch Thomas think she won't be able to keep up the pace in college.

Defense

Lost in the offensive prowess of both players is the fact they are very good defensive players.

Thomas is very quick and very good at blocking shots, and her anticipation leads to a lot of steals.

Pugh was more physical in her defensive style and maybe even the more complete defensive player.

What set her apart was her commitment to the boards. She finished her career with a county-record 1,100 boards and was a beast on the glass.

Dominance

This is the essence of what makes both players so good.

Yes, being a good teammate was always paramount to both players. But when the time called for it, both knew how to take over.

Thomas showed that against St. Petersburg Catholic last week, scoring 49 and willing her team to an upset win. On numerous occasions in her three-plus seasons, Thomas became a one-girl show when the moment called for it.

"Sthefany can pretty much do it all,'' said her coach, Warren Jones. "She is a prolific scorer, but she can do so much more.''

As could Pugh, whose shining moment in high school might have been the 1998 region semifinal against Orlando Jones. Pasco was overwhelmed by the Tigers' press when Edwards ordered Pugh to bring the ball up court.

She finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds, but her ability to keep the ball away from Jones - often dribbling through three players - was pivotal in the Pirates 43-34 win.

Overall

You can say this about both: If you were starting a team, you might want to flip a coin.

Pugh finished her career with an 80-19 record, three district championships and two region championship appearances.

Thomas joined a program that was 10-63 before she got there and has gone 52-26 since with the school's first district title.

Edwards put it best.

"Both are great players.''

John C. Cotey, Times staff writer

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