Lee High likes to play fast. It is the perfect style for a team that made a speedy ascent to the elite level of girls basketball in Louisiana.
Make no mistake about it, the Patriots (30-2) are driven. The notion of coach Valencia Wilson driving a team that operates like a fine-tuned sports car is a good one. Wilson offers a different vision.
“This group has grown up together the last three years and now, more than ever, we are a family,” Wilson said. “They play for each other. They push each and they feed off each other.”
When the LHSAA releases its girls basketball playoff pairings Monday, Lee is set to be the No. 1 seed on the Division II select bracket.
Wilson will provide that push during a playoff bye week. That push may not be any stronger than the one the players give each other. Two years ago, Lee was a Division IV semifinalist. The Patriots were the Division II runner-up last season.
An LHSAA title is the goal. Lee has won nine in a row since losing to 5A power Sam Houston 89-87. The Patriots’ other loss was to Division I power John Curtis. Wins over 5A Walker and Denham Springs, along with 3A power Loranger were part of a challenging schedule.
“We’re stronger than we were last year,” point guard Iviona Hatch said. “Last year we would start games fast and not always finish. If something doesn’t go our way, we play through it.”
Hatch averages 10 points and 8 rebounds a game. Her ability to control the team in the turnover-fueled fast-break offense she loves has never been in question. The 5-foot-3 Hatch is more comfortable in halfcourt sets as a junior. Two other juniors, 5-6 Diamond Hunter and 5-8 A’Niya Lagarde, are the top scorers. Hunter averages 23 points per game, while Lagarde is at 15.0.
Known by some as the daughter of rapper Lil Boosie, Hatch relies on a large extended family support system led by her mother Walnita Mobley. And her teammates.
“We have slumber parties and do lots of things together outside basketball,” Hatch said. “That brought us closer together. We’re like sisters and coach Wilson is another Mom to us.”
Wilson, a former Capitol player, is known as a strict task master but has been told she is getting soft by some of her former Redemptorist players.
“I’m like the girls … I’m growing too,” Wilson said. “You can’t stay the same.”
Hatch says Lagarde can step into any key situation on offense or defense and make a play. She says the lone senior starter, Raegan Williams, can play any position on the court, while 6-6 post player Makya Spears can run the floor like a guard.
Hunter is the designated closer. She is that player who fearlessly drive the lane and can score points in bunches.
“I’ve played that way since seventh grade,” Hunter said. “Over the summer I worked on my ball-handling, passing and defense. I want to be more of a combo guard. I needed to be better at passing the ball to my teammates when I drive. Anything to make us better.”
Like Hatch and the other Lee players, Hunter loves to play fast. “It starts on defense with ball pressure,” Hunter notes. “And then you have to finish. You take it one play at a time.”