With one of the area’s top scorers at the helm, and a cast of promising underclassmen riding shotgun, the McKinney North girls basketball team is rounding into form as district play gets underway.
The Lady Bulldogs carried a 9-3 record into Tuesday’s District 10-5A matchup against Prosper Rock Hill. Getting to that point has required a different type of lineup than head coach Veronica Reed-Hamilton is used to, but one she sees improving with each game.
“We’re starting two freshmen right now, which makes us really young on the court,” Reed-Hamilton said. “But I think we’re starting to get a chemistry with our younger girls and they’re starting to develop that chemistry with our returners.”
Through 12 games, three of North’s top four scorers are freshmen. Atypical as that may be for a traditional high school basketball team, it’s right on schedule for what Reed-Hamilton has long considered a group chalked in potential.
“I’ve known them for a while. I knew what they could do, but I knew I’d have to accept some mistakes because of the inexperience playing high school ball,” Reed-Hamilton said. “But what they bring to the table is pretty valuable. Some of the things you have to accept and know that as they get deeper into it that the mistakes would start to level out and what they do well will really rise to the top.”
Freshmen Kaelyn Hamilton (11.0 points), Ciara Harris (8.9 points) and Cheyenne Wooten (6.1 points) haven’t balked at playing significant minutes early into their varsity careers. Harris doubles as the team’s leading rebounder at 7.5 boards per game and Hamilton’s 2.7 assists per game are also tops among all Lady Bulldogs.
Their instant impact is all the more gratifying for Reed-Hamilton, who for the first time in her career is coaching her daughter, Kaeyln.
“It’s tough. She’s been in the gym and around it for a while,” Reed-Hamilton said. “I’m hard on her, but I know what she’s capable of doing and I’m going to get it out of her.”
As North’s underclassmen develop, the Lady Bulldogs are led by one of the area’s top players in senior Amaria Fields. Committed to Boston College, Fields has picked up where she left off after earning district offensive MVP honors as a junior — averaging 26.2 points per game and recently becoming the program’s all-time leading scorer.
“I think right now, she knows that she has to carry the team but she has some trust in the younger ones,” Reed-Hamilton said. “She’s seeing them in practice and how they’ve been stepping to the plate in the games.”
Fields is no stranger to being a focal point for an opposing defense. In years past, she’s had alum Chelsea Wooten, currently a freshman at the College of Charleston, to help carry the workload — last season, those two combined for 38.0 of the team’s 52.1 points per game.
With Fields in the driver’s seat, she’s scored at least 20 points in all but one of North’s first nine games, mostly against a schedule clad in programs at the Class 6A level.
“I wanted to challenge us. I wanted to see where we would stand and if anything, if we failed the challenge or what have you, I felt like the caliber of teams we played would prepare us for district,” Reed-Hamilton said.
While Fields and the freshmen help supply the offense, Reed-Hamilton looks to junior point guard Yarnia Evans to set the tone for North’s defense. On that end, the Lady Bulldogs pride themselves in playing man-to-man — although Reed-Hamilton thinks her team is capable of playing faster and pressing opponents more frequently.
That requires a bit of a balancing act with North rostering just 11 players this season, however, but one Reed-Hamilton will attempt to strike as the Lady Bulldogs continue the grind of their district schedule on Tuesday.
The Texas Association of Basketball Coaches projected North as the second-place finisher in 10-5A, trailing only No. 23-ranked Wylie East and reigning district MVP A’Kasha Davis. The Lady Bulldogs were conference runners-up last season but hope a different approach to the game will pay dividends in the months ahead.
“We gained more athleticism and some kids who can get to the basket differently than how we did in the past,” Reed-Hamilton said. “We’re moving the ball around and it’s not two people — there are more players you’ve got to account for.
“I don’t see anybody playing us in a triangle-and-two zone like they did last year. If that happens, our girls can set each other up.”