Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Riverview legend off to fast start with Booker girls basketball

The Rams' all-time leading scorer came to the Tornadoes to "give back to Sarasota County."

Shantia Grace, Riverview High's all-time leading scorer, is now Booker High's girls basketball coach. Here, she pumps up her team during a stoppage against Palmetto High.
Shantia Grace, Riverview High's all-time leading scorer, is now Booker High's girls basketball coach. Here, she pumps up her team during a stoppage against Palmetto High.
  • Sarasota
  • Sports
  • Share

Even Shantia Grace didn’t think her Booker High tenure would start like it did.

The new girls basketball coach spent the preseason preparing her players — all seven of them — as best she could, and got ready to let them prove themselves Nov. 20 against Palmetto High. She didn’t know what to expect, she said.

“This morning, I woke up feeling like, ‘I’m ready, but I’m nervous,’ ” Grace said postgame. “The girls, they took that nervousness right out of me.”

That was thanks to a 64-30 Tornadoes win over the Tigers.

In a way, the lopsided win is fitting for Grace, who is accustomed to putting big numbers on the scoreboard, though as a player. A product of Sarasota, she’s the leading scorer in Riverview High basketball history, boys and girls, with 2,446 points, and the University of South Florida’s all-time assists leader (610).

She spent last season at Dunedin High, her first head coaching job. To outsiders, it may seem strange to leave that position for a program that doesn’t pique enough interest to field a full set of varsity bench players, let alone a junior varsity team. It wasn’t strange to Grace.

“This is home,” Grace said. “I always wanted to find a way to give back to Sarasota County. Last year, I remember watching my niece (then-senior Jamiya Jones) play at Booker and thinking, ‘I wish I had a team like this. I wish I could coach down here.’ I got my wish during the summer. It’s a blessing.”

The hardest part of the homecoming, she said, was getting her players to trust her. Grace is Booker’s third girls basketball coach in three seasons despite good on-court results: The Tornadoes won the Class 6A, District 10 title a year ago under Loy Moore. The seniors from that team, including the reigning Florida Athletic Coaches Association 6A Player of the Year Cellexia Foster, are gone. The girls who remain needed a reason to believe the next coach was in it to the end with them. Grace promises them she is, saying she plans on being Booker’s coach for “a long time.”

The Tornadoes' belief was evident against Palmetto. Grace said she’s installing an up-and-down scheme at Booker, focusing on a strong transition game, and they executed that well, pressuring the Tigers’ ball-handlers into mistakes and creating uncontested shots for themselves.

“I thought we had a chance to be good, but … ” Booker High athletic director Phil Helmuth said while watching the second half of the game against Palmetto. His thought trailed off; His smile remained. He praised the team’s defensive aggression and sticktoitiveness.

After the fans had gone home and the school lights were dimmed, Helmuth and Grace remained, talking about the postgame routine. He joked that the game set 34 points as the expected margin of Booker’s victories.  “This is light work,” Grace assured him. She was joking, too, unless she wasn’t.

When Grace talks about her plans for the program, her eyes widen. Excitement is visible in them.

“I’m going to own it,” she said. “Own this program. Own girls basketball in Sarasota County, period. There’s no better place to do it then right here at Booker, in the midst of Newtown.”



Related Articles