Quietly, the Booker High girls basketball team is having a terrific season.
I don't think they should remain under the radar much longer.
How good is this squad? The Tornadoes sit at 14-6 as of Jan. 23, winners of six games in a row. Of the team’s six losses, only one came against a fellow Class 6A opponent. That was a 64-60 loss to Southeast High (16-4) on Dec. 13, a loss which the Tornadoes avenged 62-60 on Jan. 9. The rest of their losses came against Class 7A, 8A and 9A teams, which have larger enrollments and therefore a deeper talent pool from which to pick. Booker has been especially dominant in its own district, holding a 7-0 record and outscoring opponents 480-177.
Tornadoes coach Shantia Grace wants her team to be challenged. Grace said she does not consider a team’s class when scheduling it, only how good it is on the court. MaxPreps has Booker ranked sixth in Class 6A (and Southeast fifth), but the only schools above them with a tougher strength of schedule are second-ranked American Heritage High (12-8) and fourth-ranked Ribault High (14-5).
In other words, the team has as good a shot as any Class 6A team to be cutting down some nets soon. It is quite a feat, how far this team has come in such a short time. When I wrote about them before the season, I talked about the large number of transfers the Tornadoes had arriving, and wondered how they would come together as a team.
As it turns out, Grace said she is still waiting for that to happen, too.
“We’re still not all on one page,” she said after Booker’s 67-50 win against Riverview High on Jan. 21. “We’re close. I just want everyone to have that big game.”
The Tornadoes have benefitted from a balanced attack. Senior guard Kaliyah Newell leads the team at 14.4 points per game, but junior guards Omari Davis, Jaela Dennis and Cashanti Bradley are right behind her at 10.4, 8.3 and 7.4 respectively. Dennis is also averaging a team-high 3.9 assists per game.
But the secret to the Tornadoes’ success might lie in its post play. Senior forward Kaitlin Bell and junior forward Miah Lowman, both 6-foot-2, are averaging 6.6 and 6.3 rebounds per game. Their size in the post makes it difficult for opponents to get clean shots. I’m fairly certain Booker is elite in opponent points per game, but MaxPreps, unbelievably, only allows users to sort by total points allowed, so I cannot say with certainty.
Whatever the reason, Booker is looking mighty potent as the playoffs approach. (District tournaments begin Feb. 5.) Grace said she has been pleasantly surprised with her team’s conditioning and depth, which has allowed the Tornadoes to play full games and not fade down the stretch.
Maybe the best reason to follow the Tornadoes into the playoffs is they are fun. Yeah, the Booker boys team is good, too, and they have guys who can dunk and hit a ton of three-pointers. But the girls team is tenacious. Grace has lit a fire under them, and it shows. If this is how good the Tornadoes are without being on the same page, how scary will they be when they are?