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West Alabama knows basketball: Sturdivant, Speights given top hoops honor

BIRMINGHAM – While basketball may not be the sport of choice in West Alabama, there is now no doubt that this area is home to some of the state’s best basketball athletes.

At Wednesday’s 2003/2004 Alabama Sports Writers Association (ASWA) Player of the Year luncheon, West Alabama high schools were fully represented with as many as six finalists for the prestigious award.

These student athletes represent the finest in the game of basketball in the state of Alabama and though not all were named Player of the Year, all deserve to be fully recognized for their athletic performance this season.

In the Alabama Independent School Association (AISA) both Jarvis Smith and Felecia Sprott of the Marion Military Institute were finalist at this year’s ASWA ceremony.

Sprott, a 6’3″ sophomore center/forward set an AISA record last year as a freshmen collecting 37 rebounds in one game. This season Sprott led the MMI Lady Tigers to their first appearance in the AISA Final Four and state finals games were she matched her own record of 37 rebounds in one game along with 39 points in the Lady Tigers Final Four match-up with No. 1 ranked Sparta Academy. Sprott led the Lady Tigers this season as she averaged 18.9 points, 18.3 rebounds and 4.8 blocked shots per game and was named the Demopolis Times AISA Girls Player of the Year. Sprott placed second for the ASWA AISA Girls Player of the Year award behind Brett Nolan of Springwood Academy (144 votes) with 102-total votes.

Smith, a 5’11” sophomore point guard led the 22-4 AISA Class A state runner-up MMI Tigers this season in scoring, assist and steals. Smith averaged 17.6 points, 5.3 assist and 2.8 steals per game this season. Smith was also named as the Demopolis Times AISA Boys Player of the Year. He placed second for the ASWA Player of the Year award behind Brett Paulk of Fort Dale Academy (170 votes) with 80-total votes

In the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) the four finalist from West Alabama included: Corey Speights of Livingston High School, Reaynundo Sturdivant of Sumter County High School, Gabrielle Essex of Demopolis High School and Billy Campbell of R. C. Hatch High School.

Speights, a 6’2″ senior guard led the 4A 2002/2003 defending state champion Cougars back to the state finals this season after suffering a wrist injury in the 2003 football season that prevented him from starting his senior season until Christmas. Speights averaged 22 points and six rebounds per game this season and was a dominant leader and clutch player for the Cougars throughout his four-year career. Speights was awarded the ASWA 4A Player of the Year award Wednesday with 94-total votes.

Sturdivant, a 6’2″ senior guard led the 31-2 Sumter County Wildcats to their first 3A state championship (fifth in school history) this season averaging 21.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 5.7 assist and 3.4 steals per game. Sturdivant scored an impressive 20 points in the Class 3A state championship game against Montgomery Academy and earned the tournament’s MVP honor. Sturdivant was awarded the Class 3A ASWA Player of the Year award Wednesday with 168-total votes. Sturdivant was also a finalist for the ASWA Mr. Basketball award.

Essex, a 5’9″ junior guard led the 26-5 Demopolis High Lady Tigers to their first appearance in school history to the AHSAA state finals. Essex averaged 18 points, eight rebounds, four assist and four steals per game. She was named MVP at the Southwest Regional Tournament and led the Lady Tigers to a 42-37 victory over the seventh ranked Andalusia Lady Bulldogs. Essex placed third for the ASWA 4A Player of the Year award Wednesday behind Blair Bowens of Deshler High School (134 votes) and Brooke Hand of Lawrence County High School (164 votes) with 96-total votes. Essex was also a finalist for the ASWA Miss. Basketball award.

Essex became the first student athlete in DHS history to be nominated as a finalist for either of the two awards.

Campbell, a 6’5″ senior center/forward led the 2A 2002/2003 defending state champion R. C. Hatch Bobcats (28-4) to their seventh state championship this season averaging 18 points and 12 rebounds per game. Campbell finished the season shooting an astonishing 16-of-20 (80 percent) from the field in two games during the Class 2A Southwest Regional tournament. With their 76-73 victory over Pisgah High School in the 2A state championship game the Bobcats set a new AHSAA state record of Most State Championships as they picked up their seventh in school history. Campbell placed third for the ASWA 2A Player of the Year award Wednesday behind George Drake of Calera High School (154 votes) and Frank Tolbert of Red Level High School (126 votes) with 74-total votes. Campbell was also a finalist for the ASWA Mr. Basketball award.

Boys Player of the Year

5A: Michael Williams – Wilcox-Central

4A: Corey Speights – Livingston

3A: Reaynundo Sturdivant – Sumter County

2A: George Drake – Calera

1A: Wesley Jones – J.F. Shields

AISA: Brett Paulk – Fort Dale Academy

Mr. Basketball

Ronald Steele – John Carroll

Girls Player of the Year

6A: Courtney Billingsley – Wenonah

5A: Whitney Boddie – Bradshaw

4A: Brook Hand – Lawrence County

3A: Ashley Samuel – T. R. Miller

2A: Mamie Erin Rutherford – Hatton

AISA: Brett Nolen – Springwood School

Miss Basketball

Starr Orr – Speake