CUTHBERT -- By the end of the 2009-10 prep basketball season, Randolph-Clay scoring machine Destiny Mitchell likely will be buried under a pile of college scholarship offers.
Which school emerges as the winner in what's turning into the "Destiny Mitchell Sweepstakes" however, is still very much up in the air.
Lady Red Devils coach Jennifer Acree, whose team is 6-1 this season and ranked No. 2 in The Herald's Top 5 Poll -- and No. 2 in all of Class AA in the state poll -- behind Mitchell's 25-point average, confirmed to The Herald on Monday that not only does Mitchell already have several scholarship offers from a host of mid-major schools, but even more attractive destinations have emerged recently that Acree is advising her star player to carefully consider.
Namely, NCAA Division I women's basketball powerhouses Georgia and Rutgers.
"I got a call from Georgia the other day and they really want to see (the tape of her against Bainbridge)," said Acree, referring to Mitchell's staggering 53-point outing that came in a 77-69 loss to the Lady Bearcats -- The Herald's No. 1 ranked team at 10-0, which is also ranked No. 7 in the state poll.
But the Lady Bulldogs, who are currently ranked No. 11 in the AP Top 25 an No. 12 in the ESPN/USA Today polls, aren't alone in their desire to learn more about the big-time scoring threat from the small town of Cuthbert.
"Rutgers has also called, and they seemed to be very interested, as well," said Acree, whose team crushed Region 1-A rivals Terrell County and Pelham last week with Mitchell scoring 28 points against the Lady Hornets in an 85-40 rout, then dropping 26 in a lopsided 65-9 victory vs. Terrell County. "The interest is really heating up everywhere."
While Acree did not name which mid-majors are actively pursuing Mitchell -- adding it's been the "same group of schools who have been calling since she was just a sophomore" -- the coach is also advising her not to settle on anyone just yet.
"She could've already signed with a number of places, but I told her that if she could duplicate the season she had a year ago (as a junior) -- which was just tremendous -- she would likely have her pick," Acree said of the team's 2008-09 campaign, in which Mitchell averaged nearly 30 points, led the Lady Red Devils to a 27-3 record and a GHSA Class A Final Four appearance. "So long as we keep her away from injury."
Of course, Mitchell can't excel in 2009-10 if she doesn't have help from her teammates, like the game against Bainbridge when she scored all but 16 of her team's 69 points.
And that, says Acree, is something the entire team realizes.
"I know we talked (after Bainbridge) about how Destiny needed some help, and since then her teammates have responded," said the coach, referring to players like Casey Sands, Asha Alexander and Andrea Blackmon, all of whom reached double figures in the wins last week to complement Mitchell's 20-plus point performances. "The girls around her are getting better with every game. I've been very proud."
The Lady Red Devils, who played Tuesday against Abbeville (Ala.), also have games this week against Eufala (Ala.) at home on Friday, then Baker County, also at home, on Saturday.
And while Acree says she feels her team needs a break before getting into the heart of the schedule after Christmas, she knows any extra exposure for Mitchell right now can only help her long-term goal of playing for a major Division I program.
"We're going to play in the Houston County Christmas Tournament on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (next week) and I think those games will be a real measuring stick for where this team is at," Acree said. "We're trying to see exactly how much better we've gotten and where we're at after that loss to Bainbridge."
However, if you ask most any coach in the area who's seen Randolph-Clay play this year, they'll likely give you the same progress report on the Mitchell-led Lady Red Devils.
"That team is real, real good -- but Destiny is great," said Westover coach Lewis Smith on Monday when asked if his team had a game plan for stopping Mitchell when the two schools meet in a rematch later this season -- this after Mitchell burned the Herald No. 3 Lady Pats for 28 points in a 58-49 win. "You just can't do anything with her. She's too tall, too quick, too knowledgeable and just shoots too well. And she can play everywhere -- post up, knock down 3s. You name it, she can do it.
"I hate to say it, but I don't think anyone, including us, can stop her."
SPEAKING OF WESTOVER ... :
Smith's Lady Pats, unlike many of the area's teams during the holidays, are taking an extended break until the end of the year and won't play any games until Dec. 29-30. That's when they'll travel to the Callaway High School Christmas Classic.
And after losing all-around star junior Latisha Williams to a dislocated shoulder last week against Lee County, the Westover coach is the first to admit his girls need a rest.
"Latisha, who is playing as good as anyone right now on our team, is going to be out a month or so," said Smith, whose team is 6-1. "We need the time to bring some of the other girls along to replace her because, really, Latisha can play anywhere on the floor. She leads the team in rebounding, she handles the ball, she's a great passer, she's great on the press and she really attacks the glass well. It's going to be tough without her."
Smith, however, wasn't trying to sell the rest of his team short in lauding Williams' play. After all, he knows any number of players -- like sophomores Dytiesha Dunson, Cessily Colwell, Ieshia Young and freshman Kahler Fletcher -- are all more than capable of carrying the load.
"Everyone on that list is averaging around 10 or 12 points a game, with Dytiesha averaging a little more," said Smith. "And I think as long as we continue to play together and pick each other up, we'll be fine. I've sensed a comfort level from these girls the last few games that wasn't there at first, like in the loss (to Randolph-Clay). I think they're more focused than ever while they're on the floor right now"
LADY TROJANS' AMAZING TURNAROUND CONTINUES:
Last season, the Lady Trojans took it on the chin with an 8-17 record.
But those days appear to be over.
Off to an 8-3 start, including Tuesday's win against Calhoun County at home -- not to mention the No. 4 spot in The Herald's Top 5 Poll -- Lee County continues to show it's one of the area's best girls teams, losing only to traditional state power Washington County and Herald No. 3 Westover (twice) so far this season.
But it was after the team's most recent game -- a blowout defeat to the Lady Patriots' on Saturday night after barely losing, 58-55, in the first meeting -- when coach Fran McPherson finally realized how serious her girls were about making this campaign one to remember.
"I saw tears after that game," McPherson said. "It hurt us. And I knew right then that each one of these girls were invested in what we're trying to do."
Of course, one thing that continues to plague the Lady Trojans is turnovers, averaging, according to McPherson, "something like 17 to 20 a game."
"We're just giving the ball away sometimes. It has to stop," said the coach, whose team will play at Terrell County on Friday and close out this week's schedule against Dooly on Saturday in its final games before heading to Upson-Lee for a Christmas Tournament on Dec. 28-29. "We've just got to settle that part down and we should (instantly) become even better."
Led by Herald Super 6er Lindsey Crawford, who is averaging 20 points a game, the Lady Trojans might seem one-dimensional.
Not so, said McPherson.
"We knew a lot of our points this year would come in the paint, but I've been pleasantly surprised by a few of the girls who have stepped up and hit some outside shots for us in the past few games," said McPherson, who singled out recent stellar play by Carle Ely, Kaitlyn Farrell, Natalie Shriver and Kelly Polk as the supporting cast for Crawford. "Then we have DaQuenna (Moore), who gave us 30 points against Worth County. She's capable of busting loose at any moment."
Lee County's wins last week that preceded the loss to Westover came against Hawkinsville and Worth County -- games in which McPherson said she learned a lot about her team.
"I don't know what happened to us against Westover -- we just weren't there mentally," she said. "But before that, I saw great team basketball; doing things to create offense for our scorers and playing defense well enough that we put ourselves in a position to win. The leadership and communication thus far are there. And our will to win -- other than that second Westover game -- is just amazing."
McPherson then paused before adding: "Now if we can just stop turning the ball over. But you can believe that's what we'll be working on between now (when region play begins) in January."