2009-10 WILLIE BOSTON AWARD WINNERS: Part 2 (INCLUDES: Herald All-Area, All-Metro Girls Basketball Team)

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey


That's the best word to describe the dilemma The Herald faced in trying to pick the winner of this year's Willie Boston Player of the Year for girls basketball.

The problem was simple: Two of the best players in the state played right here in Southwest Georgia this season.

Bainbridge's Alexis Burke and Randolph-Clay's Destiny Mitchell both deserved the honor, so in an unprecedented decision, The Herald is naming them co-winners of the award.

Both are leaders in every way, both are versatile, and both have bright futures.

Mitchell, who has had interest from around the country, is still trying to decide where she will go to college. She has narrowed her choice down to St. John's and East Tennessee State, while Burke made her decision early, choosing Illinois over a long list of schools.

They have so much in common -- even their coaches were college teammates -- but most of all it's their leadership on the court and their ability to score from anywhere that makes Mitchell and Burke stand out.

The duo -- who are both 5-foot-11 -- faced each other once this season, and Mitchell had a career-high and school-record 53 points in a loss to Burke and Bainbridge.

"We respect each other,'' Mitchell said. "She can play. I can play. She's an all-around player, and that's what I think I am. I want to do everything.''

She does.

At times, Mitchell makes it look almost too easy, running the floor, rebounding and shooting 3s and driving while leading the Lady Devils in rebounding. She finished the season averaging 29.7 points per game. But that is only part of what she brings to the court. Mitchell led Randolph-Clay, grabbing 14 rebounds a game while blocking four shots. She averaged six steals a game, and it was more common than not to see Mitchell block a shot or make a steal at one end of the court, drive the length of the court, stop, spin and hit a jumper.

Burke never had a 53-point game, but she opened Region 1-AAAA play with a fury, scoring 31 in the opener against Americus-Sumter and then coming back in the next game with 32 against Thomas County Central. She had a career high 40 points against East Gadsden (Fla.) and put up 31 the next night against Rickards (Fla.).

When the Atlanta Journal-Constitution named its All-State teams this year, not only did Burke and Mitchell make the First Team, but Burke was the AJC's Class AAAA Player of the Year, and Mitchell was the AJC's Class A Player of the Year.

"They are both such great players, I can understand why (The Herald) had co-winners,'' Randolph-Clay coach Jennifer Acree said. "Destiny is the best player I've ever had. She can do it all.''

Mitchell started playing basketball when she was about 9 years old -- but back then she played only against the boys.

"I enjoyed playing against the boys. That's the only ones I could play against,'' Mitchell said. "I didn't start playing against girls until I was in middle school. I just always wanted to work and get better. Coming into this season I wanted to do more, to accomplish more than I had in the past.''

Burke has her own style, and she dominates a game the same way Mitchell does, beating teams from the inside and also burning them from 3-point range. And just like Mitchell, Burke has that intangible quality

"She's a leader,'' Bainbridge coach Latreisha Moon said of her star. "She leads all the time. She (talks to the

players) and whenever we are down, she picks the team up. She has been our leader and our captain for three years. We will really miss her,'

Burke's greatest strength is her versatility. At 5-11, she can go inside and dominate the game as a power forward, but because she knew her future in college was at guard, Burke worked diligently and put in long hours of practice to improve her outside shot over the years, and turned herself into a lethal 3-point shooter.

"She can score from inside or outside,'' Moon said. "She can play any position. And she has that leadership. She is just so determined to get it done.''

"It was fun to coach her,'' Moon said. "You never knew what would happen next. You never knew how she was going to score her next basket.''

Burke finished the season averaging 24.6 points and 14.2 rebounds a game, and also averaged 4.2 blocks and two steals a night.

"This was my senior year and felt it was the time in my career to become a leader,'' Burke said. "I wanted to put the team on my shoulders. I felt like I could take control. I felt if I played well then my team would play well. They respected me as a leader.''

Burke started playing basketball about the time she started walking. When she was just 3, Alexis would go with her father, who was a star at Bainbridge, to his games at the local YMCA, and gives credit to this day to him. Her father, Charles, died in an accident when Alexis was 10, and she has dedicated her career to him.

He would be proud of her, not only because of her talent on the court, but her lady-like disposition and the way she handled all the pressure of being a big-time recruit and leading her team.

That's another thing Burke and Mitchell have in common. Both have tough bulldog personalities on the court, complete with determined game faces, but both young ladies are class acts off the court as well.

That's just another reason it was impossible to pick one Player of the Year, and that's why 2010 belongs to Burke and Mitchell.



First Team

Asha Alexander, Randolph-Clay

5-foot-9, Senior, Forward

WHY SHE'S HERE: There was more to Randolph-Clay than Destiny Mitchell, and Alexander played well enough to earn a scholarship to Columbus State. She did a little bit of everything for the Lady Red Devils, and drove the baseline as well as any girl in Southwest Georgia. Alexander averaged 16.6 points and eight rebounds a game, and also picked up four steals every night to help Randolph-Clay climb to the No. 2 ranking in the state poll.

Tiona Burley, Mitchell County

6-foot-1, Senior, Center

WHY SHE'S HERE: Anyone who saw Mitchell County play knows why Burley is on this team. She was a force every time she walked onto the court, and led the Lady Eagles to the Elite Eight -- which was further than any girls program made it in Southwest Georgia. Burley, who has already signed with UNC-Charlotte, dominated almost every game she played this season, averaging 20 points and a whopping 18 rebounds a game. She also blocked an average of five shots a game, and handed out three assists..

Lindsey Crawford, Lee County

6-foot-1, Senior, Forward

WHY SHE'S HERE: Crawford was everywhere on the court, hitting outside shots, driving inside, grabbing rebounds, making steals and handing out assists as the quarterback and leader for the Lady Trojans, who made an historical run in the state tournament. Crawford averaged 17.5 points, and 10.2 rebounds a game, and also handed out a couple of assists every night while averaging 3.2 steals a game.

DyTiesha Dunson, Westover

5-foot-8, Sophomore, Guard

WHY SHE'S HERE: Simply put, Dunson was the best player in Region 1-AAA. Every team Westover faced tried to stop her, and she found dozens of ways to beat them. She not only ran the offense and handed out assists, but led the defense as well. If that wasn't enough, she was Westover's biggest scoring threat, and her drives and stop-and-go jumpers helped lead the Lady Pats to the region title and into the second round of the playoffs. She averaged 16 points, six rebounds and six assists a night.

Nett Reed, Early County

5-foot-8, Senior, Forward

WHY SHE'S HERE: Reed, also one of the state's best track stars, can do it all on the court as well. She can be a force inside, hit the 3 from the outside and run the floor. She averaged 18 points and 8.2 rebounds, and 3.1 steals a game. She can dominate a game, and also make everyone around her a better player.

April Thomas

5-foot, Junior, Guard

WHY SHE'S HERE: Thomas is a whirlwind who can also bag 3s all night. She made 43 3-pointers this season, and averaged 18.2 points a game while handing out a whopping 5.8 assists a night. And somehow the diminutive guard grabbed 4.8 rebounds a game. She was a big reason Bainbridge spent the entire season as The Herald's No. 1 ranked team in Southwest Georgia.

Second team

Carrie Washington. Seminole County, Senior

Bria Harris, Bainbridge, Junior

Kedeemya Cooper, Mitchell County, Senior

Jayme Gilbert, Americus-Sumter, Junior

Sukena Diamond, Miller County, Senior

Shamara Stevens, Randolph-Clay, Senior



First Team

Daquenna Moore, Lee County

6-foot, Sophomore, Center

WHY SHE'S HERE: She emerged as one of the toughest rebounders in Region 1-AAAA, averaging 10 rebounds a game. Moore averaged 11.9 points a game and was one of the big reasons Lee County had such a memorable season.

Ieshia Young, Westover

5-foot-7, Sophomore, Guard

WHY SHE'S HERE: Young was an elusive guard who ran the floor and proved to be a scoring threat in every game. She was tough on defense, and helped Westover win the Region 1-AAA title. Young averaged 12 points, two rebounds and two steals a game.

Lakeisha Jackson, Monroe

5-foot-7, Senior, Forward

WHY SHE'S HERE: If there was a face to Monroe's break-neck speed and unrelenting defense, it was Jackson, the only senior starter for the Lady Tornadoes, and a leader on and off the court. The track star not only sparked Monroe's defense that forced more turnovers than any girls team in Southwest Georgia, but she was the go-to-player for the Lady Tornadoes, averaging a team-high 16 points a game.

Jasmine Myers, Albany

5-foot-9, Senior, Forward

g WHY SHE'S HERE: Myers is a two-time Herald All-Metro player who led Albany to a Top Five ranking in the Top 5 Poll, and led the Squaws to the state playoffs. She was the heart and soul of Albany for the past two seasons, and a leader on and off the court. Myers, who signed with Darton College this week, averaged 18 points and 8.2 rebounds a game.

Second team

Tiara Todd, Dougherty, Senior

Ashley Johnson, Monroe, Sophomore

Chastity Mullins Albany, Sophomore

Latisha Williams, Westover, Junior

Danielle Glover, Westover, Senior

Kelly Polk, Lee County, Senior

GIRLS Coach of the Year

Fran McPherson, Lee County

WHY SHE'S HERE: Being the coach of the year isn't necessarily about winning state titles or even getting to the Final Four. It should always be about getting the most out of what you have, and there's no argument that McPherson took Lee County to new heights this season, leading the Lady Trojans to their first-ever state tournament berth, where Lee County also played host for the first time. It was a history-making year for the Lee County girls, who won 21 games and won their historic first-round game in the tournament, beating Alcovy, 65-58. McPherson cried -- tears of joy -- when her team upset Herald No. 1 Bainbridge in the Region 1-AAAA semifinals because the victory meant so much to her team and the program -- a program she has turned around in just three years.

Coach of the Year RUNNER-UP

Keith Jones, Terrell Academy

WHY HE'S HERE: Jones, who was the GISA Class A Coach of the Year, did a remarkable job this season, turning his team's season around after a 5-6 start and driving the Lady Eagles to their second consecutive GISA Class A state title.