Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

BAINBRIDGE -- Jennifer was the strong, quiet one. Latreisha was a power player on the court and a force off of it -- the funny one who still makes Jennifer laugh.

One was from Georgia, the other from Alabama. One majored in communications, the other in physical education. A freshman, just out of high school, and a junior who knew her way around the court and campus back at Alabama A&M in 1997, when they shared the same dorm, shared time on the court and shared enough memories to last a lifetime.

Sort of an odd couple, the kind that finds its own unique way, its own path to friendship -- a bond that has stayed strong during the past 13 years.

"It's a sisterhood,'' Jennifer said.

That's why when Latreisha Moon's Bainbridge's girls basketball team hosts Jennifer Acree's Randolph-Clay team tonight, there will be a little more on the line.

"It's always special when you play someone you know, and we've known each other for a long time," Moon said. "We're still close.''

Acree, who changed schools and majors after her freshman year, and Moon both loved basketball, and both found a home in coaching, where they have emerged as two of the finest girls high school basketball coaches in Southwest Georgia.

And they've been talking all week about tonight's game.

"I'm going to call her and ask her what kind of defense she's going to run against me,'' Moon said. "And she'll tell me.''

Now that's close.

But there will also be another phone call made, this one after the game -- to Nakesha Miller, who was the third girl in that Acree-Moon posse back at Alabama A&M. Miller now teaches high school in Auburn, Ala., and after each meeting the winning coach calls her.

"We will make that call to her right in the gym after the game,'' Moon said. "And we will have her on speaker phone so all three of us can talk. If (Acree) wins the game, she'll call her and say, 'I just beat Moon.' If we win, I'll make the call.''

Both teams are rebuilding after losing The Herald's co-Players of the Year. Bainbridge lost Alexis Burke, who is now at Illinois, and Randolph-Clay lost Destiny Mitchell, who is now at East Tennessee State.

"We will find out a lot about what kind of team we have (tonight),'' said Acree, whose team is very young this season. The Lady Red Devils are off to a 1-1 start, while the Lady Bearcats -- ranked No. 3 in The Herald's Top 5 Poll -- are 2-2.

Moon, who coaches a Class AAAA power, won the only time the two met a year ago -- a 77-69 victory, despite 53 points from Mitchell -- and has the edge against Acree's Class A powerhouse at Randolph-Clay, where the Lady Red Devils have made two trips to the Final Four in Acree's three years there.

Both Bainbridge and Randolph-Clay went to the Final Four two years ago, and both were upset in the playoffs last year. The friends consoled each other after those losses.

"We talked about it,'' Moon said. "She was going through a tough time, and it was a tough loss for us, too. We talk all the time. We talk about our teams -- how can I help her, how she can help me. And we talk about our lives, what we're doing, what we want to do in the future.''

Acree took the playoff loss last season especially hard.

"We did help (console) each other,'' Acree said. "We talked about the games when we were at the Final Four and we both lost, and then last year I was shocked when she lost, and she was shocked when I lost. It helped to talk to her about it. It helps a lot when you hear from somebody you look up to, and she was going through the same thing.''

The two coaches have always been there for each other, and talk and text each other on a regular basis.

"It's just a great relationship,'' Acree said. "She makes me laugh. She is hilarious. I always looked up to her. She was a heck of a player. I looked up to her and admired her. She was a junior and I was a freshman, and I had never been away from (my) home (in Albany) before. She kind of took me under her wing. We hung out together."

Acree then paused and added with a laugh: "We had a lot of fun. That's all I'm going to say. I'll leave it at that.''

Moon was more of the leader, and admits that back in college she had her moments.

"My mouth used to get us in trouble,'' Moon said. "I just said what I thought. One time, the whole team had to run because I was mad about something, and another time one of my teammates pulled the fire alarm, and the whole team got into trouble. I knew who it was but I didn't tell the coach. I wouldn't do that to a teammate. The whole team had to go outside and we had to run in the snow. They were mad at me about that.''

But almost all the memories were laced with fun and laughter, and the two coaches still kid each other to this day. They just don't kid about their game.

"We don't kid each other about it, because we both take it seriously,'' Acree said. "But when she beat me last year, she didn't rub it in.''

Acree left A&M after her freshman year and came home to Albany, where she had been a star at Dougherty High, then played a year at Darton before moving on to Lincoln Memorial in Tennessee, where she earned the first of four degrees. She is working on her PHD in administration now.

"She is so smart,'' Moon said. "She has so many degrees. And she's a great coach. She's disciplined. She's strong and she's firm, and she knows basketball.''

Moon was the star at Alabama A&M, where she led the nation in rebounding and once had a 30-point, 30-rebound game against Clark Atlanta. She averaged 18 points and 16 rebounds a night. Acree suffered a knee injury but came back to get playing time as a freshman.

Off the court, they were close, close friends in every way.

"She was a bad influence on me, a horrible influence,'' Acree joked. "She was 20-21. I was 18. We're still good friends. I keep a check on her. The only game I don't want Bainbrridge to win is when we play them.

"I don't like losing to her, and my players know it. I told them that last year when we played. They knew it. You always want to beat your friend."