Mitchell County's girls have held their own without Tiona Burley, who was suspended for five games for a serious infraction of team rules, and now as Mitchell heads into the stretch run Burley will be there -- back with a new attitude and prestigious award.
Burley, who returns tonight against Cook, was honored Thursday by McDonald's, which officially nominated her as a McDonald's All-American.
Burley was nominated before the season started and was presented with the framed certificate Thursday.
"I hope she goes out and has a 50-point game,'' said Mitchell County coach Rosemary Sanders. "I think she is capable of it. We are glad any time any of our players gets that kind of recognition, and I hope she will be named an All-American.''
Burley, a 6-foot-1 post player who can physically dominate a game, has put up some impressive numbers. She was averaging 25 points, 15 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots per game before she served her five-game suspension.
There appeared to be an altercation in the locker room following a 55-51 loss to Brooks on Jan. 19 and Burley was suspended immediately afterward. Sanders also suspended Aschiaa Davis for two games following the incident.
"She was suspended for disciplinary reasons,'' Sanders said. "The players have to understand they will have consequences for all their actions.''
Sanders indicated it was a serious infraction but did not elaborate. During the suspension Burley was not allowed to practice with the team nor travel with the team. She was also not allowed to sit on the team bench at home games.
"Those are the rules when a player is suspended,'' Sanders said. "She wasn't allowed to be with the team.''
Sanders added that she has met with Burley and talked about the situation.
"We've talked, and she understands,'' Sanders said. "I think everything will be fine. The past is the past, and it's time to move on.''
Burley has signed a scholarship to play for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and she will have a chance to play in Mitchell County's final three regular-season games and the postseason.
Mitchell County lost only once during Burley's suspension -- a 53-35 defeat at Albany in the first game without Burley. Since that loss, Mitchell County has won four in a row, and is still in third place in the Region 1-AA race.
"The other girls on the team really took heed to her not being there, and stepped up,'' Sanders said. "That lets me know that if anything happens in the region tournament -- if (Burley) gets injured -- that we will be able to play without her. Now they know they can win without her, and that should help.''
Sanders said it wasn't a case where one player emerged in Burley's absence.
"We didn't have someone start scoring 20 points or anything like that,'' she said. "It was a team effort. Everyone did their part.''
STILL NO. 1: Monroe's boys basketball team stayed No. 1 in the state, and Westover, despite losing to Terrell County, remained in the Top 10 in the Georgia Sports Writers Association AAA state basketball poll.
Westover's girls basketball team (AAA) and the Bainbridge boys team (AAAA) both cracked the Top 10 for the first time this season, making debuts at No. 9.
"That's great, I'm glad," said Westover girls coach Lewis Smith. "But it's not worth a dime, not worth one penny this weekend against Monroe and Albany. We're glad we're being acknowledged, but we need something to help us get through this weekend."
The Bainbridge girls are still No. 5 in the girls AAAA poll, and Randolph-Clay's girls remained at No. 5 in the A poll.
Terrell County, which has not lost a game to team in its classification, moved from No. 9 up to a tie at No. 7 with Pace Academy in the boys A poll.
PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE: Pass it on. That was part of the message at Calhoun County, where the boys team has won six of its last seven games.
"We ran a drill where they had to pass the ball five times before they could shoot and that helped slow down our offense,'' Calhoun coach Marcus Shaw said. "Before Christmas we were rushing our offense and guys were out of position. Now we have slowed it down, and we're not rushing like we did before. We're a lot more patient.''
"We're getting open shots,'' Shaw said. "And we have been making shots early in games, and that has built their confidence. The main thing is the kids started believing in themselves. There's a difference even in practice. Practices have a lot more intensity. It's a different atmosphere.''
Andre Carroll is averaging 19 points a game to lead the Cougars, and guards Knyhiah Zacary and DeShawn Jordan have stepped up to help Calhoun County turn the season around. The Cougars started the season just 4-6, but are now 7-4 in the Region 1-A race firmly in second place behind Terrell County, which is unbeaten in the region.