Randolph-Clay senior Brandi Buie, The Herald’s Willie Boston Girls Player of the Year, led the Lady Red Devils to a state championship earlier this year and finished the season averaging 24 points, five rebounds, seven assists and six steals per game. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
Andria Starling wouldn’t take a bucket of gold for her pictures.
Her photos of her children — despite the edges not being as sharp and the color starting to fade — are priceless.
She is especially fond of one, which shows her young daughter, Brandi Buie, holding a basketball before she could even master the art of walking.
Starling, a basketball player herself, fondly tells the story of Buie bouncing her first ball.
“She was almost two when we put the ball in her hands,” Starling said. “She started bouncing it and then I told her to bounce it between her legs.”
Buie bounced it, got pretty good at it, and hasn’t stopped since. She was a major cog in helping Randolph-Clay to the Class A public school girls state championship this season. Her efforts helped her land The Herald’s Willie Boston Girls Player of the Year award.
The 5-foot-9 guard helped the Lady Red Devils to a 27-4 record, averaging 24 points, five rebounds, seven assists and six steals per game.
Growing up near Tampa, Buie’s family relocated to south Atlanta when Starling took a job as a respiratory therapist in Fayetteville in 2004. Buie and her older sister Kayla had an unmatched love for playing basketball, so their mom signed them up to play in a co-ed recreational league when Buie was 6.
Buie and her sister excelled. It didn’t matter that they were playing against mostly boys, and girls weren’t supposed to win.
“I just did what I’ve always done,” Buie said. “It was tougher competition.”
Her mom fondly recalled a story where Buie and her sister helped lead the team to a victory.
“She got the ball and ran down the court,” Starling said. “I heard someone say, ‘Who are the little girls? They are beating the boys.’ “
Buie continued to improve, and she became a star at Luella Middle School in Hampton. But as much as her mother loved seeing her excel, she had to make a drastic decision in December 2008 when she lost her job.
Starling had no choice but to move her family to Southwest Georgia in Arlington. The family moved in with her grandparents. While Buie and her sister played basketball at Calhoun County, their mother worked seasonal jobs in the area to make ends meat but never found a steady, full-time profession with benefits.
As a junior at Calhoun County, Brandi was a Herald Super 6er and made the all-area team.
But her world took another crazy turn last October, just a week before the start of basketball. Starling had landed a job as the Manager of Nutrition at Randolph-Clay Elementary School, but two months later, Starling purchased a home in Cuthbert and moved her family to avoid the long morning commute, meaning Buie would have to begin playing for Randolph-Clay.
“She was not happy with me,” Starling said. “Calhoun County had been the only school she had known for three years. But this had nothing to do with basketball. God had his hand in this all the time.”
The next few months were anything but comfortable for Starling and her family. She often received angry phone calls and insults.
However, Buie tried to put all of it aside and concentrate on her senior year. Randolph-Clay had lost in the state finals a year earlier, and many thought Buie was the missing puzzle piece.
She teamed with guard Shanice Jackson to form a lethal backcourt and joined a team that was loaded with the return of towers Brandi and Kobi Thornton inside.
When region play began in January, Buie turned her game up. Six times, she scored 30 points or more — but she was never bigger than her 38-point performance in a 77-74 victory over Mitchell County in the Region 1-A championship game at Seminole County High on Feb. 15.
But that was just the beginning.
She averaged 23.2 points per game in the state tourney in victories over Central-Talbotton, Towns County, Claxton and Mitchell County. She finished with 30 in a big 62-48 victory over Towns County in the second round.
“I wouldn’t say that I was the missing piece,” Buie said. “We put in the work and came out victorious. It all paid off in the end.”
The championship couldn’t have been sweeter for Starling, especially after her last five years. The financial struggle was often overwhelming but Buie’s basketball play provided a way out.
When Starling lost her job as a respiratory therapist, she said she often felt like her life was over. During that time, work often kept her from travelling to see either of Buie’s high school or AAU games.
“I was making money, good money, but I needed to be there,” Starling said. “If I was still (a respiratory therapist), I wouldn’t have been able to be with her, travel, be the team mom, things like that. I thought life was over when I lost my job, but in reality, it was only just beginning. I’m enjoying this. God was at work the whole time.”
Her daughter was also rewarded with a college scholarship recently to play at Jacksonville University after a torrid postseason and a strong summer of AAU basketball with the Southeastern Lady Blazers.
“She had a stellar summer that helped get her exposed,” Southeastern Lady Blazers coach Joe Foster said.
Randolph-Clay coach Jennifer Acree said Jacksonville coaches asked her what they needed to do to get Buie to sign with them.
“I told them they needed to talk to her and sell their program to her,” Acree said. “And they were able to do that.”
Foster said one of Buie’s biggest attributes is her ability to overcome adversity.
Brandi won’t take a lot of credit for Randolph-Clay’s success this season. The quiet, soft-spoken standout would prefer to stay away from the attention.
However, she’ll have a chance to be in the spotlight for four more years at Jacksonville.
And she’ll give Starling a few more chances to add to her basketball picture collection.
2013-14 Albany Herald All-Area Girls Basketball Team
Briunna Freeman, Pelham, Junior
• WHY SHE’S HERE: The main cog helped Pelham to the Region 1-AA title and a trip to the state quarterfinals. Freeman played a little of everywhere, including shooting guard, point guard, small forward and center. She averaged 18 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game for the Lady Hornets.
A’Miracle Jones, Mitchell County, Senior
• WHY SHE’S HERE: Averaged 22 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists per game to help Mitchell County finish as the Class A girls public school state runner-up. Jones excelled as a forward but also was an excellent ball-handler and outside perimeter shooter.
Madi Mitchell, Crisp Academy, Senior
• WHY SHE’S HERE: Mitchell helped Crisp Academy to its fourth consecutive GISA Class A state title this season, averaging 23 points per game, nine rebounds and three steals. The Mercer signee scored more than 3,300 points in her high school career.
Key Key Price, Monroe, Junior
• WHY SHE’S HERE: The leader for the Lady Tornadoes. Price guided Monroe to the Region 1-AAAA title and a berth in the state quarterfinals. The guard did a little of everything this season, including leading her team in scoring.
Kobi Thornton, Randolph-Clay, Sophomore
• WHY SHE’S HERE: Thornton followed up an impressive freshman season with an even better sophomore season. She dominated inside at center, averaging 18.2 points and double figures in rebounding. Thornton was also a dominant defender. She played a key role in helping R-C to the Class A girls public school state championship.
Rachel Harrell, Westwood, Senior
• WHY SHE’S HERE: Harrell averaged 20.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.5 steals to help Westwood to its second consecutive GISA Class AA state championship. The all-state guard shot a blistering 44 percent from the floor and was a big reason for the Lady Wildcats’ success.
Shonbreka Holton, Mitchell County, Senior
• WHY SHE’S HERE: A strong player inside, Holton was a key reason for Mitchell County’s trip to the Class A public school state championship game. She averaged 20 points, 18 rebounds and three assists per game. She also played solid defense at forward.
Au Bre’ Ana Moore, Westover, Junior
• WHY SHE’S HERE: Westover had its share of ups and downs this season but one thing was consistent — Moore’s play. She averaged 10.9 points per game and helped Westover to the Region 1-AAAA title game and a berth in the second round of the state playoffs.
Ra'Keta Shelton, Dougherty, Senior
• WHY SHE’S HERE: Last year’s Herald Player of the Year had a solid season. She averaged double figures in points and rebounds and was a major force inside. Shelton helped lead Dougherty to the Class AAAA state tournament.
Hilary Williams, Pelham, Senior
• WHY SHE’S HERE: One of the top ball-handlers in the area, Williams averaged 9.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3.9 steals and two assists per game to help the Lady Hornets to the Class AA state quarterfinals. An unselfish player, Williams helped create many of the team’s scoring opportunities.
• HONORABLE MENTION: Albany: Alondra Calhoun, China Marcus; Americus-Sumter: Timi’a Swanson, Ja’Kala Stevenson, Joslyn Streeter; Bainbridge: Patra Parris, Alex Carter, Tameria Levens, Beonka Madge; Crisp County: Kayla Green, Nasheema Oliver, Deletria Colson; Deerfield-Windsor: Nyla Perry, Jordan Lane, Gabby Burt; Dougherty: Amber Ward, Takiya Davis; Early County: Tynicia McCoy; Lee County: Katherine McConnell, Kayla Cooper, Maggie O’Connor, Desja Johnson; Monroe: Cekeya Mack, Lynsey Washington; Pelham: Destiny Thomas; Randolph-Clay: Shanice Jackson; Sherwood Christian: Key’yada Thomas; Southland Academy: Ella Hawkins, Mary Melissa Roland; Westover: Achanti Layfield; Westwood: Callie Smith; Worth County: Lindsey Toneygay, Brianna Farley