The 2017-18 Bartlett Lady Panthers are so young that two members of coaching staff played for the program less than 10 years ago.
But 27-year veteran Head Coach Lynn Whitfield is happy to have the James Girls, Jasmine and Destiny, back on the sideline, giving back to her program. The two Lady Panther Greats are working alongside their former head coach to restore Bartlett back to greatness.
The Lady Panthers took a step in the right direction Dec. 5, beating the Millington Lady Trojans 58-20 in the Bartlett High gymnasium.
“We are very young,” Whitfield said. “We started a freshman, three sophomores and a senior. The thing that is the hardest to get across to them, you come out and play hard every night no matter who is the opponent.
“Whether the opponent may not be as good as the next opponent, right now we’re so young,” she added. “It seems like we play more scared against stronger opponents. We don’t play as hard. That’s the hardest thing to teach, not just the fundamentals. But to play hard no matter the opponent. They’re buying in and we’ve been surprised by some who are playing better.”
Two Lady Panthers playing better in the first quarter against Millington were Kennedy Crawford and Imani Gillen.
Gillen sparked Bartlett to a 10-0 run to open the game by driving to the rim for layup. Then Crawford made a steal leading to a breakaway bucket. Crawford made the score 6-0 with another basket.
Then Lady Panther Kiya Sidney used defense to create offense by stealing the ball for a fast break layup. Bartlett went ahead 10-0 when LaNenna Gray scored in the post.
Lady Trojan senior guard Keyanna Jones ended Millington’s drought with a three-point play making the score 10-3. Bartlett outscored the Lady Trojans 5-1 the rest of the period.
The Lady Panthers’ 15-4 first-quarter lead grew to 24-11 by halftime behind baskets by players such as Kristen Davis, Maria Morris and Crawford.
Bartlett was ahead 24-6 when Millington closed the first half with a 5-0 run. After Jones made a free throw, Kiara Kemp made a pickpocket steal at mid-court, leading to an uncontested layup.
Jones closed out the first 16 minutes of action with two more foul shots and gave the Lady Trojans some hope, only trailing by 13 at the break.
The Lady Panthers seized control of the game in the third quarter, outscoring Millington 18-6 when Gray got the offensive production started with a bucket in the post.
Then Sidney scored 7 straight points starting with a three-pointer. With two more baskets, Sidney brought the score to 33-11 early in the third quarter.
Jones hit a couple of triples in the period to pace Millington, but the Lady Panthers were ahead comfortably. Bartlett tallied 16 points in the fourth quarter to improve to 2-2 overall in the season.
With a lineup featuring mostly underclassmen guards, Whitfield said her young nucleus will benefit from the guidance of Destiny and Jasmine James.
The sisters were standout players under Whitfield in the late 2000s and early 2010s. The James Sisters racked up several individual honors while at Bartlett. Team success also followed Destiny and Jasmine with district titles, a State Tournament appearance in 2008 and Regional championships.
“They bring so much experience,” Whitfield noted. “Both of them played D-I. JJ played in the WNBA and pro ball overseas for four years. To have them come home is a blessing because they love Bartlett and they love everything about it. We have stayed close over the years. So to have them back is a blessing.
“They bring so much to the table with their guard skills, with their drill work and with their fairness,” she concluded. “But they’re no nonsense. As young as they are, the one thing you worry about is them being so close in age to the kids. With them, they’re so mature and on such a different level that the kids respect them immensely. And the skills, the work and the work ethic they bring back with them is a great asset for our program.”