These Buccaneers are burgeoning with high-scoring players.
If the Florida SouthWestern State College women’s basketball team looks anything like those put together in the past by coach Kristy Ward, then points will come in bucket loads this season at Suncoast Credit Union Arena.
“We play up-tempo and full, baseline-to-baseline defense,” Ward said. “We play more up-tempo than a lot of teams. We try to score 100 points a game. That’s what we try to do. That’s the way we practice.
“We tell our kids, we don’t recruit you to sit on the bench.”
While the arena is still under construction at the corner of Summerlin Boulevard and Cypress Lake Drive, Ward’s Buccaneers already have taken shape. She has finalized the roster, which includes three Southwest Florida players in 5-foot-11 guard Tiara Duckworth (Gateway Charter), 5-8 guard Alexxis Mendoza (Lehigh) and 6-0 guard Mykelli Taylor (Charlotte).
Of the 18 players on the roster, 12 are from Florida.
“I love playing defense,” said Taylor, which means she should fit right in with Ward’s coaching philosophy. “You get a steal and make a layup and then get back. It’s fun.”
Ward did venture out of Florida to sign several impact players, including 6-3 forward Makayla Liles, one of just two sophomores on the team. Liles, who played last season at Motlow College in Tennessee, won four Class 3A state championships in Alabama as a high school player at Lauderdale County High in Rogersville.
“It was pretty cool,” Liles said of her high school team, which set a state record for consecutive victories with 84. “It was a great experience. I loved every minute of it.”
Liles also set a school record last season at Motlow College for blocked shots in a season with 72. Her father, Darin Liles, played at Indiana State in 1987-90 and once faced then-Boston Celtics forward Larry Bird in a pickup game.
“I guarded Larry Bird one time,” said Darin Liles, himself a retired high school basketball coach. “None of the players wanted to guard him. I said, ‘I’ll guard him.’ It’s kind of my claim to fame, I guess.”
Darin Liles said his daughter and Ward were a good fit.
“I’m excited for her,” Liles said of his daughter. “I knew coach Ward when she was at Northwest-Shoals.”
Ward coached at Northwest-Shoals Community College in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, for 16 seasons until the school disbanded its athletics program in 2011 for financial reasons. During that span, she compiled a 384-141 record (.730 winning percentage) and coached a No. 1-ranked team to the national title game, where it lost.
So winning a national title at FSW will be a goal on the table for the Buccaneers.
That’s one of the reasons why Dajsha Hall, a 6-2 forward from Orlando Colonial High, chose FSW over four Division-I college offers.
“100 points a game?” said Hall, who was offered scholarships from FAU, FIU, the University of North Florida and North Carolina A&T. “I’ll try. That’s a possibility. We can do that. When I played in high school, we scored 100 three or four times. My high school team, we were run-and-gun. So I’m kind of used to it.”
Ward said the under-construction arena proved useful as a recruiting tool. She said she’s thrilled with the end result of her roster and looks forward to the fall.
“They all wanted to be part of something new,” Ward said of her recruits. “They wanted to write their own history.”