For the third time in three years, Phil Helmuth was looking for a girls basketball coach.
This time, however, he took a baseball mindset. On top of the list for Helmuth, the athletic director at Booker High, was Shantia Grace, who left Riverview High as the highest scorer in program history.
But Grace had a job coaching at Dunedin and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to get her.
“I thought, ‘Let’s swing for the fences,’ ” Helmuth said.
He connected. On Friday, Helmuth announced Grace has been tabbed to run Booker’s girls basketball program. She replaces Loy Moore, who stepped down after one season.
“We feel very fortunate, very excited,” Helmuth said. “She’s got a vision, she played at a high level, understands the game. I think she’ll be a great leader for our program.
“She’s probably one of the biggest names to come out of the area for basketball in the last 10, 15 years.”
Grace’s 2,446 points are the most any player, boy or girl, has scored at Riverview. She lead the Rams to the Class 6A state semifinals as a senior in 2005, the same year she was one of 50 finalists for the Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year Award. Grace enjoyed similar success at the University of South Florida, where she ranks first all-time in assists (610), second in points (1,941) and seventh in steals (194). She was named to three All-Big East teams and helped the Bulls win the Women’s NIT in 2009.
“I actually wanted to come over and work at Booker. It’s an honor,” Grace said. “I love the school, I respect the school and its history. Most of my family went to Booker.”
The Tornadoes won 21 games and a district title last year under Moore. Though Grace was coaching her own team in Dunedin, she got to see a few Booker games because her niece, Jamiyah Jones, was a senior on the team.
Booker is set to return nine of 15 players who helped the Tornadoes reach the second round of the Class 5A-Region 3 tournament.
“They have a ton of talent,” Grace said. “It’s just about building on what they already know and being there for them. I think that’s the most important thing — letting the girls know you’re there for them.”
Helmuth said Grace will work on campus during the school year, though all the details haven’t been ironed out yet. For now, Grace plans on using the summer to get a jump on the season.
“I want to get the girls together, just for the girls to get to know who I am,” she said. “And so I can get to know the girls outside of basketball. Building relationships is important. Summer is going to be key for everyone to get individually better as well as team-wise.”