The Sun's girls basketball players of the year
Published: Friday, March 28, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 8:39 p.m.
There is one place that Hawthorne's Kimesha Mann has been as a basketball player that fellow guard Janiah McKay of Gainesville longs for — a spot in the state tournament.
Mann and her Hornets accomplished that feat this season, going 24-4 and falling just short to Chipley in the Class 1A state semifinals. McKay and the Hurricanes fell short of state for the third straight year, losing a close one at Pensacola Pine Forest in the 6A regional semifinals.
“It is all about learning,” said McKay, The Gainesville Sun's Girls Basketball Big School Player of the Year. “To have this feeling three times, I think the fourth time will be the charm. We are going to do what people don't necessarily expect us to do.”
That certainly was also the case for Mann, a sophomore, who led Hawthorne to its first final four.
“I really didn't think we would make it as far as we did,” said Mann, The Sun's Small School Player of the Year. “We just did our job and did what we were supposed to do.”
Mann averaged 14 points, seven assists and seven steals a game for the Hornets, who won their first 12 games of the season, including a 34-25 win over Chiefland, the Indians' only regular-season loss as they also reached the state tournament. In that game, Mann scored 18 points.
“We have been grooming her since the seventh grade and knew eventually she would take over,” said Hawthorne coach Barry Hutchinson. “I told her in the ninth-grade year toward the end she needed to start thinking that this is her team. I think she grasped to it.”
Mann scored in double figures in 16 of 21 games she played with a season-high 26 points in a win over Hilliard that included hitting on 4-of-5 3-point attempts with seven assists and seven steals.
“She was instrumental in us getting (to the state tournament),” Hutchinson said. “She really sacrificed herself to involve her teammates more. She trusted her teammates. She showed the leadership that we needed her to show to be able to make a run.”
With no seniors on the team, Mann said the Hornets are determined to return to state.
“We just have to work harder,” she said.
McKay, a junior, led the Hurricanes to another outstanding season at 27-3, averaging 23 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists a game. Gainesville had win streaks of 10 to open the season and 15 at the end before losing at Pensacola Pine Forest, 56-53. The two previous seasons, the 'Canes fell at state champion Orlando Edgewater in the regional finals.
“This season we went further than a lot of people would have expected,” said McKay, one of two starters back from 2013's 25-2 team. “This season we really had to grow together as a team. Even though we didn't have the outcome that we wanted, I'm still proud of the team because we still played hard.
“Most of us are returning so I feel next season will be an even better season. We know what it feels like to be so close, only to fall short.”
At the Rob Moramarco Challenge at Buchholz in January, McKay put on a show in back-to-back overtime wins over Fleming Island and Winter Haven, scoring a career-high 38 points then topping herself the next night with 39.
“I look for my teammates first, I try to put them in position to score,” she said. “Anytime it is time to take over the game I will do whatever it takes so we can win.
“When I am playing, I'm not thinking about points. It is mainly about winning for me. It was a surprise when people told me I scored that many. It really doesn't matter if we don't win.”
GHS coach David Gordon was impressed by McKay's leadership.
“She had an outstanding season and showed tremendous leadership to our team,” he said. “She showed a lot of dedication to lead our team as a junior and I'm looking for even better things next season. She does try to get everyone involved in scoring before she starts to take over.”