James, Powell earn nods as county’s top girls basketball players

John Patton/Correspondent
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West Port’s Sydney James is one of the Ocala Star-Banner’s Girls Basketball Co-Players of the Year. The Furman signee averaged 21 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 3.6 apg, 3.3 spg and 2.5 bpg. [Submitted photo]

Sydney James says her favorite basketball player is Steph Curry and that she models her game after Kevin Durant.

But watch the West Port senior guard/forward play, and the 6-foot Furman signee’s stat-sheet-filling numbers often look like those of someone who shares a last name with her.

Not saying she’s LeBron (only one is), but Sydney James will leave Marion County with 19 double-doubles and three triple-doubles (points, rebounds and steals) as a senior, and she missed a quadruple-double by one assist against North Marion on Dec. 17 (she also had six blocked shots that night).

En route to averaging 21 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 3.6 apg, 3.3 spg and 2.5 bpg, the McDonald’s All-American nominee scored at least 24 points in half of the Wolf Pack’s 26 contests this year. She also pulled down at least 15 rebounds eight times (twice with 20-plus) and added four games with at least eight steals and two more with at least eight assists, as well as four contests with five or more blocks.

A transfer from Trinity Catholic (where she was the Star-Banner’s player of the year as a sophomore), James led WPHS (15-11) in scoring, 3-pointers, free throws made, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

The rare athlete who can comfortably suit up and stand out at all five positions, James is as well-rounded as a basketball.

Despite those lofty numbers, fellow player of the year Nasia Powell of Vanguard said what impresses her most about James can’t be measured by a box score.

“She’s a go-getter,” said Powell, a junior guard. “She’s very competitive. She plays until the very end and does not give up.”

James said that while she knows her next step is Furman, where she expects to be a shooting guard/small forward and study health sciences, the coronavirus pandemic has her unsure when that will be. The hope is June, but until then, in addition to binge watching “Grey’s Anatomy”, she said she is doing drills daily to improve her game.

“I’m working out, trying to stay ready,” said James, who added she is really going to miss staying in hotels with West Port teammates on road trips. “I’m going to be prepared when we get the call (to come to school).”

Powell looking to the future amid uncertainty

The coronavirus has slowed down everyone’s lives, but to Nasia Powell, that hardly means the world has stopped.

No, the 5-foot-6 junior combination guard from Vanguard said she has kept busy with school assignments and working on strength, conditioning and her shooting at the indoor court she has in her home.

And, oh yeah, just a couple of weeks ago, Powell announced she had committed to UNC-Greensboro over scholarship offers from Florida A&M, North Florida, Wichita State and Jacksonville.

She said deciding early wasn’t about taking any added pressure off entering her senior season. Actually, the time was just right.

“I just felt in my heart that it was the place I felt I should be,” Powell said. “(I loved the) atmosphere. It felt like home over there.”

But before moving eight hours north, Powell said she has work to do with the Knights.

Behind Powell’s 24.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.8 rpg and 3.4 spg, Vanguard finished 16-9 and reached the second round of the FHSAA Class 5A playoffs. That was enough to help Powell share the Star-Banner’s 2019-20 player of the year award with West Port senior swingman Sydney James.

“She knows how to score well,” James said of Powell, who already is fourth on VHS’s career points list. “She’s unafraid. She is really good at going out and getting (baskets) no matter how she has to.”

Powell said much of that fearlessness comes from watching her four favorite players - Ja Morant, LeBron James, Maya Moore and Kobe Bryant. She said her will to win will be evident next season on a team that will return its top five scorers.

“We have to win our district in order to have home court advantage (in the FHSAA regional playoffs),” Powell said. “We need to play together and lay it on the line.”

One person who will be missing from next year’s schedule will be James, who has signed a letter of intent with Furman. But that will be just a one-season hiccup in a rivalry that saw James win the Star-Banner’s player of the year award two seasons ago, Powell win it last year and both split it this season.

UNC-Greensboro won the Southern Conference this past season and the Paladins finished tied for third. So, Powell and James will have a pair of regular-season contests and possibly a conference tournament game to face off again beginning in about 18 months.

Powell already has a headline in mind because some rivalries end, while others can’t help but continue even if the location and level of play changes.

“We meet again,” Powell said.



Sydney James, West Port, Sr. -- Furman signee averaged 21 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 3.6 apg, 3.3 spg and 2.5 bpg

Nasia Powell, Vanguard, Jr. -- UNC-Greensboro commit averaged 24.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.8 apg and 3.4 spg

Erianna Williams, North Marion, Jr. -- Averaged 10.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.6 apg and 0.9 spg for the district champs

Katie Tagliaferro, St. John, So. -- Averaged 24.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 5.6 spg, 2.0 apg and 1.9 bpg for the Saints

K’mari Williams, Dunnellon, Fr. -- Averaged 18.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.2 spg, 1.5 apg and 0.9 bpg in her first varsity season

Delaney Baker, Meadowbrook, 7th -- Averaged 15.8 ppg, 3 rpg and 3 spg for a team that made its first playoff appearance in 10 years

Nikaejah Green, Lake Weir, Jr. -- Averaged 12 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.4 spg and 2.3 apg for a 20-win team

Jayce Williams, West Port, So. -- Averaged 8.1 ppg, 3.9 apg, 2.5 rpg, 2.2 spg and 0.4 bpg for a team unbeaten against county foes


Shakira Preston, Vanguard, Jr. -- Averaged 5.9 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 1.9 spg, 500+ career rebounds for the Knights

Jakecea Rodriguez, Vanguard, Jr. -- Averaged 8.7 ppg, 2.7 spg and 2.4 apg for the second-round playoff team

Victoria Wilson, North Marion, Sr. -- Averaged 9.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.4 bpg and 1.0 spg for the district champions

Renea Brant, North Marion, So. -- Averaged 9.3 ppg, 3.4 apg, 2.3 spg and 1.8 rpg for the district champs

Joscelyn Mike, West Port, Jr. -- Averaged 5.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.1 spg for the county’s top team

Victoria Rubio, St. John, Sr. -- Averaged 10.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.5 spg, 2.5 apg and 1.2 bpg for the Saints

Savana Shelor, Belleview, So. -- Averaged 10.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.3 spg, 2.0 apg and 0.6 bpg for the Rattlers

Nataya McGee, Lake Weir, So. -- Averaged 7.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.9 spg and 1.7 apg for a 20-win team


BELLEVIEW: Nicole Cumbus; DUNNELLON: Gugulethu Sigogo, Mya Taylor; FOREST: Kailey Tucker, Delana Neal; HEART: Shelby Bagley, Alyssa Keister, Abbey Keister; MEADOWBROOK: Angel Ross, Cianna Parchment; NORTH MARION: Brooke McConnell, Enia Williams, Jermaya Jackson; REDEEMER: Becca DiBlasi, Laine Burgin; VANGUARD: N’Yanni Washington, JaDah Kingcade, SiaDeriona Oliver, Quanteria Allen; WEST PORT: Nya Brigham, DD Murry, Lataija Heyward

The Ocala Star-Banner all-county girls basketball teams and players of the year were selected by writer John Patton with help from area coaches. If a team is not represented, it is because the coach did not respond to repeated emails sent to the school requesting information. Some players listed were nominated by opposing coaches.

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