By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
Come late November, basketball players from all around the county will be doing anything and everything possible to gain an edge over their rivals as the season gets underway.
Long before the craziness is set to commence, however, three local athletes — Cold Springs’ Caitlyn Hall, Cullman’s Baylee Johnson and Holly Pond’s Meg Gambrill — had no problem teaming up for a first-place finish at the AAU National Basketball Tournament in Orlando, Fla., back in early July.
The trio is part of the Southern Starz basketball team, which reeled off seven straight victories to capture the 10th-grade Division II National Championship. The squad scratched and clawed its way through a field of around 30-40 teams to take home the crown. The group also placed ninth in the Division I “Invitational Only” Gold Showcase Tournament.
The Starz defeated teams from all around the country, including squads from Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri and Massachusetts. And, apart from a couple of close wins, the Starz trounced each of their opponents by double dights.
Fred Gilliam took over the coaching duties for Starz just a year ago but has already been blown away by the talent he’s inherited so far — particularly that of Hall, Johnson and Gambrill.
“We added Meg and Baylee this season,” Gilliam said. “They brought a lot to our team with their ability to score and shoot the 3-pointer. Caitlyn was here last year. She’s really come along. She’s a very good shot blocker and rebounder for us.”
While the threesome still has a ways to go in high school and on the basketball court, Gilliam feels each of them have the ability to take their games to the next level.
“I think if they keep working, all three of them have the potential to play some college ball,” he said. “It could be mid-major Division I or Division II. They’ll get some more practice with us in the fall and get looked at by some schools and coaches from around the NCAA.”
Gambrill was one of the biggest contributors on last season’s Bronco squad that finished a school-best 29-6, while garnering a Cullman County Championship, an area title, a Northeast Regional Title and a Class 3A State Final appearance.
As she prepares to enter her junior year, the sweet-shooting guard couldn’t contain her excitement about the accoloades her and her teammates achieved in Orlando.
“It was incredible,” Gambrill said. “I loved being apart of it, and I loved being beside Baylee and Caitlyn as well. It was a national tournament, so I’m really proud of what we were able to do.”
Although the prep season is more than three months away, don’t expect the trio to head into it with much congratulatory cheer.
With the three respective county schools expected to make runs at the postseason, the level of Twitter and text messaging trash talk is surely to be on the rise as they inch closer and closer to tip-off.
“I love the competition between us and the schools,” Gambrill said. “We’re all close friends, but we’ll definitely smack talk each other when the time comes.”
As the girls prepare for their junior seasons, Gilliam hopes they can build off the Starz’ successful summer play and round out their games even more when they return next year.
“They all work hard and listen,” he said. “Very bright girls that pick up things quickly. We look forward to having them back.”
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.