November 14, 2012 10:41:15 PM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Glenn Schmidt knows there are plenty of similarities between Anna Lea Little and Maggie Proffitt.
The first is easy. Both players are transfers to Starkville Academy. Little came to the school from Starkville Christian, while Proffitt transferred from Columbus High School.
Little and Proffitt make the second point similarity -- shooting the basketball -- look easy. The fact that the 5-foot-11 Little and the 5-9 Proffitt can deliver daggers from well beyond the 3-point lane in only part of their games. The hard work and hours spent in the gym perfecting that skill is the part Schmidt likes the most.
"They have dedicated themselves to what they're doing since a very early age," Schmidt said. "That is a great thing. You don't have to do that to be really good at what you do, but they are beyond good at what they do. They are very dedicated, they know the game, they understand the game, they can shoot, and it is obvious these days it takes a lot of hours to develop that."
When you take all three of those pieces, you get a fourth similarity that crystallized Wednesday morning with signing ceremonies to announce the college destinations of Proffitt (the University of Central Arkansas) and Little (Arkansas Tech University).
Schmidt said basketball just happens to be the course Little and Proffitt focused their passion on. She said both players would have been successful in any endeavor because they work hard, are great role models, and even better young women. She knows Little and Proffitt will be successful taking their games from the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools to NCAA Division II.
"They already have experienced the hard work and dedication it takes," Schmidt said. "When you tell them we're going to get up at 6 a.m. and practice, or we're going to get up at 6 a.m. and lift weight, they have done that and know the importance of it. My guess is they will be the first ones there every day trying to get better. I think they have prepared themselves for the strenuous academic and athletic life they are about to face."
Proffitt played at Heritage Academy before transferring to Columbus High. Last season, she helped lead the Lady Falcons on a deep run into the Mississippi High School Activities Association 6A North State playoffs. This season, she hopes the success she had on the Amateur Athletic Union circuit with the Kenner (La.) Angels in the summer will give her added experience to mix in with a solid nucleus with the Lady Volunteers.
Last month, Proffitt said she liked first-year UCA coach Sandra Rushing and assistant coaches Destinee Rogers and Shameka Russell. She also liked the size of Conway, Ark., which is known as "The City of Colleges." Conway also is home to Central Baptist College and Hendrix College. She said Wednesday that her signing ceremony allows her to complete the recruiting process so she can focus on her final prep season.
"It kind of hit me that it is actually done," Proffitt said. "It is exciting to get it all finished and to know I am sure where I am going now."
Last season, UCA went 24-7 and lost to Oklahoma State University in the first round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament. Rushing takes over the program after spending the past 10 seasons at Division II Delta State University in Cleveland. She had a 254-58 record in that span, and led the program to eight NCAA tournaments and six Gulf South Conference titles. Rushing hopes to help the program build on a 2011-12 season in which the Sugar Bears went 16-0 and won the Southland Conference regular-season title in their sixth year as a Division I program.
"I feel like I have been in high school forever," Proffitt said. "I am definitely looking forward to going to college and getting to the next level and competing at that level. I plan to work hard, and I think I will do well if I work hard."
Little played a key role on the Starkville Academy team that swept to three championships, including the Class AAA crown and the overall title. She has selected a school in Russellville, Ark., with a program, coached by Dave Wilbers, that advanced to the Elite Eight of the Division II NCAA tournament in 2009-10 and 2010-11. Arkansas Tech went 22-4 last season and won the Great American Conference, but failed to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. The team has been ranked in the Women's Basketball Coaches Association poll for 43 consecutive weeks, which is the fourth-longest streak in Division II.
Little said she made a verbal commitment to Arkansas Tech a couple of weeks ago after visiting the school last month. Her connection to Arkansas Tech dates to two summers ago when she went to the school to attend a basketball camp. She said her cousin, Lauren Ward, knew the assistant coach, which helped her go to the camp.
"I loved it," Little said. "It really was my first experience having somebody interested in me as a school. That was exciting. It is a beautiful area and a really good team and a really good coach. I liked it a lot."
Little said she has matured as a player and has learned not to worry about how she plays all the time. She said that wasn't the case when she was younger. Now, though, she doesn't out too much pressure on herself and to relax so she can enjoy playing the game she loves.
After playing at a high level in high school and on the Amateur Athletic Union circuit, she is eager to take the next step.
"The coach thought I could step in and compete for playing time ," Little said. "I just want to do whatever I can and be the best player I can be. I know it is going to be a big adjustment, but I figure if I work hard and try my best I will adjust."
Schmidt has that confidence, too. She has seen both players in action for a number of years and feels both players will be able to add another similarity to their list in another four years.
"They are two pretty special youngsters," Schmidt said. "I am glad they came our way."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.