April 24, 2010 11:12:00 PM
WEST POINT -- Sometimes, toughness is ingrained in a player.
Growing up in a large family of boys and as a self-proclaimed "country girl," West Point High School point guard Kelsei Ewings has turned what usually is a disadvantage into a weapon.
At 5-foot-5, Ewings is used to being one of the shortest players on the court. But while height typically is coveted at every position, Ewings'' blend of speed, vision, shooting, and grit has given West Point coach Jemmye Ann Helms a dynamic weapon the past three years.
Ewings averaged 22 points, five assists, four rebounds, and five steals a game this season, leading the Lady Wave to a 17-7 record and a spot in the first round of the Class 5A North Half State playoffs, where they lost to Yazoo City.
For her accomplishments, Ewings is The Commercial Dispatch''s Large Schools Girls Player of the Year.
Ewings'' brilliance in the open court was a nightmare to defend, especially with the inside-out combination she formed with forward Kourtney Crowley, a member of The Dispatch''s All-Area second team.
To Ewings, running the fast break and handling Helms'' offense was just like being at home.
"I would play football and every other sport (the family''s boys) would play," Ewings said. "I didn''t want the boys to beat me, so I had to run faster to catch them. I increased my speed all my years."
Playing with the boys helped Ewings develop toughness because she always was the smallest player in every competition. She didn''t know that would be the case once she started playing high school basketball, but by then she had realized she had an advantage in skill and quickness that negated any limitations her height might impose on her game.
"That''s why I''m not afraid of anybody," Ewings said. "People tell me, ''You got to go up against this person'' or ''She''s five or six this.'' I take it like she''ll be a threat to me but I''m not afraid just because I''m small. I''ve had that experience before from being in the yard and playing with the boys."
Ewings dropped 30 points against Starkville High in the season opener, 31 and 24 in games against Noxubee County, and 24 in a loss to New Hope in the district championship game.
Helms believes Ewings should have averaged close to 30 points this season. She is adamant the killer instinct Ewings shows for most of the game will make her an even more explosive and prolific player.
"She''s always had the ability to take over the game, and she needs to be more aggressive," Helms said. "I felt like she could have had a lot more and-ones than she did. Sometimes she''s hesitant to take over trying to make the extra pass, or just being conscious of how many shots she''s taken or how much she''s had the ball."
Ewings appreciates Helms'' honesty and said it always has been there in a relationship forged when Ewings started on the varsity team as a freshman. Initially, Ewings was tentative when she walked in the gym and heard from the other players "You''re a freshman, you''re not supposed to be here."
But Helms, then in her first year at West Point High, saw Ewings'' potential and realized she needed to get her freshman more experience. She assured Ewings practicing with the varsity team is what she wanted, and after starting as the two guard Ewings was starting point guard by the next game.
"On the court, she pushes me," Ewings said. "She sees the littlest things, like if I don''t get back on defense or if I let somebody guard me. She''ll get in my face because she knows I can take it. I can always talk to her and she''s going to always keep it real with me."
Helms said she pushes Ewings because she''s convinced she can play at the Division I level, despite the misconceptions about small guards. Ewings said she often hears Helms compare her to college and WNBA players. She said she does it positively and to motivate her when she isn''t playing up to her usual level.
Ewings will attend junior camps at Mississippi State, Southern Miss, and Vanderbilt, and she has had interest from USM and a film request from Vanderbilt.
"She has a good shot (at making it to the Division I level," Helms said. "I have seen a lot of point guards and two guards in Division I that are small. I used to worry about her height being a negative just with her signing (a scholarship), but you look at (Mississippi State guard) Alexis Rack (5-foot-7) and she''s not that tall. Kelsei will gain weight naturally when she goes to college, and in the weight room here I think we can put some more pounds on her. It will help her a lot. She has range now and she''s not very big. Watching the (NCAA) tournament, I think she can play with anybody."
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