Talented senior Imani Tilford and the rest of the Woodlands girls basketball team returned home from former WNBA player Tina Thompson’s She Got Game Classic in Forestville, Md., with another devastating loss in mid-December.
The Falcons were shocked by the terrible 1-5 start to their season. A 44-point loss in Maryland to Capitol Christian Academy, a team loaded with Division I prospects, was the final straw for Tilford.
This week’s Con Edison Athlete of the Week contacted Woodlands coach Tyron Postell and requested a players-only meeting upon the team’s return. At the time, the senior captain wasn’t known for vocalizing her thoughts.
The 15 to 20 minutes she spent addressing the team before the next practice, however, changed the Falcons’ fortunes. They now sit with a 10-10 record and await Tuesday’s Section 1 Class B semifinal matchup against Briarcliff at the Westchester County Center. The “talk” became the turning point of the season.
“We had to stay together as a team, and I felt it was necessary,” said Tilford, who has created a Big Sister Club within the basketball program for varsity players to mentor up-and-coming players. “It made us become closer and believe to fight for each other. … We are sisters.”
Woodlands went on a four-game winning streak immediately after the closed-door meeting, which has placed Tilford at the forefront as the team’s vocal leader — something Postell had been encouraging the Georgia Tech scholarship signee to become.
Postell was proud of Tilford for placing higher expectations on her teammates. He noticed the team’s focus has been sharper since the meeting. The Falcons started to translate successful practices into their games. Executing the game plan became more prevalent.
Postell and Jacqueline Tilford, Imani’s mother, had conversations about Imani’s killer instinct. The two believed she was capable of being a dynamic leader, but knew it was up to her to demonstrate it.
“It kind of began with that game,” Postell said about the matchup against Capital Christian Academy. “She had gotten into foul trouble, and during a timeout she had told them, ‘You guys have to play tough without me. I’m not going to join you guys until the second half.’
“She definitely has the eye of the tiger now.”
In her first two postseason games, Tilford went on a tear, averaging 28.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 2.0 blocks.
Now it’s No. 3-seeded Briarcliff standing in the way. A year ago, the Bears sent Woodlands home in the first round of the playoffs with a one-point loss on a buzzer-beater.
“I would love nothing more than to take them out,” said Tilford, who takes honors courses in English, history and college math. “I would be doing it for all my teammates who were here last year.”