Blackman girls reload for title defense

Blackman girls reload for title defense

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Blackman girls reload for title defense

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Two Blackman High players wait to start a drill. The Lady Blaze have won the past two Class AAA state titles.

Two Blackman High players wait to start a drill. The Lady Blaze have won the past two Class AAA state titles.

Blackman's Taylor Freeman, left, dribbles upcourt against Blackman's Jaleah Goff during practice Monday.

Blackman’s Taylor Freeman, left, dribbles upcourt against Blackman’s Jaleah Goff during practice Monday.

Blackman senior Crystal Dangerfield, right, points out something to senior teammate Jazz Bond during Monday's practice. The two are four-year starters for the Lady Blaze.

Blackman senior Crystal Dangerfield, right, points out something to senior teammate Jazz Bond during Monday’s practice. The two are four-year starters for the Lady Blaze.

MURFREESBORO — Crystal Dangerfield was the first player to arrive Monday morning for the first TSSAA day of high school basketball practice.

It was like Christmas in November for the reigning Miss Basketball and Connecticut commitment.

“I beat the coaches here this morning,” Dangerfield said. “I didn’t say anything about it, but I was like, ‘Wow, I’m here before you.’ I got up at 5:10 and got here by 5:50.”

Blackman first-year coach Jessica Jackson arrived a few minutes later for the 6:30 a.m. practice. The Lady Blaze returned to the court later in the day, after school. They will have two-a-days all week.

Blackman is the two-time defending TSSAA Class AAA girls basketball state champion and attempting to become the first Class AAA girls program to win three in a row since Shelbyville won four straight from 1989-92 under current MTSU women’s coach Rick Insell.

However, state championships were not part of the discussion on Monday. Fundamentals and finding ways to score were spoken about at length.

If Blackman is to become the first Rutherford County girls basketball team to win three straight, the Lady Blaze must find more firepower.

Blackman graduated 34.0 points per game from last year’s squad, which included four players that are now playing Division I college basketball.

Former center Alex Johnson, who was second on the team with 14.6 points per game, is now at MTSU. Tennessee freshman Meme Jackson averaged 9.3 points a game last season. Georgia State freshman KK Williams averaged 7.8 points and Western Carolina freshman Angel Allen averaged 2.3 points off the bench.

“I haven’t looked and counted the point totals we lost last year,” said Jackson, who moved over from Stewarts Creek High School with the offseason departure of former coach Chad Hibdon. “There is a lot of talent in here. But they didn’t get a lot of varsity time because they had such a strong bunch.”

Blackman girls basketball coach Jessica Jackson talks to her team after practice Monday night on the first day of practice.

Blackman girls basketball coach Jessica Jackson talks to her team after practice Monday night on the first day of practice.

Jackson, who was at Blackman as an assistant for several years prior to becoming the first Stewarts Creek coach in 2013, is one of four new girls basketball coaches in District 7-AAA this season.

Lindy King, who won a Class AA state title at M.L. King, replaced Jackson at Stewarts Creek. Bud Brandon, who won multiple state titles at Wilson Central, is now the coach at Smyrna. Randy Coffman left Dyersburg to take over at Riverdale.

“I wouldn’t say this was too different than past (first days),” said senior Jazz Bond, a 6-foot-3 forward and South Florida commitment. “It was a little more emotional. There are some similarities because coach (Jackson) was with coach Hibdon. But there are some differences.”

Despite losing three starters, Jackson has two key players coming back in Dangerfield and Bond. Mia Greatrex and Jada Hughes also saw significant playing time off the bench as post players, and Taylor Freeman appears ready to step into a guard spot.

“I’m really looking forward to this season,” Freeman said.

That, though, didn’t make it easier to get out of bed Monday for that first practice.

“I’m one of those people that like to sleep in late,” she said.

Reach Tom Kreager at 615-278-5168 and on Twitter @Kreager.

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