Few teams in the state have a better guard combination in girls basketball than does Harrison High School.
That’s why seniors Kristen Nelson and Amber Stephens are the core of the team and will be the key to how successful the Hawks are.
Both begin their fourth season as varsity staters and have earned multiple all-Observer honors in their prep careers.
“They’re going to be prime leaders for us on and off the court,” first-year coach Allen Walker said. “They’ll give guidance to the younger players, and it’s starting to show now.”
Nelson, who signed with Southern Illinois, averaged 14.4 points, five assists, four rebounds, three steals and two blocks last season during a stellar junior season.
Stephens is an all-round player who can and will have to do a little of everything, too. She would’ve had similar numbers if not for a mid-season knee injury.
Stephens, who plays at the front of the press and is great at forcing turnovers, has made a full recovery, according to Walker.
“She played well in our five-way scrimmage and has not had any setbacks,” he said.
Stephens also had Division I offers from many Mid-American Conference schools, but she liked Wayne State and signed with the Division II Warriors.
“I think she was more comfortable with the style Wayne State plays,” Walker said, adding the school is a good fit academically for Stephens and her career goal.
The Hawks (13-9) also return junior guard Nyla Warren, sophomore guard Khyra King, sophomore post Olivia Perkins and junior wing Ayo-Ola Sobawale.
Warren became a starter and played well, following the injury to Stephens. The same was true for the 5-foot-8 Perkins after senior center Kyla Roland (Davidson College) was hurt and missed most of the season.
“Olivia is outsized but handles the post well,” Walker said. “She’s probably the strongest screener I’ve seen. She uses the body very well and is a very strong individual.”
Warren, who can shoot the three, and Perkins are capable of scoring in double figures on any given night. They and 5-8 senior forward Imari Williams complete the starting lineup.
Williams played as a freshman at West Bloomfield and has been in the Harrison program for two years. Two knee injuries have kept her on the sideline, however.
“Her game is her outside shooting,” Walker said. “A lot of teams will be surprised that she can shoot. She had four or five threes (in the scrimmage).”
Sophomore guard Teddi Pickens moved to the varsity at the end of last season and is another good outside shooter.
“She can stroke it; she has very good accuracy,” Walker said. “She’s very active defensively. I think she’s going to add a lot for us in the open court.”
The other new players are juniors McKenzie Jones and Brianna Foster and sophomores Moya Jones and Kayla Lawrence. All four played on the JV team with Pickens.
With a lot of guards and not a lot of height, the Hawks will continue to do what they have done and push the ball.
“As a whole, we’re a really quick team,” Walker said. “We’re looking to run and spread the floor. We want to get into transition off steals and made baskets.”
With nobody taller than 5-8, rebounding will have to be a team effort, he added.
“Offensively, we’ll send four girls to glass, and we’ll be sending all five on defense,” Walker said. “We have to use the body to box out and try to be physical. If not, we’re going to get ourebounded every game.”
Defending champion Southfield-Lathrup returns four of five starters, but Walker looks for the Hawks, who were 3-7 in the OAA Red Division, to be a contender.
“We’re going to be a smaller team, but we have quickness and good outside shooting,” he said. “I think we can compete with Lathrup and just about any team in the league.
“With the style we’re playing, I think we can give Lathrup some matchup situations they might not be comfortable with.”
In the previous 17 seasons, Walker has been the girls freshman coach at Notre Dame Prep, boys varsity assistant at Troy and girls varsity head coach at Franklin Road Christian.
The Hawks begin the season Tuesday at home in a non-league game with Livonia Stevenson.
“My expectation is to compete in every game and compete for a league championship,” Walker said. “I think we can compete with any team as long as we’re on top of our game.”