The minute he stepped in the Scotland High School gym to address his players for the first time, lady Scots’ basketball coach David Johnson told his players to look at the banners lining the walls.
“I told them that there hadn’t been a banner hung up for the girl’s basketball team in years,” said Johnson, who is entering his fifth season as the head coach of the lady Scots. Prior to his tenure at Scotland, Johnson had led the St. Andrews University Lady Knights to their first-ever playoff playoff appearance and still remains their all-time winningest coach.
“We knew we had to change that if we wanted to compete against the teams out there in Fayetteville, which has always been our goal,” he said.
Not only had the lady Scots not won a conference championship since the 1981-82 season, the team also failed to make a postseason appearance in 15 years before Johnson took the helm. But that all changed in 2007-08, Johnson’s first year coaching the Scots, as the team did away with its’ playoff stigma and finished the season with a 17-8 record.
The team hasn’t missed a postseason berth since. And when the dust settled on the 2011-12 regular season, the lady Scots finally got to witness a banner of their own added to the growing collection of Scotland’s athletic accomplishments. Last season, the lady Scots finished 21-7 (9-1 in the conference) and earned their first Southeastern Conference tournament victory in 30 years.
But that wasn’t good enough for the lady Scots, who had their sights set on matching the football team’s 2011 dream season with a 4A state championship. That quest promptly ended in the third round of the 4A state playoffs after suffering a 25-point loss to South View, a Fayetteville powerhouse program that reflects the type of team that Johnson and lady Scots aspire to match.
“We felt like our season was incomplete after that loss,” said Scotland swing forward Jonissa Monley, who was named the Southeastern Conference player of the year last season. Monley averaged 16 points and 13 rebounds per-game throughout the 2011-12 season.
“This team has been together for years, and every day I think about these past years and everything we’ve gone through as a team. I appreciate the individual awards, but a state championship would feel a whole lot better,” she said.
With 95% of last season’s team returning, all signs point towards the 2012-13 season being another banner year for the lady Scots. Loaded top to bottom with talent and depth, this year’s Scotland squad features players that have placed a premium on scrappy, team-oriented defense and rebounding. Averaging nine rebounds per-game last season, forward Quintavia Deberry is touted as “the best rebounder in the conference” by Johnson, and is called upon to provide a hard-nosed spark off the bench as Scotland’s sixth-man. D’andra Spinks is also another defensive stopper for the Scots, while fellow starter Tykera Johnson has matured into a three-point specialist for the team, tasked with removing a sizable chunk of the offensive burden off of Monley’s shoulders.
However, the best example of Scotland’s toughness perhaps comes in the form of senior starting point guard Ariel Ratcliff, who suffered an ACL and meniscus injury her sophomore season that could’ve spelled the end of her playing career. Not only did she fully recover from the setback, Ratcliff bounced back five months later and finished her junior season by averaging 10 points, eight assists, six rebounds and six steals a game.
“Like our coach says, the basketball season doesn’t start in October for us,” said Ratcliff, who traveled with her teammates this past summer to more than a half-dozen basketball camps throughout the Carolinas. During their time at the camps, the Lady Scots faced a slew of high school, prep school and AAU programs that they wouldn’t have encountered during a normal season.
“Basketball means everything to me, and even though we accomplished a goal last season that this team hasn’t accomplished in years, our loss to South View motivated us to go harder than ever this season,” she said.
A recurring theme on the lady Scots’ squad this season is upperclassmen, of which nearly the entire starting lineup is comprised. And Johnson remembers all of them from when he first accepted the head coaching position at SHS in 2007, when he was greeted with a team compiled of nearly all seniors as well.
Players like MonleyandRatcliff were in middle school at the time, and when Johnson began to glimpse towards the future of his basketball program, he got to glimpse these players for the very first time.
“When I saw them play basketball at the middle school level, I knew we’d just be fine,” Johnson said. “They are the best group of players I’ve ever had in my 13 years of being a head coach, and I feel that this is what we’ve been building for as a team.”
Even with an abundance of senior leadership, the lady Scots will have one underclassman taking the floor as a starter this season. She is 6’0” sophomore center Destiny Campbell, who will provide an interior presence that will allow Monley to transition back into the open-court, where she is most comfortable.
Campbell played limited minutes as a starter in 2011-12 and has developed into a full-time starting center for a Scotland team on the brink of unprecedented success. And looking at her rapid maturation as a player, Campbell credits her coach and teammates for grooming her into a current and future pillar of the team.
“My teammates really helped me develop my game in my freshman year,” Campbell said. “I look up to all of them, and I’m looking forward to playing with this team and improving on last season.”