Rogers coach Lamar Smith directs Sasha Dailey. The Rams played some of the nation’s top teams this week at a tournament in Naples, Fla.
THE BLADE/LORI KING
A day after Rogers went up to Detroit and scored a 66-38 victory over Flint Southwestern, Rams girls basketball coach Lamar Smith had team back on their home court for a two-hour practice.
The lopsided win in the Motor City Roundball Classic a day after Christmas didn’t earn any time off. Another trip was just ahead.
The Rams flew Sunday to Florida to play in the prestigious Naples Holiday Shootout, a tournament with 20 top-rated teams from across the country.
Rogers (9-1), the only Ohio team at the event, won its opening game 55-41 over Knoxville Christian, then beat Louisville Sacred Heart 48-44. The Rams, scheduled to return home today, played Wednesday night in the tourney final.
“We’re down there for business,” Smith said. “We’re down there to play basketball, and that’s our No. 1 goal. We’re there to represent Ohio. We’re down there to play tough competition and to get us ready, and it will help us out for [state] tournament time.”
Preparations began nearly a year ago when the Rams received an invitation from a Naples tournament official. The team held a fundraising project and received funds from a number of local businesses to help pay for the trip. The Rams also raised nearly $3,000 on their own with events like free-throw shoot-a-thon.
“It took a lot of work and a lot of dedication from the girls to prepare for it because this was a big thing to go to,” Smith said. “The girls also had to fund-raise, and Toledo Public Schools helped us out a lot. I’m really proud of the support we had from the district.”
With five players who have verbally committed to play basketball at a Division I college, Smith believes the trip will serve multiple purposes.
The Rams will face top competition and benefit from the time being together.
“This is huge because some of the girls had never been on a plane before,” Smith said. “This prepares some of them for college and what it’s going to be like being away from home and traveling. We were looking forward to it and getting to be in some nice weather.”
Seniors Sasha Dailey, Tori Easley, Marquelle Williams, and Jasmyne Smith; sophomores Akienreh Johnson and Keasja Peace, and freshman Brelynn Hampton-Bey make up the core for a team that draws plenty of attention from college coaches and scouts.
Dailey and Easley have signed letters of intent to attend Eastern Michigan. Williams will play at Lamar, while Johnson and Hampton-Bey have verbally committed to attend Michigan. Peace and Smith are being recruited by several colleges, but neither has made a commitment.
“This means we came a long way,” Dailey said, regarding the offer to play in the Florida-based tournament. “We started from the bottom and we’re making our way to the top. They said this was not a vacation, but a business trip.”
Dailey leads the Rams with a 10.4 scoring average while grabbing 4.1 rebounds per game. Johnson averages 10.0 points and 5.2 rebounds, while Peace has accounted for 8.6 points and 4.6 boards to help lead a balanced attack that includes six players averaging at least 7.0 points.
Jasmyne Smith, Lamar’s daughter, thinks the midseason trip will have a lasting effect on the team. The Rams’ only loss (before flying to Florida) is a 56-50 setback to Notre Dame.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for our team,” said Jasmyne, who averages 7.0 points and 3.4 assists. “Just being invited is a big deal. It will bring us closer as a team and build our team chemistry.
“It always matters how you do in a tournament, but the experience of playing against top-ranked teams is going to better us for our future state run.”
The Rams’ coach also sees the trip as one that helps put Toledo girls basketball on the map.
“It’s huge for our school and huge for Toledo Public Schools to represent in this type of tournament,” Lamar Smith said.