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Girls basketball player of the year: Alexa Middleton


1:00 AM, Apr. 06, 2013 EDT

On a team that started five 1,000 career-point scorers, standing out offensively wasn't easy.

Alexa Middleton led back-to-back Class AAA champion Riverdale in scoring but also found other ways to contribute.

Those other ways are why the junior guard is The Tennessean 2013 girls basketball player of the year.

"Whatever we needed her to do at that moment is what she did," first-year Riverdale coach Cory Barrett said. "If she needed to make the pass, she made the pass. If she needed to make a steal, she got the steal. If she needed to get a rebound, she got the rebound. Dive on the floor. There was nothing she couldn't do."

Although she does it all -- averaging 3.8 assists and 2.5 steals along with 16.2 points per game -- shooting is what she's done the longest.

"When she was 3 years old, her older brother, Killen, played," recalled Celeste Middleton, who played at Oakland and at Lipscomb in the 1980s. "She would stay outside in the cold, on the adjustable goal, and continually try to get the ball up over that rim. We'd lower the rim for her a little, to eight feet.

"She played in a league when she was 4. She just had a desire, and she was disciplined. We may have had a lot of the same heart and desire, but her skill level is off the charts compared to when I played."

Shooting 37 percent from 3-point range, Middleton hit a team-leading 62 3s for the season and had at least one in 27 of Riverdale's 35 games -- including a season-high seven in the Lady Warriors' sectional win over White County.

"She's the hardest worker I've ever been around," Barrett said. "I try to tell her she needs to take some time off, but she's always in the gym."

While she's worked with various instructors on her shooting technique, including former Boston Celtics guard Dee Brown, a lot of what Middleton brings to the court stems from her mental approach.

"It didn't matter who they were playing, she played at the same level of intensity," said Memphis Central coach Niki Bray, whose team lost to Riverdale twice, including the semifinals. "That's hard to instill in your players, but she has a great passion for the game.

"Everyone knows she's such a prolific shooter, but she has such a great impact in so many areas on the floor. Breaking film down and preparing for them, she's the one who gives me the biggest headaches (figuring) how to slow her down. I feel her energy really takes them to another level."

For Middleton, having played so long with her current teammates in one setting or another -- youth leagues, summer ball, etc. -- has helped form a chemistry that results in a perceived sixth sense between them.

"We just know where each other is on the court," she said. "You get to make those fun plays. I like making the good pass more than hitting the good shot, and it just comes from playing with each other, knowing who can do what and who will be where.

"You get so much credibility from playing with this team, but when it comes to individual awards, there are so many people on the team that can get those awards. But we all know it's the team that matters the most."

RECENT GIRLS BASKETBALL PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

RECENT GIRLS BASKETBALL PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

2012: Shacobia Barbee, Riverdale

2011: Shacobia Barbee, Riverdale

2010: Shacobia Barbee, Riverdale

2009: Jasmine Hassell, Wilson Central

2008: Jasmine Hassell, Wilson Central

 

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