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The Herald picks its all-area basketball teams

Shelton made her mark

Kelia Shelton, The Herald's All-Area Girls Basketball Player of the Year, burst onto the varsity scene as a Northwestern freshman with an anchor around her neck.

Shelton was, some said, the second coming of York Comprehensive's Ivory Latta. While she appreciated the comparison, Shelton had never thought of filling the shoes of Latta, who rewrote nearly every girls state shooting record and was voted the nation's top girls player, played in the McDonald's All-American Game and was headed to North Carolina on a full ride.

But Shelton conjured up thoughts of Latta at Northwestern. She didn't have a 70-point game, as Latta did, nor have as many 50, 40 and 30-points games as Latta. But the comparisons came because Shelton was a middle school scoring machine and she continued to fill the baskets in high school.

And like Latta did, Shelton signed with an ACC school, Clemson. And like Latta, she has region player of the year and all-state credentials on her resume.

"I felt that this season, with so many starters coming back, we had a good shot at winning the state championship,'' she said. "But we ran into Spring Valley and they took it to us. It was tough losing after all we had done, but we were 24-2 and had a great season.

"I told the girls coming back that I was sorry we didn't get there, but to focus on basketball and be ready when next season gets here. It was a good season, but we didn't complete what we started.''

Craig leaving with unfinished business

It didn't end the way Torrey Craig had hoped it would.

Craig, The Herald's All-Area Boys Basketball Player of the Year, had just finished his final game in a Great Falls Red Devils' uniform with 36 points and 15 rebounds in the Class A state championship game. He didn't care about the numbers. Craig's thoughts were on losing 66-58 to Hemingway, not his stats.

It was a hard way to go out, a 25-2 season that included a loss in a preseason tournament and the one in the last game. Craig made his mark. He averaged 23.8 points, 13.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists. The assists, Great Falls coach John Smith said, were what separates Craig from most 6-foot-5 players in the state.

Craig is a deadly 3-point shooter and has guard skills. He helps break presses. He can go to the hoop and score, often on crowd-pleasing slams or dunk-putbacks. And for the second straight season, he was voted all-state by the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association, which also selected him Class A Player of the Year.

"It was nice to get there, but it would have been better if we had won,'' Craig said. "We played together well as a team and I felt we were ready. But you have days like that and we came up short.

"I talked to the returning players and told them they had to get back to the championship game next year. Told them seven of us are graduating, and they will have to step up.''

Craig has whittled his college choices the Wichita State (Kan.), where former Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall leads the program, or with Big South Conference member Charleston Southern. He has until April 14 to sign, and although both offered full rides, Craig will listen if other offers come.

Bramlett sets the bar high

Coaching girls basketball was not John Bramlett's game of choice when he came to Northwestern.

He had an outstanding career coaching boys hoops and football at Saluda Trail and envisioned his next move was from a Trojans' boys assistant to a head job in the area.

But when Bill Warren stepped down three years ago after one season at the helm to become the school's athletic director, Bramlett did some hard pondering and within days took the job. He said on Friday that he didn't realize he would enjoy coaching girls as much as boys.

No big surprise. Warren turned the program around, but in just three seasons Bramlett, The Herald's All-Area Girls Basketball Coach of the Year, has taken the Lady Trojans close to the top of the mountain. This year's team was 24-2, losing in the regular-season finale without Clemson-bound player Kelia Shelton. And the Lady Trojans lost to Spring Valley in the Upper State playoffs.

"We are very happy we progressed as a program in three years, but we ran into a buzzsaw when we played Spring Valley,'' he said. "I really enjoy my job and working with the girls. This year's group had a good shot at winning it all."

Mr. Smith goes to Columbia -- again

Great Falls coach John Smith knows well the road to Columbia.

In his 41 years at the school, Smith, The Herald's All-Area Boys Basketball Coach of the Year, has taken 17 teams there to play for the Class A state championship. and has come back with six titles. And during those years, Smith has become the winningest high school boys coach in South Carolina history with 842.

"All season long we played with three returning starters and two players who were coming back on the floor,'' Smith said. "What that did was give us the right chemistry we needed to be successful.

"The starting five had a great athlete in Torrey Craig, a point guard who ran the show in Walter Lamar, a defensive stopper in Jacoby Canty, a good three-point shooter in Isaiah Lynn and a good inside rebounder and scorer in 6-5 center Terrell Hutchinson.''

It was a talented lineup good enough to lead the Red Devils to a 25-2 record. One loss came in a preseason tournament, the other in the final game. In between, Great Falls had nights where the couldn't be touched no matter how hard the opposing team played.

Seven seniors will graduate and for the first time in years Smith will have to rebuild. But he has several solid players back and don't jump to any conclusions. Smith has had only one losing season is 41 years.