When you reach the end of something, it’s only natural to take stock of what came before.
When you reach the end of a book, for instance, you’ll typically make some sort of assessment of said book. You may have evaluated it all the way along, but the conclusion brings closure. Same goes for the end of a movie, a song, a TV show, almost anything.
Well, believe it or not, we’re coming to the end of a decade. (Are they the “Tens” or the “Teens?” I don’t know.) As such, it makes sense to scan the rear-view mirror and examine the 10-year journey we’ve just completed, and to bask in and celebrate the warmest memories.
That’s what we’re doing at the Trib, anyway. Thus, get ready for a series of Super Centex Teams of the Decade.
I know, right? It’s pretty exciting. This column will debut the first two of these illustrious honor squads, the Teams of the Decade for both girls’ and boys’ basketball. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll introduce the rest: teams honoring boys’ and girls’ soccer, softball, baseball, volleyball, and football. (The last seasons of the decade for high school volleyball and football are still yet to be played.)
Before we get on with the introductions of our best and brightest ballers, let me expound on our methodology in selecting the teams.
First, little do some readers know, but every Super Centex team in every sport is composed with significant input from local coaches. For each of our teams we seek nominations from our local coaches, and we respect their opinions greatly.
Granted, we assemble the teams ourselves and make our own decisions on award winners and first-team spots and so forth. But we couldn’t do it without the coaches — and I just wanted to put that out there up front.
Picking a Super Centex team is hard. No, it’s not baling hay or laying cement hard. It’s not advanced calculus, either. But it’s always a challenge to select a small group of elite athletes as the representatives of the best in the area. You have to make tough choices. Doesn’t matter the sport.
Now imagine doing that for a 10-year period.
Unbelievably gifted players are not going to make the cut. It’s inevitable. I mean, just look at some of the basketball greats who didn’t make this our heavenly hoops squad: Lorena’s Bryan Ash is the Leopards’ all-time leading scorer and rebounder, yet he missed cracking the top 12. Midway produced college-bound Super Centex studs like the versatile Xavier Armstead and the towering Bubba Furlong, but they also couldn’t quite elevate to all-decade level.
Even the only Waco-born NBA player in history didn’t make the team. Kenrich Williams was a solid contributor at University before going on to blossom on the juco level and at TCU. Now, Williams is a 6-foot-7 forward about to enter his second NBA season with the New Orleans Pelicans.
However, Williams actually didn’t make first-team Super Centex during his days as a Trojan. We could have “cheated” and seemingly rectified that omission and just put Williams on the all-decade squad. But we wanted to base this team on that specific sliver of time in high school. So, Williams will have to settle with being the best late bloomer in Central Texas basketball over the past decade. (I think he’ll take it.)
What you will find on these teams is this: Truly great high school basketball players. Memorable ones. In fact, every player on both the boys’ and girls’ 12-member honor squads is (A) a Player of the Year, (B) a multi-time first-team Super Centex performer, or (C) in many cases, both.
OK, that’s enough build-up. Let’s meet the teams already.
SC Girls Basketball Team of the Decade
Amy Gillum remembers her introduction to that pint-sized point guard. At the time, Calveion “Juicy” Landrum was doing her thing for an elementary-aged AAU team named the Heartbreakers.
“I can remember watching her and thinking, ‘This kid is special,’” said Gillum, now the head girls coach at Mansfield Summit. “I didn’t know that three or four years later I’d be coaching that special kid. She was an impressive young lady — still is — and just to see her mature in her game and in life, I feel so honored.”
Juicy — so named because of her chunkiness as a baby, and the appellation stuck — squeezed every bit of joy she could from her days as a La Vega Lady Pirate.
She made the all-state team four times. She did the same on the Super Centex squad, earning Newcomer of the Year accolades as a freshman in 2013 and twice claiming Player of the Year recognition. She propelled La Vega to three straight state final appearances, including an unblemished 35-0 season her sophomore year of 2014 that culminated with a Class 4A state championship.
So, who better to hold the title of Super Centex Player of the Decade than Landrum?
I remember when Landrum finished her run at La Vega and signed with the hometown Baylor Lady Bears. The signing wasn’t just celebrated in Bellmead, it was viewed as triumphant news all over the area.
“Man, now that Juicy’s gone, maybe we’ve got a shot in this district.” I heard that exact sentiment from multiple coaches.
In her days at La Vega, Landrum left her fingerprints all over the game. She scored. She defended. (She was especially sneaky at weak-side blocked shots.) But what I always admired most was the way she deferred to others, the way she looked to set up the hot hand.
“She wasn’t worried about getting her name in lights, or how many points were beside her name in the scorebook,” Gillum said. “She wanted to win.”
And win the Lady Pirates did, with Juicy at the forefront. For her career, La Vega won 87 percent of its games behind her career averages of 17.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 3.8 steals and 1.7 blocks per game.
Fittingly, in May of this year the City of Bellmead celebrated “Juicy Landrum Day,” retiring her old No. 5 jersey for good. Though the jersey may be gone, you’d better believe the memories will remain forever.
Gillum, meanwhile, is the Trib’s choice as Coach of the Decade. She’s a La Vega alum, and when she took over as head coach in the 2011-12 season she was admittedly nervous.
“It’s hard when you’re young. La Vega was my first coaching job, and I didn’t know how to be,” Gillum said. “But I still remember what Coach (Willie) Williams told me when he hired me: ‘It’s because of your discipline that you’ll be a great coach. The X’s and O’s will come.’ We held true to that. It was very important to me that we were going to act right and hold the kids accountable, and it still is today.”
On the court La Vega gave its fans ample reason to be proud, too. Gillum’s teams rapidly grew from pretty good to really good to great to oh-my-gosh-can-anyone-beat-these-girls. The Lady Pirates were 111-26 under her watch, which included that sterling 35-0 state championship season in 2013-14.
Gillum still calls her old La Vega players “my girls,” and “my family.” She keeps up with their comings and goings, and was thrilled earlier this month when her former post Erin DeGrate transferred from Texas Tech to Baylor to hook up with her old point guard Landrum.
Gillum left La Vega for Crowley after the 2015 season, and has since moved again to Mansfield Summit. But she never has let go of her affinity for the Lady Pirates, and that 35-0 season is forever etched in her soul.
“It’s still special. Still, to this day, I still can’t believe we were 35-0,” Gillum said. “Because we never scheduled easy. And I never will. So, we beat some really good teams along the way.
“Sometimes I’ll run into Argyle at a tournament or something, and I’ll just think, ‘We were the last ones to beat them at state.’ They’ve won every year since we beat them. That’s pretty special.”
Here is a snapshot look at the rest of the girls’ team of the decade:
Mystique Womack, Marlin: A three-time Player of the Year, this supremely skilled ballhandler and scorer put up more than 3,000 points in her career. She’s got next in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as she’ll start her college career for the Crimson Tide in the fall.
Ann-Marie Dunlap, Crawford: Three-time first-team guard had stamina to burn, as she doubled as a distance runner in cross country and track.
Brechelle Beachum, Mexia: Beachum sparked the LadyCats to their first state title in program history in 2013, and the clutch-shooting guard was rewarded as that season’s Player of the Year.
Armoni Pittman, Waco High: Three-time Super Centex first team guard spurred a Lady Lion renaissance, including helping the team win the program’s first district title in 24 years her senior year of 2013.
Erin Sims, Lorena: Sims seized the moment in her graduating year of 2012, winning regional tournament MVP honors, Super Centex Player of the Year recognition, and piloting the Lady Leopards to the state tournament.
Makenzie Robertson, Midway: Before her days as a Baylor Lady Bears player and coach, Robertson (now Makenzie Fuller) excelled as one of the best all-around athletes in the area. She also pulled off a rare state title trifecta, competing on state championship volleyball, basketball and softball teams for the Pantherettes in her career.
Jae Moore, Frost: An all-around competitor who won Super Centex Girls Athlete of the Year in 2016, Moore overcame an ACL injury as a junior to finish as one of the top scorers and shooters in the annals of Centex hoops.
Ta’Naiya Norwood, La Vega: Three-time first-team honoree was limber and lithe in the post, but still managed to give teams fits, and could also burn defenses with her mid-range jumper.
Erin DeGrate, La Vega: Opposing teams often had no answer down low for DeGrate, the 2015 Super Centex Player of the Year as a senior. That season she averaged 20.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
Porsha Roberts, La Vega: Roberts flat-out commanded the paint area for the Lady Pirates at the turn of the decade. She averaged 19.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.0 blocks as a senior, when she was Super Centex Player of the Year, before going on to a brilliant career at Stephen F. Austin. Little-known fact: She’s the older sister of Juicy Landrum.
Sha Brown, McGregor: She led Central Texas in scoring (22.4) and rebounding (12.1) her senior year, when she won Super Centex Player of the Year honors and directed the Lady ‘Dogs to the regional tournament.
SC Boys Basketball Team of the Decade
When Trajan Snell was six weeks old, he attended his first basketball game.
“He was born in October of ’99, and that was my first year to become head basketball coach at Connally,” said Quinton Snell, the Cadets’ longtime coach and Trajan’s father. “As soon as he was able to leave the house, he was there at the gym, at our first home game. And it was funny — you know how the horn’s always going off. Well, his mom said that it would go off and make a bunch of noise, and he wouldn’t even wake up. He was just taking it all in.”
A lot of people say they’re gym rats. Trajan Snell truly grew up at the gym. Basketball was all he ever knew. His parents didn’t push it on him, but given his dad’s coaching prowess and his older sister playing the game, he naturally wanted to try it himself.
“His sister was a really good role model for him,” Quinton said. “She’d go to the gym, and he’d just follow her. He wanted to play because she played. And then when he was about 6 or 7, I had a bunch of guys like Henry Golightly, Chris Cobb, DeAndre Simmons. They’d take the ball away from him or block his shot, and he wouldn’t get mad or upset. They were the big boys, that’s what they were supposed to do. But if his sister blocked his shot, then he’d get mad.”
As Trajan grew, his skill level and his understanding of the game grew with him. He could see the court, he knew how to run a team. He started at point guard all four years for the Cadets — and he made a memorable impression, so much so that we’ve named Trajan as our Super Centex Boys Basketball Player of the Decade.
His credentials speak for themselves. He was Super Centex Newcomer of the Year as a freshman, and made the first team three more times, including winning Player of the Year honors his senior season of 2017-18.
Snell averaged an area-high nine assists his senior year. He served up more tasty dishes than the city’s most popular food trucks, with an ability to deliver passes both flashy and fundamental.
“Every kid has a skill than he does better than the others. Tray never minded sharing the ball, he could always dribble it pretty well,” Quinton Snell said. “When he was little he played on a select team coached by Art Pertile, the city attorney, called the Waco Tigers, and Art really tried to emphasize to those young guys how to play the right way. That was a good team, with kids like Umoja Gibson and Bubba Furlong, and Tray figured out that it was a good idea to pass the ball ahead to those guys. It’s carried with him to this day.”
Trajan signed with Hill College at the end of his senior year at Connally, but his first season with the Rebels was stunted by a torn meniscus injury. He’s working his way back, and is looking forward to a hopefully healthier 2019-20 season.
“My whole thing is for him to get his degree, so he can go do what he wants to do,” Quinton said. “Basketball is just the icing on the cake.”
Sounds like sound advice, but that shouldn’t be a shock. Quinton Snell has been doling out such sage wisdom to teenaged ballers for the past two decades. Connally’s standard of consistency — the Cadets have made the playoffs in every year since the 2010-11 season and have reached the regional tournament three straight years — has yielded the Trib’s Coach of the Decade honor for Snell.
“Without a doubt, we all try to prepare and get our kids ready to play at the highest level they’re capable of playing,” Snell said. “Everybody is trying to reach that pinnacle of a state championship. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to make it that far, but we’re still striving to do that.”
Snell has seen dozens of gifted players suit up for the blue and white. But you can’t roll off 25 wins a year on talent alone.
With Snell’s teams, you can always count on a couple of things: They’re going to get after you. Be prepared. You’ll be in for a tussle, because they’re going to play hard.
And, secondly, they’re going to be respectful. That’s as important to Snell as anything that happens on the scoreboard.
“The number one thing we’re trying to do is establish values in these young men,” he said. “We harp on it even with the daily drills we do. … We want them to become good fathers and husbands and ultimately productive citizens of society.
“This my 24th year back at Connally, 20 as head basketball coach, and we’ve got guys who played here who are now running restaurants, working for computer tech companies, they’re attorneys and nurses, just a plethora of things. And I’m so proud to play a small part into helping those young men become successful people.”
Here’s a look at the rest of the boys’ basketball team of the decade:
Antwan Stephens, China Spring: Small frame couldn’t hide his oversized heart. Stephens finished his career with more than 2,000 points.
Umoja Gibson, University: One of the most talented, hard-working players in the area, Gibson averaged 22.4 points and 11.1 assists an outing his senior year of 2017, when he was Super Centex Player of the Year. He has battled injuries in college, but led the University of North Texas in scoring this past season (12.6 ppg).
Ro’derick Calhoun, Coolidge: Few players could light up the nets any better than Calhoun, who averaged better than 28 points his sophomore year. By his senior season of 2016, he had discovered the art of passing, and his unselfishness fueled the Yellowjackets’ run to state.
Curk Harris, Mexia: Harris displayed admirable leadership his senior year of 2015, when he won Super Centex Player of the Year honors. That year Harris led a Blackcat team with four new starters to a regional tournament appearance. Harris just wrapped up a successful run at Division II power Oklahoma Wesleyan, where he was a hotshot guard and Dean’s List student with a 3.9 GPA.
Austen Bradshaw, La Vega: Bradshaw, who went on to sign at MCC, could really fill up the nets. He rolled up a scoring average of 26.4 as a senior, including a 50-point game against China Spring, and was the 2011-12 Super Centex Player of the Year.
Ray Washington, University: The Trib’s Newcomer of the Year in 2010, the ever-steady Washington made two additional Super Centex squads before his time with the Trojans was complete.
D.J. Weathers, Mexia: Weathers never lost a game in junior high and was no less legendary in high school. His peak came during his junior year of 2010-11, when he won Player of the Year while carrying the Blackcats all the way to the state tournament.
Erik Valdez, Temple: Valdez switched from post to guard his senior year of 2010, and the move worked. He was the district MVP and Super Centex Player of the Year, and caught fire in the playoffs in Temple’s sizzling run to the regional final.
Joe Schwartz, Vanguard: The Vikings were one of the more consistently steady programs of the decade, and Schwartz helped bridge that tradition. He averaged a double-double his senior year (2014) and won Player of the Year honors, as the Vikings sailed to the TAPPS state semis. Schwartz went on to walk on at the University of Texas.
William Stinnett, La Vega: The 2012 Player of the Year came from good basketball bloodlines, behind his referee father Earl and his Baylor legend mother Maggie. He provided reliable scoring and rebounding for the Pirates, and also claimed MVP honors of the THSCA all-star game as a senior.