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Talented newcomers populate Gulf Coast roster

PERKINSTON — There’s a lot of new blood on Coach Hope Adams’ Mississippi Gulf Coast women’s basketball team this year. That brings a dose of inexperience she expects to be offset by all the skill and size.

“We have a young team, but we’re very talented,” Adams said. “We’re able to change our style of play this year. We’re able to get up and down the court. The abilities of our bigs have changed because they’re able to get up and down the court with us, and that’s going to allow us to press, too.”

The Bulldogs had a scrimmage over the weekend before they jump into regular-season action Thursday. Gulf Coast heads to New Orleans to play Delgado at 5:30 p.m. In the COVID-shortened schedule, that’s it before MACCC South action begins next Monday with a showdown against Jones.

“Right now, we’ve got to get the Delgado game under our belts to see what we’re going to be because I’ve got 10 kids who have never played in a college game,” said Adams.

The sophomore class that left after last year’s run to the Region 23 semifinals helped resurrect a program, and three are three returnees from last year’s squad.

Kelsi Jackson (So., Moselle/South Jones) played in all 25 games, starting 21. She averaged 7.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists. Da’Vashia Epps (So., Port Gibson/Port Gibson) played in 21 games, and Kailyn Hammett (So., Fayette/Jefferson County) sat out a redshirt year.

“They’re bringing great leadership, which we need with all these freshmen,” Adams said. “Kelsi got thrown into the fire last year after we lost two guards early. She gave us some great minutes as a freshman, and I think she’s really to come in and lead these freshmen. Da’Vashia is our most improved player. She came back in shape, and she’s developed a shot. I think this is gonna be a breakout year for her. Kailyn is still struggling with her injuries, but she’s bringing us good leadership.”

Elsie Harris (Fr., Mobile, Ala./B.C. Rain) led the state of Alabama in scoring last year at 27.5 points per game, making 53 percent of her shots from the field and 47 percent from the 3-point line. She’ll team with Beverly Tillman (Fr., Laurel/Laurel) to form a potent 1-2 punch at point guard.

Aniya Saddler (Fr., Columbus/Columbus), who was MVP in the state championship game for Columbus last year, is a tough guard who can get downhill.

The Bulldogs have three players taller than 6 feet, led by Nakyah Jones (Fr., Mobile, Ala./LeFlore). At 6-foot-3, she’s long and can also get out and run and jump.

Zikeyah Carter (Fr., Waverly Hall, Ga./Harris County) stands tallest at 6-foot-5. Adams said she’s dominant on the boards and ready to play defense right now on the Division I level. Sharisse Bridges (Fr., Jackson/Callaway) is 6-foot-3, and TK Catchings is an even 6-feet.

Adams says they’ll be able to play in the press as well as get out and run the break. She’s hoping the Bulldogs pack more of a punch in transition to get some easy baskets after a couple years walking the ball up the court for their interior players.

“We want to be No. 1 in the South Division,” she said. “I think they’re capable of doing that. I talked to the other day about maturity, and they’re closer to being sophomores than freshman as we start the season now. I want them to step into their roles. We’re really talented.”

Jones is expected to be ranked nationally when the polls come out this week, and there aren’t any gimmes in the South. COVID caused a lot of uncertainty in setting up all the schedules, and the postseason format is still up in the air.

Pushing all the schedule into the spring has produced at least one positive outcome. The schedule has 16 games played straight through without any breaks.

“I think starting things late was the best thing the NJCAA could have done,” Adams said. “We don’t have to start and stop around Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

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