Ten years ago, when Ballou's Gwen (Ms. J) Jones was demonstrating her flashy Brooklyn-bred playground moves and lending new credibility to girls basketball in the Washington metropolitan area, LaTanya Nelson was more interested in dressing baby dolls.
But after watching the 5-foot-8 junior score 32, 29, 38, 28, 28 and 30 points in six consecutive Knights victories, Ballou assistant Coach Wanda Oates said it was like seeing Jones reincarnated.
"She's just like Ms. J, a complete player," said Oates, who coached and won the Interhigh championship with Jones in the mid-1970s. "She can shoot, dribble and do all the intangibles, but most importantly, like Gwen, LaTanya knows how to play the game. She is teaching our players on the court what to do."
In a recent 38-point effort against Cardozo, Nelson, who transferred from Largo in October, scored, rebounded, assisted and orchestrated almost every move on the Ballou team, which won, 74-20. And she said she felt she could have done more.
"I know my coach and teammates depend on me to do a lot of things on the court," said Nelson, who averaged 12 points at Largo last year. "We had good players at Largo and I didn't have to do as much. Here I get the chance to be a leader. That's good experience for me."
Like Jones, LaTanya, who has five sisters including a twin, LaShawn, and a brother, honed her skills on neighborhood playgrounds. Her efforts have helped put the Knights (10-4) in the middle of the Interhigh playoff chase. She is averaging 26.4 points per game and has gone over the 30-point mark five times.
"Getting LaTanya so suddenly has worked out real well for us," said Coach Curtise Woodward. "We had some returning starters but LaTanya is like the teacher on the floor. The girls have a lot of confidence in her and her abilities."
Nelson had a personal problem at Largo and decided to move in with another family member in Southeast Washington. The junior says she had problems with her attitude and sportsmanship, but has worked on both and "is happy with her improvement."
"The only individual goal I set for myself was to work on my attitude," Nelson said. "I know I've calmed down a lot -- no outbursts at all. Now I just go out and play. I still have another year of high school and I want to play college basketball. My coaches are working with me on my weaknesses and I'm enjoying this season."
Nelson said there are only minor differences between play in the Interhigh and Prince George's.
"Maybe the girls in D.C. are more physical, but that's about it," Nelson said. "Some teams in PG may be stronger overall. I hope to do well at Ballou, but I still may return to Largo next year. I miss my friends and schoolmates. My (former) teammates and I talk all the time and they are having a rough time this year. Coach Oates told me I wasn't leaving, though."
"Nelson is the type of player who can play all five positions and play them well," said Oates, one of the most successful girls' coaches in the area before quitting several years ago. "(Jones) didn't have to do as much for our team as LaTanya has to do for this one. Plus, J came along in an era when the talent at Ballou and some of the other schools was far greater than it is today."
Nelson knows only of Ms. J by reputation.
"Coach Oates showed me all the clippings on Ms. J and tells me I play just like her," Nelson said. "When she (Jones) was playing, I was in the second grade; I hadn't started to play yet. It's nice to be compared to someone who was that good."
Since Nelson's favorite player is Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan, maybe her nickname should be Ms. MJ.