Alexus Willey had two days to prepare for her first game with her third high school basketball team.
The versatile 6-foot-1 senior played her first two seasons at Westlake, leading the Wolverines in scoring with 13.6 points per game as a sophomore. Seeking more exposure and a chance to play on the wing, Willey transferred to Riverdale Baptist for her junior season. She did enough to gain the attention of UNC-Greensboro, where she committed in September, but she knew her minutes would be numbered this season with the arrival of McDonald’s a ll-American Kaila Charles.
Since Willey’s family moved to Mechanicsville, Md., her return to the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference would have to come at Chopticon in St. Mary’s County. She started the school year at Riverdale Baptist and was still waiting on the paperwork to clear until Dec. 7, when she did just enough to fulfill Braves Coach Joe Cook’s criteria.
Cook wanted Willey to get two practices under her belt before playing in a game. On Dec. 9, she made her debut with a team-high 15 points in a 53-52 win over North Point. Since her first game, Cook has asked Willey to put the Braves on her shoulders.
She’s responded by tying for the team lead with a 15.4 point scoring average and helping No. 14 Chopticon (16-2) to the top of the SMAC Chesapeake division. Cook named her a team captain last week.
“She gives us a lot of composure. Nothing really gets to her,” Cook said of Willey, who asserts each stop on her road has had a purpose. At Chopticon, she’s a leader who has a shot at winning a SMAC title and gets the chance to chase a Maryland 4A state championship in her new school’s first year at the largest classification in the state.
“I [transferred twice] so I could be more comfortable, just basically knowing that I could go to each school and accomplish what I wanted to accomplish,” Willey said. “I just know what it takes to win big games. I mean, I’ve been in a lot of them.”
In contrast with Willey, the Braves have also leaned on a familiar cornerstone. Junior guard Kyaira Priest is the returning leading scorer, and she’s tied with Willey for the team lead this season.
With Priest, a 5-2 slasher who could always drive, improving her jumpshot and a cast of six sophomores each logging more than 100 minutes, Chopticon has improved its offense and depth heading into the postseason. A win against Northern at home on Tuesday could clinch the division and put the Braves in the SMAC title game.
Chopticon won’t be able to coast against the Patriots. In a 64-57 win over Northern on Feb. 3, the Braves had to fend off a late rally that cut their lead to one point.
Last season the team might have crumbled. This year, Chopticon has Willey, who led all scorers with 17 points, and a motto on its shooting shirts that reads, “We will not be shaken.”
“Last year we got rattled in some games,” Priest said. “This year it’s a huge difference.”
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