Nicole Gregory realized during her ninth grade year that she might be a little taller than the average cheerleader. But that was the sport the 5-foot-10 freshman had chosen when she entered Westlake, so she was waiting outside of junior varsity cheerleading practice when girls’ basketball coach Ardell Jackson approached her.
“He said ‘Do you want to play basketball,’ and at first I just said ‘No,’” Gregory recalled. She had tried basketball in eighth grade and wasn’t all that interested.
“But then he asked again the next day, and I thought maybe I’d try.”
Gregory went into tryouts without knowing how to make a layup or even dribble, Jackson said. She would research basketball tutorials videos online to teach herself basic moves at home, then imitate the moves at practice and let the coach point out errors.
Gregory started watching videos of players with similar roles as her—not a top scorer, but a player who was a consistent rebounder and a threat on defense. Her favorites became Dennis Rodman and Candace Parker, who she thought broke the mold on what people usually considered female professional basketball players.
Eventually Gregory was pulled up to varsity for the Wolverines’ playoff run to the state semifinals in 2012.
“They were patient and said they could work with me,” Gregory said of the coaches. “Once I moved up to varsity, that’s when I really started learning how to move on the court. Ever since then the game has become easier.”
Now the junior forward/center is a captain and the second player off the bench for the Wolverines (6-2).
“We saw a bit of little basic skills and we just kept working with her,” Jackson said. “But by senior year, she’ll be one of our main players next year as she continues. We’re really proud. She worked a lot on her skill sets.”
Westlake won the Waldorf Holiday Hoops Classic over winter break with a 43-39 victory in the final against Fairfax. Towson commit Shanea Butler led Westlake with 13 points in the win. Sophomore Alexus Willey is leading the Wolverines in points per game (16.6) while using her three-point shooting and ability to take advantage of open space created by opponents collapsing on Butler.
The Wolverines also have sophomore guard Chynna Hill, who scored 20 points in a tournament rout of Suitland, and the post presence of 5-11 sophomore Nialla Curtis, who is pulling in double-digit rebounds throughout the first part of the season.
“With this group of girls, they just want to get better and better everyday. Practice has gotten a lot more intense since the tournament,” Jackson said. “They’re really hungry and are going out there and trying to execute more, offensively and defensively.”
Gregory agrees that the tournament win flipped a switch in the squad and made them realize that they have a shot at challenging perennial favorite North Point (8-0) and Calvert (7-2) for the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference — and maybe ensuring a SMAC presence in three of the four classifications at this year’s state finals.
“We kind of woke up and realized this is real, we can actually win states if we keep working,” Gregory said. “Everybody is pushing each other. Something changed after that tournament.”
The Westlake (4-3) boys’ squad took on a competitive out-of-conference opponent at the DMVElite West Showcase and eventually fell, 64-52, to St. Maria Goretti. Senior guard Desi Wiseman scored 15 points to lead the Wolverines and Dominic Espeleta added nine. . . .
North Point (6-2) went 2-2 over the break with losses to No. 7 Bullis and No. 14 Maret, both by double-digits. Senior guard Ochae Dejene committed to Division 2 Shepherd University shortly before the New Year. . . .
Great Mills (6-1) won both of its Governers’ Challenge tournament games against North Caroline and Indian River of Delaware. Senior guard Melquan Williams scored 19 points in the first game and 18 in the second.